Md. receives $650 million federal grant for foster care

State to use money to reduce number of children entering system

September 30, 2014|By John Fritze | The Baltimore Sun

Maryland has won a five-year, $650 million federal grant that will give officials more flexibility to run the state's foster care program and reduce the number of children entering the system, Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration said Tuesday.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant, which has been awarded to about 20 states so far, will allow Maryland to expand programs that help struggling families to avoid having their children turned over to foster care, state officials said.

The grant will not directly address oversight problems of the state's foster care system uncovered by a recent Baltimore Sun investigation. A 10-year-old disabled foster child died this year at an Anne Arundel County group home run by a state contractor that had repeated problems with past care.

But reducing the number of children entering foster care every year, officials said, will likely alleviate stress on the system and save money that could be used for other priorities, including oversight.

Roughly 5,000 children are in foster care in Maryland — about half the number that were in foster care in 2007. As part of the state's grant application, officials set a goal to cut the current foster care population by another 2 percent over five years.

The expanded effort will begin next summer.

State Human Resources Secretary Ted Dallas said the expanded programs would focus on children up to 8 years old and on children ages 14 to 17. Those age categories represent nearly 81 percent of all new children entering the system, he said.

"Those are areas where we think we can do even better," Dallas said in an interview. "Going back to the start of this administration, we've changed our policies and engaged families in a different way to find better ways to serve these kids."

The federal grant program, which was approved by Congress in 2011, waives requirements that the funding be spent only on children already in out-of-home care. With the waiver, Maryland can spend a portion of the money it receives on children who are still living at home in an effort to prevent them from becoming foster children.

The $650 million represents an increase of roughly $10 million per year over what the state has received in the past from the federal government for foster care.

"Maryland will now be allowed to focus on activities that strengthen families and keep children safe, whether it's in foster care or within their own families," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat and the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.

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