- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — The Ehrlich administration, aided by private charities, aims to replicate in Baltimore a program instituted six years ago in San Diego that is credited with sharply decreasing the time children spend in foster care.

The foster care initiative is a key component of a “More for Maryland” campaign announced yesterday at a press conference with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and representatives of charitable groups that are contributing $2.3 million to jump-start the program.

The overall goal is to put more money and effort into the front end of the system — providing counseling and drug treatment for parents who are neglecting their children and for young people who are on a downward spiral into drug use and crime — so children do not wind up in expensive prisons or spend years in costly foster care.

“Every administration across the country has this as a goal, helping people in marginal situations,” said Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican.

What is unique about the Maryland program is that the state intends to closely monitor the success of prevention programs and, “if it’s not working, we won’t fund it,” the governor said.

In addition to the money provided by private groups, Mr. Ehrlich included $2 million in this year’s budget to begin implementing the program, which will start in Baltimore.

State officials hope the city will provide a model for expanding the program to the counties.

Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, said the program is almost identical to one initiated by Baltimore two years ago called “Reason to Believe.”

“It’s great that the state — has now seen the value of our ‘Reason to Believe’ effort,” she said.

Miss Guillory said the city program uses public and private funds for services such as job placement for young people, after-school programs, and counseling and drug treatment for families in crisis.

The new state program drew praise from several speakers at the press conference, including Shicola Lopez, a recovering drug addict and alcoholic who said she started drinking alcohol when she was 9 and went on to become addicted to heroin.

She said she has not used drugs or alcohol for more than two years.

“I was lucky. I got clean,” Miss Lopez said. “This program will help a lot of parents.”

Miss Lopez brought along her toddler daughter, Ken-Tira. She is trying to regain custody of three older children.

“I believe everyone deserves a second chance,” she said.

Mr. Ehrlich said a major goal will be to reunite parents with children who were taken away because of abuse or neglect that is usually the result of drug use. That will require making drug treatment available for more people who want to break their addictive habits.

Under the San Diego program, parents were offered counseling and drug treatment, and were given one year to straighten out their lives and reclaim their children. If not, the children were offered for adoption.

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