- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 25, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Children’s rights advocates, long critical of Maryland’s handling of its child-care programs, think the Ehrlich administration is poised to make improvements.

“There are some good things happening,” Jim McComb, chairman of the Coalition to Protect Maryland’s Children, said after he and other advocates met with Maryland Secretary of Human Resources Christopher J. McCabe. “It was the first time that we got a sense that maybe they are going to start moving in the right direction.”

Jann Jackson, executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth, thinks the state has taken the first step, which is to “acknowledge that we have a huge public crisis.”

Most advocates agree that many complaints predate Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, but say the governor has made few improvements during his first two and half years in office.

Advocates say the biggest problem is the state’s failure to put children where they will get the least-restrictive care and services at the lowest costs.

However, they also blame the federal government, saying it has too many restrictions on how states can spend federal money for child-protective services.

At a forum this month in Annapolis, child advocacy groups appealed to Congress and the White House to allow states to spend differently some of the money designated for foster care.

Mr. McComb and Mrs. Jackson said the state is not spending enough on services that will preserve families and keep children out of foster care.

Mrs. Jackson also said the state needs a case management system that arranges for services such as drug-abuse counseling and violence-prevention so some children can remain safely in their homes.

The next step would be to provide help to relatives willing to take children abandoned by their parents, the advocates said.

Mrs. Jackson said family members “get nothing” while “strangers” who take children into foster care get $500 a month.

Mr. McComb said the problem is illustrated by the case of a woman facing serious financial problems from trying to provide day care for her grandson while working at a place that doesn’t help with child care, and the state has been providing only temporary day-care assistance.

Advocates also fault the Ehrlich administration for reducing support for foster-care families, which they said has resulted in additional children going into more costly group homes.

Mr. McCabe said Mr. Ehrlich and the legislature are providing more money to recruit and train more foster-care families. Included in the new funding is $1.7 million for a child-welfare training academy that will begin offering classes for foster-care parents in January.

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