ANNAPOLIS – When a child is taken from abusive parents and becomes eligible for adoption, social service workers breathe a sigh of relief.
But they know the youngster is still far from settling into a stable home.
Under state law, a child who enters foster care for the purpose of adoption must be placed in a permanent home after 18 months. But a recent study by a child advocacy group found the process actually takes an average of four-and-a-half years. In Baltimore, it can take up to six-and-a-half years.
“When their life of abuse or neglect at home ends, an unpredictable, impermanent and transitory life style of foster care begins,” Sally Millemann, director of Baltimore’s Advocates for Children and Youth Inc., told lawmakers Tuesday.
There are 7,000 children in foster care in Maryland, more than half in Baltimore City. Most are five to 11 years old.
“This system is not conducive to a healthy upbringing that we want for our kids in the state of Maryland,” Millemann said in testimony before a House Appropriations subcommittee.
Her 60-page report examined the foster care situation in each county in Maryland and in Baltimore City. The study outlined innovative programs elsewhere:
* In New York, special caseworkers try to make realistic decisions about reunifying children with their biological parents. The caseworkers are assigned separately from those who work directly with the families, in an effort to ensure objectivity.
* In Massachusetts, laws limit the rights of unwed fathers unless paternity has been established.
* In Ohio, Toledo conducts case reviews that involve entire families, who agree in advance to a plan for the child’s welfare.
Maryland’s foster care population is growing, with more children entering foster care than are leaving to be adopted. The study found that Baltimore had the most acute problem. For instance, 3,122 children began fiscal year 1994 in foster care in Baltimore. At the year’s end, 3,665 remained.
The failure to assess each case individually is one barrier to placing children in a permanent home, the study found.
“It is a nationwide problem,” Department of Human Resources Secretary Alvin Collins said. “We are grappling with the issues raised in this study and will examine ways to improve the system.” -30-