BALTIMORE — If a proposal to create a State Commission on Children and Families is approved by the governor, local social service providers may soon have more say in how they help children and families, a task force announced Thursday.
Children and families who receive aid from state agencies or non-profit organizations should get help tailored to their needs, rather than “one-size fits all” services, according to the Task Force on Children, Youth and Family Systems Reform.
The 26-member task force, appointed by Governor Parris N. Glendening last May to address issues facing children and families in Maryland, seeks to put more responsibility for administering services to children and families in local hands — perhaps as early as June 1997.
Currently, state programs for these needs are scattered among four large agencies: the Department of Human Resources, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Education.
Because local service providers such as agencies, non- profits and private businesses are closer to the people they serve, they “should have a greater part in designing the system,” said Colleen Mahony, staff coordinator for the task force.
“We’ve had a lot of locals say, `If you just give us the money, we can do it better,'” Mahony said.
The proposal is still under revision, but task force members say they expect it to reach Glendening by month’s end.
When Glendening appointed the task force, headed by Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, he identified a number of concerns. Among them:
* Providing services to more children and families in need
* Shifting service providers’ focus to prevention and early intervention
* Strengthening local decision-making
* Encouraging innovative financing strategies in an era of increasingly constrained federal, state and local budgets.
To achieve these policy goals and to create a five-year plan to fund these efforts, the task force proposes forming a joint commission with representatives from the public and private sectors.
No new funds would be allocated to local social service organizations, according to the draft task force report.
Instead, some funds now allocated to state social service agencies would be shifted to 15 local management boards — public-private partnerships — to allocate as best they see fit. This would allow smaller jurisdictions greater flexibility in the way they administer their programs, according to the task force report.
The management boards already exercise some control over social services, and received $37.5 million in state funds in both fiscal 1996 and 1997. Their budgets would grow under the task force proposal, depending on the size of the jurisdiction and the kinds of services provided, Mahony said.
The task force considered recommending that the state create a Department of Children and Families, but seems to be “backing away from that idea,” Mahony said.
Creating such an agency, which task force members had envisioned would receive and allocate federal and state funds to child and family social service organizations, could draw energy away from actual reform efforts, task force members said. If Glendening approves the proposal, it will be introduced as legislation during the next General Assembly session. -30-