ANNAPOLIS – The system that deals with nearly 12,000 children in foster care daily needs more judicial resources and training, an improved information system and a revised foster care law, according to a report released Wednesday.
These are some of nearly 40 recommendations made by the Maryland Judiciary Foster Care Court Improvement Project Advisory Committee after a two-year study. Officials call the assessment the first step in improving Maryland’s process for intervening in the lives of abused and neglected children.
Among the needs identified:
* A new data collection system, which would allow court personnel to monitor case activity.
* A complete inventory of existing case statistics.
* New training procedures for juvenile court judges and masters, improved facilities and a reassessment of judicial staffing levels.
* Uniform standards and guidelines for selecting and compensating attorneys who represent children.
* A new foster care law, to be introduced in the 1999 General Assembly session, that would create uniform terminology and procedures.
The report alludes to a foster care system riddled with problems. But Ann Sparrough, a committee member, said the system is really not so bleak.
“Compare our system with virtually anywhere else in the country and we come out looking pretty decent,” said Sparrough, master for the Prince George’s County Circuit Court. “These recommendations are the kinds of things that will make the system better.”
Sparrough said the report addressed every major issue in the system, and added that she whole-heartedly supports the suggestions.
Charlie Cooper, administrator of the Foster Care Review Board, which follows foster care issues on behalf of the Department of Human Resources, said he also thought the report was on track with what he has seen as trouble areas.
“There has always been a resource problem,” said Cooper, who also served on the committee. “We have been working with it for a long time and this report will finally back up our claims.”
As part of the 1993 national Family Preservation and Support Act, Congress gave $35 million in grants to help states enhance the judicial administration of cases that involve foster care.
Maryland received part of its federal grant money in March 1995 and started developing a plan to improve the judicial administration of these cases. Now, with the completion of the report, the state will receive almost $200,000 for the next three years to implement the plan’s recommendations. The committee in charge of applying the ideas gathered from the study will meet for the first time November 13. -30-