ANNAPOLIS – Officials are crediting two state programs for a decline in the number of Maryland children in “out-of-home” care, after a steady rise in such situations throughout the 1990s.
Two types of care form out-of-home care for children, who, for whatever reason cannot stay with their parents — kinship care, where a relative takes over child care, and foster care, a more formal, authorized system where a relative or non-relative becomes a child’s caregiver.
Neglect and parental substance abuse are two common reasons for moving a child into an alternative care situation.
Foster care figures changed little in the last year, while kinship care situations have declined in Maryland over the past several years, according to statistics provided by Ed Sabin, manager for the Maryland Research Unit of the Social Services Administration.
From July 2001 to June 2002, there was a 7 percent decrease in the number of children enrolled in Kinship Care, in the state, Sabin said.
Part of that decline comes from the Family Preservation Program, which aims to keep children within their nuclear family, said Mildred Gee, program manager for Maryland Kinship Care Program.
“It’s kind of difficult to pinpoint one reason,” Gee said. “The department has worked very hard in providing service to maintain children in their family.”
The Family Preservation Program was created after intense lobbying by the Citizens Review Board for Children in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said Charlie Cooper, review board director.
The program includes counseling for everything from handling family budgets to behavioral or emotional therapy for juveniles. The state program offers up to 20 hours a week in home services, Cooper said.
Subsidized guardianship has also contributed to the decline in kinship care figures. The program provides a monthly subsidized stipend for five years that falls between the foster care rate, roughly $535 to more than $600 per month, and temporary cash assistance rate, about $190 for a single child, for relatives who accept custody and guardianship of a child in state custody, Gee said.
“Health and Human Services has given us permission to use foster care funding to provide another option,” Gee said.
Now, 550 children are converting from unpaid kinship to paid foster care, Sabin said.
“The notion of kinship care is indispensable. Relative caretakers are a pillar of the system – it would collapse without them,” said Mitchell Mirviss, an attorney with Venable, Baetjer and Howard, a Baltimore law firm.
At the end of June 2002, there were 1,821 children in the Kinship Care Program in Maryland, with 1,461 of them in Baltimore. Another 9,666 kids are in regular foster care homes, with 6,138 of them in Baltimore.
The Kinship Care Program has come under fire from critics, who charge that children are inadequately supervised, have difficulty getting into schools and are neglected to the point where they commit criminal acts, said Jim McComb, chairman of the Coalition to Protect Maryland’s Children.
One pervasive problem of Kinship Care, said the review board’s Cooper, is that relatives claim children live with them in order to get them into a better school.
“You definitely have situations where people are lying about where the child lives,” Cooper said. Taxpayers don’t want to pay for students outside their jurisdictions, but the reality is that children whose parents are mentally ill or substantially impaired must go somewhere, he said.
Here’s the problem, Cooper said: “Grandma has to take care of the kid; the counties don’t want school shopping.”
The solution, Cooper said, is to get the General Assembly to mandate that schools accept informal kinship care kids.