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Casey foundation ends foster care program after 36 years

Annie E. Casey Foundation

About 30 foster children in Baltimore stand to lose their social workers — for some the one constant in lives prone to turmoil — as the Annie E. Casey Foundation begins a new mission intended to extend its reach.

The Baltimore-based foundation will close its Casey Family Services, a 36-year-old program that oversees the care of 400 foster children in seven states. Casey says the move will free up $18 million to $20 million a year to help increase adoptions and help other organizations that assist foster children.

The end goal is to improve child welfare across America by reaching a greater number of children, said Norris West, spokesman for the organization. He said Casey is committed to ensuring that the lives of the children affected are not disrupted.

"We think Casey Family Services has done an extraordinary job; there is no question that it is going to be missed," West said. "We understand that this will feel like a loss."

From now on, West said, the Casey Foundation will work with state agencies, foster parents and the new providers, instead of providing the direct service itself. The children involved are expected to stay with their current foster parents, but the parents will be transferred to different providers and many will have new case workers.

The foundation will also continue to provide staff support for the children who may need additional help until next summer, six months after the transition is set to be complete, he said.

Still, Ada Puches, a foster mother with Casey Family Services in Vermont since 2003, said the decision is devastating.

"Families have made promises to kids that Casey Family Services made to us," Puches said. "They should keep their promise to their kids, because anything less than that is a betrayal.

"This is a choice by the Annie E. Casey Foundation — not a necessity," she added.

Puches is using Facebook to rally the foster parents in the seven states: Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. She wants, at a minimum, for Casey Family Services to continue to serve the children currently in its care until those children are adults.

Puches said the situation is more significant, because the foster children Casey Family Services has taken into its care are among the more vulnerable. For example, the provider serves teen mothers in foster care and older foster children, for whom homes can be harder to find.

The children identify themselves as "Casey Kids" and many have had the same social workers for years, Puches said. The children are at risk of being re-traumatized, she said.

Puches said she and her husband are in the process of adopting their 16-year-old foster daughter.

Richard Barth, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland, said foster children can develop deep relationships with their social workers. The School of Social Work partners with a division of Casey Family Services in East Baltimore.

Most foster children start in one family that at one point faced enough trouble for the child to be removed, Barth said. He said the children may have moved several times, and ask questions like, "How committed are my parents to me?" or "What am I doing to cause the problems in my family?"

With those sorts of questions consuming their energy, foster children may devote less time than children who live with their parents considering their peer relationships or success in school, Barth said.

West, the director of strategic communications for the Casey Foundation, said the nonprofit has a carefully designed plan to avoid turmoil for the children and to help the 280 people who work for Casey Family Services find new jobs. The decision affects 21 employees in Baltimore and 27 children. Across Maryland, about 7,000 children are in foster care.

Issuing grants to other providers by reinvesting resources from Casey Family Services is intended to allow the foundation to positively influence thousands of children and families, West said. The foundation will partner with providers and use grant money to apply the knowledge it has gained running Casey Family Services since 1976, such as how to recruit stable and nurturing foster families and the best way to support foster children as they become adults, he said.

West said the foundation will work to increase adoption through increased awareness, education and technical assistance. Money will also be invested in developing "hands-on, user friendly materials and tools" for a broader reach, he said.

The foundation also plans to partner with juvenile justice, mental health, community change, substance abuse and workforce development programs, West said.

Patrick T. McCarthy, trustee and president of the Casey Foundation, said the change in strategy is a milestone.

"As the human services environment changes, we see an opportunity to help strengthen the work of front-line staff who often make life-and-death decisions on behalf of vulnerable children and families," McCarthy said in a statement.

ywenger@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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