Hundreds of Marylanders are volunteering to help Central American children coming here as part of an influx of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S. border in recent months, O'Malley administration officials said Tuesday.
Anne Sheridan, director of the Governor's Office for Children, said the state has received an "extremely positive" response to a request for help posted on its website. Among other things, people are seeking information on how to become foster parents, provide clothing or tutoring, or offer legal or employment services.
"Overall, we're gratified that so many people from all parts of Maryland have reached out, come together," Sheridan said.
Sheridan was joined in a teleconference by Human Resources Secretary Ted Dallas to report on the latest developments in Gov. Martin O'Malley's initiative to provide services to arriving Central American children regardless of their immigration status. Over the previous two weeks, O'Malley met twice with religious leaders to coordinate a response to what he has called a humanitarian crisis.
Dallas said the state had received 230 inquiries about becoming federal foster parents over just the past two days. He said that compares with 10-15 expressions of interest in the state program in a typical month.
One hurdle is that the state is seeking prospective foster parents who can speak Spanish. "That's going to be a challenge going forward," Dallas said.
Dallas noted that more than 2,200 immigrant children have been placed in Maryland since the beginning of the year — more than 90 percent with relatives who live here.
"We expect the number will continue to grow," Dallas said.
O'Malley issued a news release Tuesday pointing to progress in his approach to the influx of young immigrants, which has overwhelmed federal facilities along the border. The governor has rolled out the welcome mat for the children, but not for the large shelters that were being sought by the Obama administration last month.
"The O'Malley-Brown administration believes that by bringing the community together, leveraging public-private partnerships and working with faith leaders, nonprofits, and the federal government, we can ensure that these children are treated with compassion, are kept safe and are afforded due process through federal legal proceedings," O'Malley said.
Dallas said recent conversations with federal officials have not focused on large facilities but on an approach similar to O'Malley's.
Sheridan said that on Friday, she and Dallas met with providers of foster care and representatives of about 15 group-living facilities to discuss ways to provide temporary shelter for children. The state's website shows that at least nine Maryland child placement agencies have reported they intend to apply to the federal government to provide foster homes. The deadline was Tuesday.
Catholic Charities confirmed Tuesday that it had submitted an application to operate a group facility at St. Vincent's Villa in Baltimore County for up to 50 minors awaiting home placement. It was not known how many other group living providers applied.