In limbo too long


People charged with a crime have a constitutional right to a speedy trial. Children in foster care who are awaiting adoption have no assurance that their cases will not languish in the courts for months and even years. In 1986, for foster children in Maryland, the adoption process took an average of 69 months -- almost six years. Thanks in part to legislation speeding up some parts of the process, the average wait is now down to four years. That's an improvement, but it is still shamefully long for a child's fate to be held in limbo.

In Annapolis last week, a bill to shorten the wait in scheduling court hearings cleared the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. The legislation would require that judges schedule the first hearing on adoption proceedings within six months of the request. The average wait now is 13 months.

Judges see the measure as another onerous requirement on an overloaded judicial system. They have a point, but it does not outweigh the state's duty to these children -- all of whom desperately need stability in their lives as quickly as possible. It's true that lack of resources puts a severe strain on the judicial system, as well as on social service agencies. But it's worth noting that during the phase of the adoption process addressed by this bill the state spends $3 million on foster care services for these children. Cutting down the delays would free up some of this money to be used elsewhere.

Money is a consideration, but the overriding reason for passing this bill should be obvious: No state that cares about the well-being of vulnerable children can be satisfied with a system that leaves their fate in limbo for years at a time.

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