For the first time in a decade, the state saw a decrease in the number of children entering its costly foster care program, Gov. William Donald Schaefer announced yesterday.
In the 12-month period that ended June 30, the state placed about 3,100 children in foster care because of neglect or abuse. That was less than the Department of Human Resources expected, and slightly less than the number of children who entered care in the previous year.
That drop -- from 3,162 in 1992 to 3,110 in 1993 -- was the first time the number of new cases had decreased in 10 years. And it was the lowest number of new cases since 1988, when 2,850 children entered foster care.
The governor credited "Families Now," an increasingly popular program nationwide, in which social workers are given greater flexibility to work with families.
"By working directly with troubled families as a whole unit, we are able to safely keep children in their houses," Governor Schaefer said. "This program helps avoid the trauma which goes along with placing children outside their homes, and it also saves the state a lot of money."
For example, said Fern Blake, family services program manager for the Department of Human Resources, a social worker can buy a child new shoes or a winter coat, if that's the only thing keeping the child from attending school regularly. Or a family can get help with a fuel bill, or a security deposit.
The new program is definitely cheaper, Ms. Blake said, and saved the state at least $7 million out of its $120 million foster care budget, while keeping almost 1,200 families together.
A typical foster care case costs the state almost $12,000 a year in board rates alone, and the child remains away from home for almost two years.