The announcement this week of a new $4.5 million federal grant for Maryland's network of family support centers is a tribute to the state's success in one of the most promising areas of social work: finding effective ways of helping the fragile families formed by out-of-wedlock births, especially to teen-agers.
Maryland's network of 15 family support centers -- which will soon grow to 19 -- provides a variety of services for families with young children. The centers teach parenting skills -- an especially important contribution for young people who may not have had good role models in their own lives -- and also help young parents get the education and job skills they need to support their children. The three-year grant will enable the centers to improve and expand their adult education and job training services, and allow the program to extend family support activities into Head Start sites and other appropriate settings.
Maryland was one of three states selected for the grants from among 42 applicants, and the money is seen by state officials as an important component in efforts to reform Maryland's welfare program. That connection highlights an important point about any human services issue: No initiative or program, however worthy it may sound, can be effective in isolation from other services.
For the first time in a decade, the state is seeing some reduction in the number of children entering foster care. In the 12-month period ending June 30, the state placed about 3,110 children who were subjected to neglect or abuse, fewer than the Department of Human Resources expected and 52 fewer than the previous year. Avoiding foster care placements not only spares children the emotional trauma of separation from their families, it also saves the state a considerable amount of money.
In citing the improvement, the governor gave much of the credit to "Families Now," an initiative that gives social services workers more flexibility in working with families to forestall the need for removing children from their home. But it takes nothing away from "Families Now" to note that no single program, whether family support centers or "Families Now," can work miracles all by itself. Together, however, a well-coordinated, well-designed network of services can produce measurable and lasting improvements for many Maryland families.