Foster care program closed state to probe


Reacting to a critical news report, state officials have abruptly shut down a Baltimore foster care program serving 51 young adults, requiring some to move to new lodgings with only two days notice.

The state Board of Public Works cut off funding Wednesday to New Pathways, a private company that supervised former foster children 18 to 21 years old, after a television report said several have had trouble with the law while in the program.

Yesterday, state workers scrambled to move a dozen of them from apartments to foster homes, group houses or the homes of relatives. Lynda Fox, a deputy secretary with the state Department of Human Resources, said workers were trying to keep program participants as close to their schools and jobs as possible.

"Most of these kids have had some serious trauma in their lives," said Ms. Fox. "What we don't want to do is add to their distress."

The other 39 will be allowed to remain in their apartments and will be supervised by government social workers, Ms. Fox said.

New Pathways ran into trouble this week when WJZ-TV (Channel 13) reported that several clients had been charged with crimes, including assault, drug possession, car theft and having sex with a minor.

The Board of Public Works, made up of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein and state Treasurer Lucille Maurer, was disturbed by the report and quickly cut off funding. The program provided an apartment, clothing, and $90 a week for food, living expenses and savings for each young adult trying to make the transition from foster care to independent adult lives.

Mr. Goldstein criticized it as a waste of money.

"They're paying these people 90 bucks, not checking up on them, as they are committing crimes," the comptroller said yesterday. "As a public official and taxpayer, I can't tolerate it and I don't think the people of Maryland can tolerate it."

New Pathways director Barbara Chappell defended the program. She said that in the past 2 1/2 years it has served 121 young people. Of those, 18 have had brushes with the law, she said. Of the 51 clients currently in the program, she added, only four have been in legal trouble.

"I think that's an excellent success rate unless they want perfection," Mrs. Chappell said. "They are youth who are very troubled when they come to us -- they stole cars before they came to us, they got into fights before they came to us."

Ms. Fox said the state decided to move 12 clients because some were determined to need more supervision, while others were scheduled to graduate from the program soon anyway. State social workers will monitor the rest while the department investigates how New Pathways handled the program.

Human Resources officials are scheduled to return to the board with their findings in September, when the $1.5 million contract may either be reinstated or terminated. The board awards contracts for state programs and projects.

New Pathways has contracted with the state since 1990.

Participants gathered yesterday at the company's office in the 1200 block of W. Pratt St., anxiously awaiting news of their future. Many spoke of abuse and neglect earlier in their lives and of spending years in the foster care system. New Pathways offered the only stability they had ever known, some said.

Bill Beatty, 19, said the program helped him find a job, a place to live and, more importantly, a sense of family.

"I didn't want my family and they didn't want me," Mr. Beatty said as he sat waiting for his social worker to help him move from his Dundalk apartment to a temporary residence at the Maryland Rehabilitation Center. "This is my family."

Anita Cooper, a secretary at New Pathways, expressed anger at the state for suspending the program on the basis of a news report. "It was a knee-jerk reaction that was totally shortsighted and done without investigating," Ms. Cooper said.

Del. Elijah E. Cummings, who represents the district in which New Pathways is located, also wondered whether the state had acted hastily. He said it might have made more sense to have state social workers monitor all the youths while investigating.

"It seems to me that would have been a fairer way and a less disruptive way to do it," said Mr. Cummings, a Democrat.

Mr. Goldstein, though, did not seem particularly concerned about moving participants on short notice. "They have places to put these people," he said.

Mrs. Maurer said the board suspended the program to send a message to New Pathways that it needed to provide more supervision and to let taxpayers know that their money wouldn't be wasted.

The treasurer said she was concerned about disrupting lives, "but you have no choice. I just hope that New Pathways can make sure that these young people are taking advantage of the opportunities they are given and the program can be restored."

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