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State fails to meet some child welfare standards

Maryland could face a penalty of $1.5 million a year if its Department of Human Resources does not improve its failing systems for neglected and abused children, according to a new federal report.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a study yesterday of local child welfare systems that concluded that Maryland does not meet federal standards in several areas.

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Among the areas of failure are the percentage of children who are repeatedly mistreated every year, the number of children in foster care who are reunited with their parents, and the computer system the state uses to track foster children, the 90-page report said.

Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the federal agency, said many of the states examined over the past three years have failed to meet the federal standards.

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"We set a high standard, so I'm not shocked that the states aren't passing," Horn said. "This is not a 'gotcha' review. It's a review meant to make sure that states have not a minimal system, but a system that ensures the safety and well-being of the children in its care."

Christopher J. McCabe, state secretary of Human Resources, said his department has formed six committees, made up of agency employees and outside advocates, to recommend a plan to meet the federal standards.

"The governor and I view this as an opportunity to assess where our child welfare system is and to improve our practice of delivering child welfare activities," McCabe said. "I view this as an opportunity, not as a pass/fail test."

Another report the state will study in its efforts to improve is a series of recommendations issued Jan. 21 by a panel of experts led by Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the city health commissioner, McCabe said.

The state ignored this report - which called for the 24-hour stationing of caseworkers in all city hospitals, among other recommendations - for more than four months, until after the highly publicized deaths May 11 of twin infant girls Emunnea and Emonney Broadway.

The federal review, which took place mostly last fall, included reviews of 49 randomly selected child welfare cases in Baltimore, Anne Arundel County and Allegany County.

The study found that the state was in "substantial conformity" with federal standards in training its workers, responding to the community, and licensing, recruiting and retaining foster and adoptive parents.

The state did not meet federal standards in several categories, including whether "children receive appropriate services to meet their educational needs" and whether "children receive adequate services to meet their physical and mental heath needs."

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The federal government will waive the fines if the state comes up with an acceptable plan to improve its programs, Horn said.


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