Betting that larger investment in drug treatment, after-school activities and other programs can reduce incarceration, foster care and remedial education, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is expected to sign an agreement today with business and philanthropic leaders designed to shift millions in state spending in the coming years.
The central idea of the More for Maryland program, the first phase of which is scheduled to be agreed to today, is that spending on prevention programs with proven track records not only improves the lives of children but also saves money.
In what advocates say could be a national model, the proposed series of compacts recognizes that those savings can be quantified, and commits the state to reinvesting a portion of the money into prevention programs.
"We will be able to ensure that we get services to the families of children that need the most in the way they will be most effective," said Arlene Lee, executive director of the Governor's Office for Children. "We're keeping families together. We are ensuring services are going to be immediately available to the children and the families that are impacted by the compact, and they will avoid going deeper into our system."
Annie E. Casey Foundation President Doug Nelson said Maryland's commitment is the first of its kind, and other states are watching to see whether it will be a success. What makes it novel is the effort to measure the financial results of prevention programs, and the government's promise to add funding to those that work based on the savings it realizes, he said.
That commitment could make a big difference in the ability to generate private start-up money for child welfare programs, Nelson said. Donors are often easy to convince of the value of a program but reluctant to give because they worry that they will have to continue funding the initiatives indefinitely, he said.
More for Maryland allays that problem by guaranteeing that the government will step in to pay for successful programs.
"This is the best designed results-based system that I've ever seen," Nelson said. "It's still not implemented and executed, and there are probably lots of challenges between here and showing the difference in returning the [investment], but it's already of interest to people."
A group of businesses and charities, including T. Rowe Price, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Abell Foundation and the Family League of Baltimore City have pledged $2.3 million in startup capital to fund the initial programs.
And in this year's budget, Ehrlich has earmarked $2 million to begin the cycle of reinvestment.
Mayor Martin O'Malley launched a similar campaign two years ago called Reason to Believe. With support from many of the same groups funding More for Maryland, the city raised more than $20 million to fund education, drug treatment and other intervention programs.
This year, O'Malley increased to $2 million city funding for Operation Safe Kids, a program that helps at-risk youth get mental health services and drug treatment. According to the mayor's office, the arrest rate for children in the program dropped 43 percent, 75 percent have jobs and 72 percent of those who weren't in school are now enrolled.
The compact being signed today is designed to reduce the time children with drug- or alcohol-addicted parents spend in the foster care system by providing the adults with treatment - and giving judges the power to require that they take advantage of it. The idea is that children could then be reunited with their parents or put up for adoption sooner.
The program is modeled on a similar effort in San Diego, where the average stay in foster care for affected children was reduced from 45 months to between eight and 16 months, according to a release from Baltimore Safe and Sound, which is participating in the compact. If Maryland can replicate San Diego's success, the state could save as much as $30,000 per child.
"It will result in far more children being reunited with their families far more quickly," said Andrew Freeman, president of the board of the Family League of Baltimore City and a former foster parent. "It is an application of common sense that is far too long in coming."
Another compact in the works would attempt to reduce the number of delinquent youths committed to detention centers or group homes by providing intensive support services in the community. And a third would increase job training and educational opportunities for adults in prison.
"Anyone you stop on the street and asked, 'Which would you rather your money go toward, these last-ditch programs or intervention?' it's always the intervention," said Hathaway Ferebee, executive director of Baltimore Safe and Sound. "Would you rather help a kid getting ready to throw his life away or put him in prison? It really reflects our values as a community."
Sun staff writer Jennifer Skalka contributed to this article.