Too many Maryland children in foster care are in group homes, which are generally more expensive than family care and not as responsive to the needs of abused and neglected youngsters. That recent assessment by the nonprofit group Advocates for Children and Youth is on the mark, and Brenda Donald, who heads the state's Department of Human Resources, agrees. Her agency hopes to recruit 1,000 new foster families by 2010. But ACY counts only 89 new families since June 2007. The agency needs to step up its recruiting and do more to help existing foster families. Fortunately, some things are moving in the right direction.
The need for foster families is acute because, statewide, nearly 10,000 children have been removed from their homes in recent years. As of March, 1,485 were in group homes. While that represents a welcome decrease from about 1,680 in October 2007, advocates rightly worry that the overall proportion of group care placements, more than 22 percent, as well as the nearly $76,000 in annual costs per child (compared with $10,000 for family foster care) are still way too high. Ms. Donald is trying to address issues that frustrate foster families and could impede efforts to recruit more - principally, the lack of support services. The basic foster family stipend will increase by $100 a month in July. DHR is paying some day care expenses for working families with children under age 5. The agency also is working to improve respite care and will soon offer in-home, round-the-clock crisis mental health services.
More of these services are essential if the overall goal of fewer children in foster care, and more of those children with families, is to be realized.