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State says its tracking of children has improved

The Baltimore Sun

Maryland Secretary of Human Resources Brenda Donald told lawmakers yesterday that her agency is doing a better job of using a new computer program to keep track of children in state care. At a General Assembly Joint Audit Committee meeting, Donald said that a recent audit documenting problems with "Chessie" - the Children's Electronic Social Services Information Exchange - "really is old news."

Social services employees have entered data from 90 percent of foster care and abuse and neglect investigations, Donald said. In Baltimore, 95 percent of such cases are on Chessie. A year ago, less than half of the state's cases were in the system, which was fully implemented in January 2007. The Department of Legislative Services audit covered May 2004 to June 2007.

Donald, who assumed leadership of Human Resources in early 2007, acknowledged that the computer program "was not developed the way we would have developed it." The $68 million computer program was about four years behind schedule and tens of millions of dollars over budget; it was paid for in equal parts by the state and federal governments.

Some committee members questioned whether Chessie would ever be in good working order.

"We'll still be discussing this 10 or 12 years from now," said Sen. Ulysses Currie, a Prince George's County Democrat - a comment that drew chuckles from other legislators.

Donald also addressed questions, raised in another recent audit, about child support enforcement. Del. Wade A. Kach, a Baltimore County Republican, asked why the agency wasn't using "the hammer" of threatening to revoke a delinquent parent's occupational license. The audit identified 5,283 people with occupational licenses who owed $47 million in child support. State law allows for those licenses to be taken away if the person is not paying child support.

Joseph Jackins, director of the child support enforcement administration, agreed that the agency should be more aggressive and has begun researching "cost-effective" ways to catch up with those parents.

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