A federal grant worth $650 million over five years in Maryland will bring greater flexibility to how the state addresses child-welfare issues.
The focus in Maryland in recent years has shifted to trying to prevent the problems that lead to children being removed from homes, the very act that can cause a second layer of trauma for kids, said Carol Emig, president of Child Trends in Bethesda.
Even if children do have to be removed, she said, they need to stay close to their homes and with relatives, if possible, "so they can maintain relationships with their siblings, go to the same school; often they can keep their friends - and so, it's much less disruptive to them and just better for them, overall."
The grant money comes at a time when federal funding of child welfare overall has been in decline, in part because of a funding formula that Emig and many others see as outdated. She added that most of the regular stream of federal money also goes to foster care, instead of focusing on prevention - such as the Maryland model.
Legislation was introduced last year to update the system, but it's controversial because it calls for less spending on group homes and some states would see less money.
Emig said older children in foster care need special attention. It's tougher to find adoptive families for them, and many end up in group homes or residential facilities. But Emig said these places are overused, and aren't in the best interest of children approaching the "age-out" point of foster care.
"It's kind of a double jeopardy," she said, "because they are going to be leaving foster care soon and, if they're in a group home, they're less likely to have that permanent family connection that they need."
Emig said Maryland prioritized keeping kids in families or with extended family even before the grant, and the number of children in foster care has declined as a result.
Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MD