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State human resources official discusses foster care

August 30, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - With the sixth-largest number of children in foster care in the state, Washington County Department of Social Services needs more foster parents, Director David A. Engle said.

"We have 120 foster families. We would like 120 more," Engle said Monday.

During a visit to Washington County on Tuesday, Christopher J. McCabe, secretary of the Maryland Department of Human Resources, discussed foster care and welfare-to-work initiatives. Across the state, 10,500 children are in foster care, he said.

The social services departments' No. 1 goal is reuniting children with their parents. In cases where that proves impossible, McCabe said the state is working to establish a mediation system that would help parents make the decision to terminate their custodial rights.

By going through mediation, McCabe and Engle said social services departments could speed up what's typically a lengthy court process, allowing children the chance to be adopted more quickly.

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The state also is working on a program in which noncustodial fathers are given work training, so they can help provide for their families. That help long has been available to single women looking to move off the welfare rolls, but the Non-Custodial Parent Employment Program is a new idea, McCabe said.

According to Engle, about a dozen people have sought training since May, when Washington County began extending its services to noncustodial parents. Of those people, Engle said about six are now employed.

By taking responsibility for paying child support, McCabe said men can foster new relationships with their families. Finding safe, loving environments for children is the department's mission, he said.

According to Engle, Washington County averages a monthly foster-care caseload of 350 children. The number of neglect and abuse cases reported to the county ranks in the top five in the state, he said.

"I think that two-thirds of children that come into foster care, their parents or caretakers have been involved in some type of substance abuse," Engle said.

While 50 percent to 75 percent of the children in the department's care eventually return to their families, some remain in foster care until they have aged out of the system, Engle said.

Last year, 24 adoptions were finalized in Washington County, according to numbers provided by Engle and McCabe. The department's goal was 15.

Seeing a child saved from abuse and living in a caring environment is one of the highlights of the job, Engle said.

"Every foster parent is an opportunity for a child to really turn their life around and feel love and support," he said.

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