By JESSICA GROOVER
ANNAPOLIS (Sept. 12, 2008)—Maryland's African-American children are five times more likely to be in foster care than Caucasian children, according to a recent study of 2006 and 2007 data by Advocates for Children and Youth (ACY), a group that promotes the safety and health of children throughout the state.
The Maryland group conducted the study in the middle of August and presented the results to Gov. Martin O'Malley during a meeting earlier this month about its Maryland Can Do Better for Children campaign, which promotes solutions for child welfare, education, health, juvenile justice, economic security and racial equality.
Advocates for Children and Youth is requesting that O'Malley issue an executive order to state agencies like the Department of Human Resources requiring them to address racial disparities in child welfare in Maryland.
"The governor was very engaged and asked a lot of questions," said Matthew Joseph, executive director for Advocates for Children and Youth. "He said he needed time to talk to the cabinet secretaries."
Using data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the group found that three-fourths of the children in out-of-home placement are African-Americans, even though African-American children account for only one-third of the state's children.
Maryland's gap is more than 50 percent higher than the national racial gap.
"We're removing more children for neglect than abuse," said Ameejill C. Whitlock, child welfare director for Advocates for Children and Youth. "Most of the money is geared toward child removal than family preservation."
The group believes state money can be used more efficiently if problems are addressed early in the home before the court system gets involved.
"If it's something like a substance abuse issue, we need to address these things up front instead of waiting until it's a crisis," Whitlock said.
Advocates for Children and Youth is recommending that legislation and budgets for state agencies be amended to reflect these practices.
Nancy C. Lineman, director of communications for the Department of Human Resources, said the state supports addressing family issues before removing children from their homes, but that such practices may not solve everything.
"ACY is saying that, in order to address racial disparity, you need to do a and b," Lineman said. "We know that we are doing a and b because it's good social work practice, but we do not know it to be true that those things will fix the problems."
In an August statement responding to the report, Department of Human Resources Secretary Brenda Donald said the state does not use race as a factor in cases of abused and neglected children. Her department is seeking solutions for the existing racial disparities, she said.
While Advocates for Children and Youth has received support from state departments and many state legislators have endorsed the Maryland Can Do Better for Children campaign, Joseph said that efforts are more efficient when they become gubernatorial priorities.
The group made the case to the governor that solutions like these are cost-neutral and might even save the state some money.
"By not having kids in foster or group homes, the state saves money," Joseph said. "If you make an investment, within that fiscal cycle, you'd save money."
Shaun Adamec, deputy press secretary for O'Malley, said the governor had a productive meeting with Advocates for Children and Youth.
"The agencies and cabinet secretaries will continue to work with stakeholders like ACY to further these efforts," Adamec said.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.