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Md.’s plans to end out-of-state youth placements hit a snag

Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

ANNAPOLIS — A effort to bring back some of the more than three-dozen severely developmentally disabled Maryland youths sent to out-of-state group homes by next month will now take longer than initially promised.

Gregory S. James, deputy secretary of operations for the Department of Human Resources, told the Board of Public Works Wednesday that he does not believe his agency will be successful in bringing any of the 38 youths in out-of-state group homes back to Maryland. Instead, he said, a multi-agency work group is focused on creating programs capable of bringing back some children by July and others back by the end of the year.

“When I was before this body in late March, I offered a time frame of 60 days to have those youth transitioned back to Maryland,”  “We are still working aggressively but at this point I do not believe we are going to make 60 days. It is proving far more challenging to create a program and stand up a program from scratch, basically, in Maryland than we and our partners, the providers in the community and our partners in state agencies, had hoped.”

James’ announcement drew the ire of Comptroller Peter Franchot who has been critical of such-out-of-state placements.

Franchot expressed concern that the effort to bring the 38 children home was being lost in bureaucracy and meetings.

“My sense of this right now is nothing much is happening and it’s because the agencies have a certain viewpoint that these kids are out of state and we can, as long as we can get them aged out of care, I don’t get a sense that anybody is really pressing to bring these kids home,” Franchot said. “I’d like to see something happen in the next couple of weeks to bring these kids home.”

“I’ve sat in a lot of these workgroups and they go on forever, and nobody discusses the right things and they end up doing nothing,” he said.

Franchot made his comments during a discussion of a $4.1 million, one-year contract with a one-year option to place 11 severely developmentally disabled youth with Woods Services in Pennsylvania. The facility is another in a line of other similar programs that has had its share of problems involving youths in its care, including a worker charged with manslaughter in 2010 after a resident died after being left in a hot vehicle.

In February, a caretaker was charged with assault after allegedly punching a 13-year-old resident in the face and fracturing the youth’s nose.

Franchot brought up the issue earlier this year when he and the board were asked to approve a contract with the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, Massachusetts. That center has also been the subject of subject of allegations of abuse. In December, two employees were charged with assaulting and spitting on a student.

Last year, Janaia Barnhart, a 15-year-old Maryland girl died in a group home facility in Delaware.

The 38 children currently in out-of-state group homes represent the most difficult cases the state deals with and are a small percentage of the roughly 4,000 youths under the age of 21 who are sent to in-state group home programs.

Additionally, there are out-of-state placements made through the Department of Juvenile Services and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, though James could not immediately say how many more youths are in those programs.

Gov. Larry Hogan defended his agencies, saying they were working hard to find a solution

“I tend to disagree with the comptroller. I think they are working around the clock as hard as they possibly can and have done a great job under trying circumstances, and it’s not just committee work,” Hogan said.

James maintained that the agency was monitoring youths placed out of state.

“Not every out-of-state program is a bad program, and not every out-of-state program is a bad fit for the youth,” James said, adding that his agency is also looking for in-state programs that are a good fit for the children.

“It has to be the right fit.We don’t want to take children from some place where they are stable and put them some place where it’s a bad fit.”

But Franchot fired back, saying the out-of-state facilities are not adequate.

“How about if they’re in a bad environment now?” Franchot said. “How about if they’re in a horrific environment right now and we want to bring them back to a good, stable environment. How about just taking some money and going out and saying to some of these fabulous facilities that we have in the state, we’ll pay you money to take care of these Maryland citizens in Maryland? Why wouldn’t that work?”

But James said it wasn’t simply a matter of money.

“I assure you, comptroller, if this were simply a matter of money, this would have been solved months ago,” James said. “This is not a problem that we can throw money at and snap our fingers and a new program opens its doors tomorrow.

“You’ve got to be kidding me that you’re saying that,” Franchot said. “Why don’t we get some money, put it on the table and get these kids home, get them out of a horrific environment up there at Woods.”

“I just can’t put it any more baldly: These kids are not in safe, stable environments based on the history of these organizations,” Franchot said. “And to have 11 of our kids at Woods, the one I just mentioned, bring them home and pay the money and set up a program.”



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