January 26, 2013

Drug issues propel rise in foster care in Maine

As more children land in state custody, Health and Human Services officials say they need extra funding.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

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BAKER MARR
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Christy Marr sits outside the State House in Augusta after an April 2003 news conference. The 2001 death of Marr’s 5-year-old daughter Logan, who was in foster care at the time, led to major changes in Maine’s system. One of those changes was an emphasis on placing children with family members.

2003 AP file photo by Robert F. Bukaty

"When you put that together with the substance abuse epidemic, I don't think you have to look much further into it," Crocker said.

Andi Chasse of Lyman has been a foster parent for 29 years. In that time, she said, she has taken in too many children to count and adopted eight of them, all after they turned 18.

"In my experience, substance abuse or alcoholism was involved in 99 percent of all cases," she said.

Crocker and state Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, the House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, said ever-tightening state budgets and cuts to child care programs like Head Start may be part of the foster care problem.

But Cahill-Low, the DHHS official, said the demand for foster care started to grow even before the program cuts occurred.

To Farnsworth, the state may need the extra money for foster care because of cuts in other places.

"It's like a balloon. You can squeeze it, but the air doesn't go anywhere, it just goes out to the sides and eventually pops," he said.

"The need isn't going to go away, it's just going to find another place to pop up."

Farnsworth and Rep. Richard Malaby, R-Hancock, another Health and Human Services Committee member, said the Legislature is obligated to support the proposed increase in funding.

"What are we going to do? Put the kids on the street?" Farnsworth asked.

"If it costs us, it costs us. We're prepared to pay," Malaby said. "This is the right thing to do. This is our youth."

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard contributed to this report.

State House Bureau Writer Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com 

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