March 31, 2013

Our View: Lawmakers, regulators behind the curve, foster care surge shows

Major reforms are critical to resolving the current crisis and preventing future ones.

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Marie Beaulieu of Jay helps her son Shavar, 8, wash his hands. She and her family adopted him after taking him in as a foster child. Lawmakers have backed spending cuts that affect support services for foster care adoptive parents like the Beaulieus, while regulators have failed to track long-term trends in foster care.

2013 File Photo/Gabe Souza

And when the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram itself tried to identify trends that might explain the recent rise in foster-care placements, the newspaper was hindered by the DHHS' multiple computer systems and limited data-collection practices.


We're heartened by the fact that Farnsworth promises that the biennial Office of Child and Family Services budget will receive more scrutiny than the supplemental spending proposal, and we hope that this proves to be the rule and not the exception for future budget-writing processes.

Legislators must demand objective and conclusive data from all state agencies before making budget decisions. They also need to provide these agencies with the funds to collect and interpret this data.

The Office of Child and Family Services, for its part, has to step up and use the information that it collects to analyze trends with an eye toward long-term budget planning.

Of course, valid conclusions about program effectiveness must take into account socioeconomic and other differences between the people being served one year and those served the next. However, it's hard to imagine how the Office of Child and Family Services, the Legislature or the people of Maine can find out which programs are working for the greatest number of people without following the programs' progress over time.

Ultimately, state policymakers, child welfare professionals and Maine families all want Maine's children to grow up in secure, safe surroundings. There undoubtedly will be debates over the best way to accomplish this goal.

We also can be sure, however, that if lawmakers and regulators aren't held accountable, we will not reach this goal, and the people who will be hurt most are the children who are hurting already.


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