Responding to the growing need for foster homes for adolescents, the Prince George's County Department of Social Services recently established the Adolescent Home Finding Unit (AHFU).
The AHFU will be responsible for finding foster homes for juveniles, ages 12 through 18, who have been referred by the department's protective services division or by the courts because of abuse or neglect. Some are in need of homes because their parents or guardians are financially unable to adequately care for them.
Prior to the establishment of the AHFU in mid-November, the Foster Home Finding Unit handled all cases from infants through 18-year-olds.
Cindy Camirand, supervisor of AHFU, said the new program was started because adolescents are the hardest group to find homes for.
"Most of the parents who volunteer want children under 12," she said, "yet nearly 50 percent of the homes needed are for children between the ages of 12 and 18.
"As a resutl," she continued, "many adolescents are left on their own, sent to institutions or remain in poor home environments."
Though the AHFU receives up to 15 requests for homes each day, the Department of Social Services estimates that half the teenagers needing homes are not placed.
Between January and November last year, there were 114 adolescents for whom homes could not be found.
The reason, Camirand believes, is that the public is under the impression that "teens are difficult" and don't realize that "a lot of them are really just children with the wants and needs of children."
At the present time the AHFU estimates, there are 300 foster homes in Prince George's County. These house approximately 700 foster children, 40 per cent of whom are adolescents.
In addition, there are six shelter homes, housing two to six foster children each.
Shelter homes, according to Camirand, are "not the best of situations, but not the worst either." She said they temporarily take the children out of poor home environments but they don't provide the individual attention needed by many of the children.
There are other problems of shelter homes. They are often filled, and federal regulations place a 30-day limit on a child's stay in a shelter home. After the 30 days are up, the child is either sent to a state institution or returned to the original unsatisfactory home environment.
The AHFU is part of the Metropolitan Recruitment Effort (MRE). The MRE is a joint effort of the foster home units in Alexandria, Fairfax and Prince George's to help one another locate homes.
The Department of Human Resources in Baltimore maintains contact: with foster home units in all of the Maryland connties, providing information and referral services, but the problem of finding homes is still great.
Therefore, Camirand urges "families with a lot of warmth, understanding and patience, who are willing to open their hearts and homes to adolescent children" to contract her at 927-4600, extensions 211,212 or 213.