The Montgomery County Council this week established two commissions - on on children and youth and the other on the handicapped - that will advise the council on the problems of both groups.
Each commission will coordinate existing programs and will recommend new ones for the group it serves. Both will serve in advisory capacities to the county council and the county executive.
Council President Elizabeth Scull, who introduced one of two bills to establish the commissions, said coordination of public and private programs offered to youths has been needed for sometime.
"I've been working toward this for two years," she said. "A year and a half ago I went to all the youth agencies and told them how much we needed them to work together, to eliminate gaps in services ad stop duplication of services."
County Executive James P. Gleason also proposed a bill, which the council rejected, to establish the commissions. However, the council later incorporated some of Gleason's proposals into the Scull bill.
The major objection to the Gleason bill was that the two commissions would have been responsible only to the director of the County Office of Family Resources. Under the bill that was approved, the commissions will report directly to the County Council and the county executive.
"These commissions (created by the Scull bill) have more visibility and can communicate directly with the executive and the council," Scull said. "Their thoughts will get to us more quickly."
Each commission will have 21 members, who must be appointed by the county executive and confirmed by the County Council.
The commission on children and youth will include one representative from each of three county agencies - the health department, the social services department and the school system. The other 18 members will include six members from children and youth agencies, six youths and six parents.
The commission on the handicapped will include nine handicapped persons, three parents of handicapped persons and nine persons from organizations that serve the handicapped.
One of the major purposes of the commissions will be to act as a clearinghouse for the groups they serve.
"One of the worst things (about the lack of coordination) is that youth agencies do not communicate," Scull said. "For instance, you have the school system aware of many needs of children because they see them first. But they don't have adequate ways to refer children they see to other agencies. Well, now, all the agencies will sit down at a table together and work out a program for a more effective referal system."
In addition, the commissions will make recommendations to the council on funding for youth and handicapped programs.
"The commission members will review together budget priorities for programs," Scull said. "It won't be a matter of agencies coming before the council and saying, 'Give me money for my program.'"
The bill will be effective as soon as the county executive signs the legislation.