Seven Prince George's residents will soon be helping Mary Ellen Werbine, a foster care supervisor in the Department of Social Services, make permanent plans for the approximately 600 foster children living in her county.
In Montgomery County, Mary Lou Hurney, chief of Child Welfare Services, will get similar assistance from seven Montgomery residents.She expects them to help her department focus public awareness on the needs of the 700 Montgomery foster children.
These 14 people have been appointed by Gov. Harry Hughes to the newly formed Foster Care Review boards. The boards, which soon will operate in all of Maryland's 23 counties, were created to help find solutions for hundreds of children tied up in the limbo of foster care.
"Foster care was originally intended as a temporary measure," said Peg McQuarrie, a member of the Prince George's review board and a foster mother to two young boys for the past six years. "But so many children are coming into the system now that many are just lost. For some of them, foster care is becoming an end in itself."
At their twice-monthly meetings the boards will review the cases of children who have remained under foster care for more than six months.
"It's not a court hearing or a judicial process," said Alice Williams, state administrator of the review boards. "The board members will get a complete summary of each child's case. Then they'll be the watchdogs outside -- interviewing the social worker, as well as the foster parent, natural parent and the child."
The recommendations of the boards will be sent to the social workers and court officials involved in the cases studied.
"Our first priority is to keep the natural family together," explained McQuarrie, who also sits on a volunteer policy-making task force that set up the boards. "But if that's not feasible, we might suggest looking for another solution."
The panel members are all foster parents themselves or worked with organizations devoted to helping youth.
"We needed people who had a background and interest in kids," said Williams, whom McQuarrie's task force hired last December. "We've put together a group from different professional, racial and geographic areas."
The concept of the review boards was begun in 1972 in South Carolina where, according to Williams, it has proven successful in "speeding up the timetable of foster care."
Members, who will undergo special training in July, volunteer for four years. Each panel is designed to handle 100 cases; the task force report calls for additional boards to be established in counties where there are more than 100 foster children.
Prince George's board members are Gloria Brown of Hyattsville; Frank Entry, Hillcrest Heights; Kathleen Wells Farley, Bowie; Peg McQuarrie, Mitchellville; Rachel Petty, Suitland; Barbara Ann Ryan, Bowie; Jean Shapiro District Heights.
In Montgomery, members of the review board are Dr. Charles Flatter, Silver Spring; Lillie M. T. Johnson, Silver Spring; Stuart Gordon, Potomac; Janet Friedman, Gathersburg; Elizabeth Bushnell, Wheaton; Dr. Frances Simsarian, Chevy Chase; Nancy Scull, Chevy Chase.