Kathy, 15, did not get along with her mother and ran away often. The two went through family counseling, but it didn't help. When Kathy was suspended from school after frequent absences, her mother gave up.
A social worker sent the Baltimore teen-ager to Usonia, a temporary shelter at the Baptist Children's Home in Bethesda, with the hope that a two-month separation would help Kathy and her mother and that the stay in the shelter would inject some structure into Kathy's life.
The teen-ager had been at Usonia only a few weeks when the financially strapped shelter closed this month after 18 months of operation.
Kathy (not her real name) returned to her mother because there was nowhere else for her to go. The social worker fears Kathy went home too soon and will continue to get into trouble.
Adequate facilities for children with problems are difficult to find in Maryland, and with the closing this month of Usonia, a 16-bed, short-term facility, the supply is tighter still.
Shelters across the state now can accommodate fewer than 50 children, but 100 a day need the services, according to Wayne Crosby, director of the Baptist Home and president of the Maryland Association of Residential Facilities for Youth.
In the last three years, a lack of money shut down homes and shelters that provided space for a total of 200 children in the state, Crosby added.
The result is that children live with parents unwilling to or incapable of taking care of them, drift through serveral foster home placements or stay in group homes that offer too much or too little supervision for their particular needs.
Shelters such as Usonia provide temporary stopping-off points for teenagers until social workers can find them more permanent places, such as group homes or foster care.
A shelter can make a critical difference for a teen-ager, especially when the paperwork involved in a permanent placement might take several weeks or when there is a waiting list for the group home a social worker would like to use.
Usonia, faced with a growing gap between money it received from the state and the actual cost of care, ran up a $70,000 debt in its year and a half of operation.
The shelter provided a rigorous schedule of chores, schooling and recreation for its residents. It was praised by state officials, social workers and the teen-agers who lived there.
"We are very regretful that this is occurring," Ruth Masinga, director of the Maryland Social Service Administration, said shortly before Usonia closed. "The need for shelters like Usonia is serious."
Several state legislators appealed to Gov. Harry Hughes for money to save Usonia.
"We say our goal is to keep people as part of the community and then we turn around and let Usonia close," said Del. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Montgomery), a member of the House Appropriations Committee and the Committee on De-Institutionalization. "It doesn't make sense."
Richard banderlin, senior budget analyst with the Maryland Department of Budget and Fiscal and Planning, said his office was asked to "look into" Usonia's closing.
"We are still drawing the facts. We're nowhere close to an answer of what can be done," Bandelin said. "Unfortunately, they're located in the wrong place by being in Montgomery County. The need is greater in Baltimore and Anne Arundel, and the costs are lower, too. Maybe they should consider moving Usonia."
"Maybe the location is a problem," said Forehand. "We'd have a better chance of getting money if it (Usonia) were in Baltimore and not in Bethesda. I say you go with what you got -- and we had Usonia."
Nine youths lived at Usonia in the last few days of June. Five were from Baltimore, two from Montgomery County and one each from Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties.
Three, including the two boys from Montgomery, were moved to group homes elsewhere in the state. One girl from Baltimore is now at the longer-term residential facility which the Baptist Home continues to operate.
Two returned to their parents or other family members. Two returned to the foster families they lived with before going to Usonia. The social worker with information about the ninth child could not be reached.
Social workers in the stage struggle with an average caseload of 35 children and a declining number of facilities for them, making it increasingly difficult to find suitable placements, according to Sandy Fallin, a coordinator of child care facilities in Baltimore.
She cited the case of a 14-year-old Baltimore boy who had lived with a number of relatives and in a group home before going to Usonia recently.
"He had the most unstable past of the children we had there," said Fallin.
"It doesn't appear it will improve any time soon. He went back to his grandmother , but she can't handle him."
Grace Baddington is a social worker charged with looking for another placement for an Anne Arundel teen-aged boy who had to leave when Usonia closed. She said she is "lucky" because "I've been working in the system for 14 years and know who to call and who to cajole at group homes."
The child, whom Wanda Martin, Anne Arundel child welfare supervisor, described as looking "like an angel, but who's very manipulative," spent three years in foster care before he went to Usonia.
"He needed a lot of structure," said Martin. "If he returned home, he'd be back in our care soon. If he was at an unstructured home, he'd be kicked out or leave soon. It's real problem."
The boy was refused admittance to several places, including the Baptist Home, but has been placed in a group home.
Usonia received $31 per day from the state for each child, but the costs, according to director Wayne Crosby, were closer to $47.
Shelter facilities in the state recently received an increase in perdiem payments, too late to help Usonia.
"We're getting $42.50 a day now," said Joseph Abate, program director of Mount Vernon, a 30-day shelter in Baltimore. "When we negotiated last month, we told the state that without the increase, we'd go under like Usonia did. That definitely made a difference."
A staff member at Second Mile, a two-week shelter for seven children in Hyattsville, said, "We get our money from the federal government and from private organizations and donations. We're trying to work out the budget now, and it's a real tight pinch."
Crosby recalled, "We spent so much time, money and emotion on Usonia. I think we're still grieving its closing."
The building, set on a tree-lined driveway off Greentree Road, is vacant.
Staff members are taking vacations, comtemplating graduate school and starting up their job search. Only one has found a full-time job so far -- as a hotel reservations clerk.