Less than two weeks before the scheduled closing of a facility for emotionally disturbed children in Rockville, more than two-thirds of its students have not been placed in alternate residential programs or schools.
Officials at the 25-year-old Christ Child Institute, a residential and day program, said they have been seeking substitute placements for the 33 students since they announced late last year that the school no longer could afford to stay open. As of last week, however, full programs have been found for only 10 children, according to Executive Director Kathleen Brown.
"We were very hopeful that with the amount of lead time (six months) we had, we would be able to say to kids and families, 'At this time this is where you'll be going,' " said Brown. "Instead we find ourselves coming to the wire with less than two weeks to go and still not finding places for a substantial number of our children."
Board members of the private, nonprofit institute announced in December that the agency no longer could underwrite operating deficits, which were running more than $100,000 a year. The cost of caring for the 21 residential students, who live at the center year-round and receive psychiatric counseling in addition to their schooling, had risen to more than $40,000 a year per student and the center was receiving less than $35,000 per student yearly in payments from area jurisdictions and donations from private foundations, according to school officials.
"Regrettably, it is the children who need the help the most who are being caught in the middle by this," said Brown. She has been working with the social services and educational offices in Washington area jurisdictions to find spots for the students, who range in age from 5 to 13. Brown added that a drop in the number of residential or comparable educational facilities throughout the state has compounded the problem of trying to find placements for the children, who come from throughout the metropolitan area. Many of them were referred to Christ Child by social services agencies or are wards of the counties or the District.
According to Brown, five of the 12 day students have not been placed yet in alternate educational programs. Among the 20 residential students, 10 have places to live but no school, and eight need both a school and an appropriate home situation. Brown said 20 of the 36 full-time staff members at the institute still are looking for jobs.
Ten of the students who are District residents have not been placed, said Brown, and most of the day students who are Montgomery County residents will enroll next September at the Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents (RICA) in Rockville.
Parents of students who have been placed in full programs--both educational and residential--also worry that the new programs will not provide comparable care. The day program at Christ Child runs 11 months of the year and most of the 12 day students also participated in an after-school counseling program that met three days a week for three hours. At that time, students received additional counseling in how to focus their attention, sit still and follow directions.
"We really felt Christ Child was just more appropriate for our daughter's needs," said Mary Hall, whose 10-year-old daughter Dana will enroll next year at RICA in Rockville, where there is no after-school program like the one at Christ Child. "Any transition for kids like this is already very traumatic."
James McCombs, president of the Maryland Association of Residential Facilities for Youth, said Christ Child is only one of many private agencies for children that have closed over the past several years because of funding problems. McCombs cited Kinderheim, a youth care facility in Prince George's, which closed in January 1980, and the Florence Crittenton Home, a facility for emotionally disturbed adolescent girls, which will close at the end of this month, as two examples. Crittenton first opened in 1889.
Ironically, McCombs also blamed the recent entrance of the state into the field of residential care for youths as one reason a number of private facilities are closing their doors. The Maryland General Assembly approved legislation this year that would set up a facility in Prince George's County similar to the RICA facility in Rockville.
"When people in the administration talk about the failure of the private sector to rise to the occasion of helping people it's ridiculous," said McCombs. "Look at what's happening to those who are trying to help."