Maryland foster children could be reunited with their families sooner with the help of a new public-private initiative that is designed to deliver intensive counseling, drug treatment and other support to parents.

Government, business and philanthropic leaders gathered with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday to announce the "Maryland Opportunity Compact," which is being launched with more than $2 million in donations from businesses and such charities as T. Rowe Price and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The state also has earmarked $2 million from future savings expected as a result of the program.

The initiative is modeled after a program developed in San Diego in which judges presiding over foster cases can order addicted parents accused of abusing or neglecting their children into treatment and impose sanctions for noncompliance. The effect, in many cases, is a reduction in the average length of stay in foster care and speeding up family reunification.

The parent "will be immediately referred to an available drug treatment slot and will be assigned a case manager," explained Andrew Freeman, board president of the Family League of Baltimore, which also has helped fund the initiative. "It's a fabulous idea."

Until now, judges could recommend treatment for parents but could not provide the resources to back up their recommendations.

The "treatment court" model, which will be launched in Baltimore, will not only help families but is also expected to save the state money, said Arlene F. Lee, executive director of the Governor's Office for Children. Sixty percent of the money saved will be reinvested in the program in ensuing years. The other 40 percent will go to additional prevention-oriented efforts.

"We all know kids need families," Ehrlich (R) said. "We improve the odds for kids in vulnerable situations" with programs such as this.

An initial expenditure of $2.5 million should be enough to provide drug treatment and intensive support to the parents of 250 children identified by family courts, state officials said. If the initiative can match San Diego's success, it could save as much as $30,000 a child in costs associated with providing foster care, according to Baltimore's Safe and Sound Campaign, a nonprofit group that is part of the compact. The typical foster child in Baltimore now spends about three years and 10 months in the state's care, said Martha Holleman, the campaign's policy adviser.

The compact is similar to the "Reason to Believe" campaign in Baltimore, a public-private partnership launched two years ago by Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat who hopes to run against the Republican governor in 2006.

"We are glad to see the state has recognized the success we have had in Baltimore and are implementing it on a state level," said Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for the mayor.