The increase in child abuse is most dramatic in Washington County, where the number of reports has soared 30 percent in the last five years, said David A. Engle, director of the Washington County Department of Social Services.
Last year, the department investigated 1,344 reports of abuse and neglect, up from about 1,000 reports five years earlier, Engle said.
Part of the increase is due to changes in Maryland law, but the problem also seems to be getting worse, he said.
Things have gotten so bad that officials have identified it as one of the top health problems in the county.
Franklin County, Pa., social workers investigated 715 cases of child maltreatment in 1992, said Wilbur Daley, assistant administrator of Children and Youth Services.
That number remained fairly steady until 1996, when there were 800 cases, representing an 11.9 percent increase.
In West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, the number of cases went from 483 in 1991 to 516 in 1996 for a 6.8 percent increase, said Denny Pentony, supervisor at the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
Edmondson reminded the crowd how important it is to save children from violence.
"When you lose your parent, you lose your past. When you lose your spouse, you lose your present. But when you lose your children, you lose your future," he said. "And we're losing our future."
To make his point, Edmondson read statements by children:
- "Parents: They kiss you, they hug you, they never hurt you."
- "I don't get why my parents fight so much."
- From a 4-year-old to his father in prison, "I hope you're more responsible now."
- "I was never happy in my house."
- "It's not always easy to keep a happy face."
- From a girl in a wheelchair, "I'm just as special as any other kid."
- "When I go to sleep I think about dying."
Dealing with misery and hardship on a daily basis can wear you down, Edmondson said.
"You have to draw the line. Simply do the best you can," he said.
Edmondson told the group to take care of themselves by exercising regularly, developing a sense of humor and remaining humble.
Staff at Washington County Child Protective Services lean on each other for support. They get together after work and go to training sessions outside the office like Thursday's gathering.
"We do try hard to provide opportunities to get out of the office and get a break," Cline said.