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Survey says local families stressed

October 11, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

People in Hagerstown say this is a good place to raise a family.

But a new survey says that low-wage jobs, drugs, expensive child care, lack of activities for children and poor parenting skills are creating stresses on those families.

Mike Hardy, an operations manager for Citicorp and chairman of the new Washington County Local Management Board, said the survey will form the basis of future family preservation programs and help the board determine which programs to support in the future.

A proposed budget for the LMB, which is paid for by state funds, allocates $187,500 into 13 different new programs, from supporting County Commuter to a new Parenting Education Resource Center.

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Phil Schenk, the president of CCHS Inc. of Terra Alta, W.Va., which performed the survey this summer using focus groups and telephone interviews, said Hagerstown was unique in it's concern about low-paying jobs and the difficulty of parents working odd shifts.

According to the report, jobs are plentiful but family-supporting pay isn't.

According to the phone survey of 174 adults, 70 percent said a family needs at least $25,000 a year in income to raise two children, which translates to roughly $12 an hour. With many new jobs paying less than $10 an hour, it's clear that two jobs are required, Schenk said.

"One of the biggest problems this county has is we cannot land companies that pay good wages. It affects everybody," said one businessman.

With both parents or single parents working odd shifts, it can cause stresses for the children, who may not see their parents often enough, and for marriages, because the husband and wife may never get a chance to see each other.

"Children are spending a lot more time unsupervised by parents than they have in the past," Schenk said.

Many people in focus groups and in the survey said there was a need for more affordable child care and for evening child care.

But the news wasn't all bad. In the phone survey, 88.5 percent said Hagerstown was a good place to raise a family.

Parenting and education

Parents aren't taking enough time with their children's education, people said.

"They want to take their kids and drop them off," one respondent said. "It takes both parents and the school to make a child want to learn. Way too many times we have parents who come in here and say, `it's your job to teach them, not mine, it's not my problem.'"

Another person said standards need to be higher.

"If we expect excellence we get excellence. Washington County has always accepted mediocre education. That shows through test scores, attendance, drop-out rates, pregnancy rates."

Child abuse

One survey respondent who works in law enforcement and in the judiciary said "almost all of my kids are physically or sexually abused. Over 80 percent. That's the secret of juvenile delinquency. Kids that have problems are neglected or abused. If you want to prevent juvenile delinquency, you have to take care of those kids."

"Alcohol is more important than all other drugs combined. The effect on children is they are neglected and being abused," he said.

Child abuse cases increased 43 percent from 1990 to 1995, and the trend has continued in 1996 and 1997. In 1996 there were 377 new cases of child abuse or neglect and in 1997 there were more than that recorded by July. According to the report, that ranks Washington County among the worst in the state.

The survey also found that people feel youths have a lack of respect for authority, that schools don't address individual needs and learning problems, and that there aren't enough activities for kids.

Among the proposed solutions include programs to provide family financial counseling, a program to open up schools to more after-hours activities, a program to provide incentives for low-cost child care, and child care for sick children.

Hardy said the LMB hasn't yet decided which of the programs to initiate or how much support to give to each of the programs. The spending plan would also have to be approved by the state.

Hardy said other considerations, such as election of officers and budget procedures, must also be worked out since the LMB is a brand-new organization.

Among the goals of the group are keeping families together and limiting the amount of expensive out-of-state placements to treat troubled children.

The group is part of a state effort to return more control over social services programs to local people, said County Administrator Rodney Shoop.

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