Meeting to cover child abuse, neglect

April 10, 2000|By MARLO BARNHART

No one has to tell Melissa Cline and her staff at the Department of Social Services that child abuse and neglect are significant problems in Washington County.

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But even Cline and co-worker Joyce Martin, both seasoned child protective services caseworkers, were stunned recently when 11 children were placed in foster care in Washington County in just one day.

"Three were teens whose parents were put in jail and no relatives were available," Martin said.

Another five children in one family, ranging from 10 months to 16 years old, were removed because of neglect, she said.

"We had worked with this family for years, but there were lots of issues," Martin said.

Then there was a 10-year-old who'd been the victim of previous abuse. That child was removed when another incident occurred, despite efforts to work with the parents and keep the family intact.


"It took us a week to find family members for that child," said Martin, who is intake supervisor for child protective services.

In another case, two youngsters, a pre-schooler and a first-grader, were being physically abused in a home marked by domestic violence.

And those weren't the only cases being actively addressed that day, Cline said.

Between July 1998 and June 1999, there were 1,564 investigations of suspected child mistreatment.

April has been designated Child Abuse Prevention Month. On April 12, an all-day conference on child abuse and neglect will be held at the Ramada Inn Convention Center.

"The New Millennium - Creating a Safe and Nurturing Environment in a Diversified Society" is the title, Cline said. And that sums up what she and her 22-person staff are trying to achieve every day, she said.

"There are lots of stressors on families today. ... Everyone's working, there's no time to relax," Cline said.

Sometimes that leads to anger and acting out against spouses and children.

Cline's department investigates all reports of child abuse and neglect. "Our first goal is to make sure the child is safe," she said.

Then the second phase begins - healing the family and working to reunite its members. Family members are plugged into parenting classes, parent aide services and other resources.

Schools sometimes refer children, as do doctors' offices and other agencies or individuals who come into contact with children.

Other families that are receiving financial assistance from the Department of Social Services are automatically referred into appropriate programs.

The agency always has a great need for foster families and assistance from close relatives of the children who are referred to the office, Cline said.

Throughout April, there will be a display at the Washington County Free Library with books about child abuse and neglect.

A "Children's Memorial" flag will be flown at police and rescue agencies, colleges and other schools, stores and Municipal Stadium.

Martin said one of the biggest causes of child abuse and neglect is drug and alcohol use. That spawns many other problems, including drug-affected newborns.

"The law says that child is referred here," Martin said. "And the mom is too ... while she is still in the hospital."

For more information on child protective services, foster care or the April 12 seminar, call 240-420-2143.

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