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Blue lights a reminder that child abuse still a problem

April 09, 2003

If you're passing by Hagerstown's City Park after dark this month, you may notice thousands of blue lights shining there. It's not a celebration of spring's arrival, but a reminder that for every bulb glowing in the park, there's a local child who's been abused or neglected. But this sad situation need not continue, if the public gets involved.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and local officials who deal with these situations are hoping to raise citizens' awareness of the problem and how to deal with it.

How bad is the problem here? In a March 2001 interview, Washington County Health Officer William Christoffel said that the year before, the county had the state's highest per-capita rate of child abuse and neglect, including 268 cases of neglect. Christoffel also noted that the situation was made worse by the area's high teen-pregnancy rate.

There are agencies that deal with abuse after the fact, including the Child Advocacy Center on Walnut Street in Hagerstown, where law enforcement and other agencies' personnel can interview a child after something has occurred. CASA - Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused - also offers services for children who've been abused.

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But there's another agency - the Parent-Child Center - that works with families to prevent abuse. The United Way agency not only offers parenting classes but can assign volunteers to families that need one-on-one help learning how to raise their children.

The center's "Right From the Start" programs teaches teen mothers how to nurture their babies. And some of those same mothers participate in "Teen Voices, Teen Choices," a program in which the young moms speak at school assemblies to tell other young folks that having a baby is hard work that lasts for years.

To raise money for these programs, the center will hold its annual telethon on Saturday, April 26, from noon to 3 p.m. on WHAG-TV 25. One of the featured guests will be Maryland's first lady, Kendel Ehrlich, who's promised to make the prevention of child abuse one of her top priorities. Please help her and join in the fight against child abuse.

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