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DHR should provide more detail on 3-year-old's death

December 14, 2004

Before a 3-year-old Hagerstown girl died from injuries sustained in a beating, local authorities had initiated four separate investigations into possible child abuse.

Should the first three probes have been a warning sign to workers of the Washington County Department of Social Services that worse things were about to happen?

It's difficult to say, because the Maryland Department of Human Resources, the parent agency of DSS, is not providing all the details of the case, citing state regulations.

Given that the victim, Madyson King, died on Nov. 9, we don't understand why all the details of the DSS investigations shouldn't be made public now.

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They undoubtedly will be part of the public record when the case against the child's accused attacker - her father, Scott E. Patterson - goes to trial.

The child left the home of Michael and Jessica Hull, her mother and stepfather, on March 30, after Hagerstown police raided the home and found what they believed to be heroin.

From her maternal grandmother's house, the child went to the home of another relative and then on May 5 to live with Patterson - the child's fourth home since the March drug raid.

In May, DSS again looked into the possibility of neglect and in September, probed the possibility of abuse after someone alleged there were bruises on the child's face. DSS found no cause for the complaint in either case.

After the September investigation, however, the Department of Human Resources reports that DSS workers offered counseling, but it wasn't clear whether that offer was made to Patterson or the child.

What is clear is that there are any number of agencies in the region, including the Parent-Child Center of Washington County, which provide parenting classes for those who might find it difficult to deal with the stress of raising a child.

How parents can be encouraged to take such classes absent a finding of abuse or neglect is something DSS and state legislators will have to work out.

Shame on them if they don't try. What their parents do children believe they can do as well. If pushing parents to attend classes to learn how to do life's most important job can save one child's life, then it will be time well-spent.

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