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On Saturday, please help the kids who can't help themselves

June 07, 2006|by BOB MAGINNIS

Two years ago, I went to a doctor's office in Smithsburg. I wasn't sick, but what I saw there didn't make me feel all that healthy, either.

It was a presentation of a program called EPIC - Educating Physicians in their Communities about child abuse and neglect.

The program is designed to educate doctors and other medical professionals about their responsibility under the law to report suspected child abuse - and to show them how to recognize it, too.

The show, tailored to the local community with the help of the Washington County Health Department, featured, among other things, actual photos of local children who had been abused.

There were burns, bruises and broken bones, all of which I guarantee are easier to read descriptions of than to actually view in graphic photographs.

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In more than 10 years of writing about and raising money for the prevention of child abuse, I have found that it is a subject that many people would rather not think about, though they know it is present in the community.

In January, Teresa Thorn, program manager of the Washington County Child Advocacy Center, also known as Safe Place, said that in 2005, Washington County had 1,664 reports of child abuse and neglect.

That ranked second in the state, which is one distinction this area would rather not have.

Part of that is undoubtedly due to the area's high teen birth rate. Research shows that children born to teen mothers are more likely to be abused and neglected.

But child abuse is also what is called "learned behavior."

In simple terms, if you were abused as a child, in moments of stress you are more likely to abuse your own children.

It is possible to break that cycle and one group that can help is the Parent-Child Center, a United Way agency that offers a variety of services, including parent aides who work with families to teach parents how to discipline children without resorting to mental or physical abuse.

The center also offers "Right From The Start," which matches teen mothers and volunteers who teach them about things such as good nutrition and the importance of holding their babies and talking to them.

A third program, "Teen Voices, Teen Choices," sends teen mothers to school assemblies to warn students how difficult it is to become a parent while still a teen.

The center, at 998 Potomac Ave. in Hagerstown, also provides infant clothes and other necessities not available through other agencies.

But running the center, which includes coordinating programs run by professionals with volunteer help, costs money. The center has only one large annual fundraiser, which will be held this Saturday, June 10, from noon to 3 p.m. at the food court at Valley Mall.

Don't expect any sad stories then, says Millie Lowman, the center's executive director. Instead, she said, there will be a variety of fun things for children, including face painting, balloon sculptures, a karate demonstration and music from Autumn Smith, this year's Miss Western Maryland.

And there will be an appearance by Time Out Teddy, the center's mascot, who urges parents to give themselves a "time out" when they feel they might be losing control.

The center is hoping to raise $100,000, Lowman said. To help, she said the mall has donated three $300 gift certificates, one for each hour of the telethon. For every $25 you donate, you will get one ticket in that hour's raffle, she said.

That sounds like a good deal, but whether you win or not, you should know that somewhere in Hagerstown and Washington County are children who don't have anyone else to help them with the terrible things they're going through. Please consider sending them a lifeline, in the form of a check.

If you can't be there Saturday, please call 301-791-2224 for information on how to donate.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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