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Learn how to curb child abuse at Jan. 26 symposium

January 02, 2008|By BOB MAGINNIS

Mary Jo Ashburn is retired now, but she still remembers the day one of her students in the Washington, D.C., school system came in with her arm bandaged.

When Ashburn asked what happened, she said the child told her that she had fallen down the stairs.

Ashburn suspected otherwise, but in those days, she said, there weren't many places to turn for help. Fortunately, she said, officers of the D.C. Police Department came to see her.

There are still many people who don't know where to turn when they suspect child abuse, but Ashburn and the Exchange Club's Mid-Atlantic Foundation for the Prevention of Child Abuse want to change that.

To do that, Ashburn and the foundation will put on a symposium on Saturday, Jan. 26, starting at 9 a.m. at The Sleep Inn on the Sharpsburg Pike (Md. 65) behind the Cracker Barrel restaurant.

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Registration begins at 8:30 a.m., Ashburn said, and the symposium will continue until 10:15 a.m., when the panel will take questions from those who attend.

The panel includes:

· John H. McDowell, judge of Washington County Circuit Court.

· Gina Cirincion, assistant state's attorney for Washington County.

· Shane Blankenship, a detective with the Hagers-town Police Department.

· Dave Engle, director of the Washington County Department of Social Services.

· Dr. Steve Kotch, director of emergency medicine at the Washington County Hospital.

· Teresa Thorn, program manager of Safe Place, a facility where victims of child abuse can tell their stories to a variety of agency representatives at the same time, as opposed to telling the same story repeatedly.

· Jane Abrams, who works with the Court Ordered Special Advocate program in Pennsylvania.

Ashburn said she hopes to convince members of the area's Exchange Clubs to attend, as well as staffers from the Department of Social Services, the Health Department and the Board of Education.

Day-care providers are also welcome, Ashburn said, adding that the symposium is really open "to anyone who works with children."

Ashburn said she hopes that the end result of the symposium will be to put "people on their toes to look for child abuse."

Those who attend will also learn what resources are available if they suspect child abuse, either in a doctor's office or other setting, she said.

The cost of the event is $22, which includes a catered lunch. If you would like to attend, send Ashburn a check made out to the Mid-Atlantic Foundation and mail it, in care of Ashburn, to 19022 Longmeadow Road, Hagerstown MD 21742. Please RSVP by Jan. 20, she said.

If you're not sure and would like more information, please call Ashburn at 301-791-2059.

Those who attend will receive one continuing education credit, Ashburn said.

Child abuse is learned behavior, which means that children who are abused are likely to abuse their own children when they become parents. It's what they've learned is acceptable parenting and when they are stressed, it's what they're likely to return to.

That cycle of hand-me-down violence can be broken, with help from agencies such as the Parent-Child Center, which have a variety of programs to teach parents how to discipline their children without resorting to mental or physical abuse. Other programs offered by that agency involve teaching teen mothers how to care for their children and how to deter teens from becoming pregnant.

Washington County has a high rate of teen pregnancy and a high rate of child abuse. Unfortunately, the two go hand in hand, as children born to single mothers are much more likely to be abused or neglected.

They are also more likely to become a burden on taxpayers, either through the welfare system or the correctional system. Preventing abuse or stopping it soon after it starts is the best and cheapest way to save money and turn hopeless lives into productive ones.

Bob Maginnis is Opinion page editor of The Herald-Mail.

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