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Workshop in Hagerstown on preventing child abuse, neglect draws more than 400

April 30, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- More than 400 people dedicated to helping children gathered Tuesday for the 20th annual workshop on preventing child abuse and neglect, an event sponsored by Washington County Public Schools, the Washington County Department of Social Services and other local organizations.

"It takes community partnership to address abuse and neglect," said Brenda Donald, secretary for the Maryland Department of Human Resources and keynote speaker for the event.

Donald discussed the Place Matters initiative, which focuses on stabilizing families in an effort to keep children with relatives if it's safe, she said.

One of her department's goals is to recruit 1,000 new foster parents by 2010. Washington County was the first county to reach its goal, having already recruited 150 foster families, Donald said.

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The annual conference gives professionals a chance to network, said Mark Lannon, director of the Mental Health Center of Western Maryland.

Workshops offered access to up-to-date information, Lannon said.

Tammy Childers, who works at Cedar Ridge School, was interested in workshops about gangs and bullying, she said.

A lot of the children served by Cedar Ridge are from Baltimore and have become involved in gangs, she said.

The bullying seminar explained types of bullying, including cyber-bullying, and taught participants strategies for intervening.

Law enforcement officers from the Hagerstown Police Department and Washington County Sheriff's Department led a seminar about gang activity in Washington County.

Gang activity has taken a turn for the worse locally in the past few years. Hagerstown now sees gang-related activity like graffiti that bigger cities saw about five years ago, one of the officers said.

The officers asked not to be identified due to the nature of their work.

During the seminar, the officers showed photographs taken from the social networking Web site mySpace.com. The pictures were of local teenagers. Some had faces covered in red bandanas and pointed assault rifles at the camera. Others showed handguns, and in other photographs, the teenagers were using drugs, the officer said.

Cathy Scuffins, principal at Hickory Elementary School, attended the gang seminar. She had seen the gang presentation before, but always learns something new, she said.

Scuffins planned to attend a seminar about poverty and its impact on children's brains, she said. About 58 percent of the children at her school live in poverty, so any information about poverty and its relation to learning was helpful, she said.

About 460 people were registered for the conference, organizers said.

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