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David Engle: Let's talk about the prevention of child abuse

April 26, 2013|By DAVID A. ENGLE

Child abuse and neglect is one of those issues no one really likes to talk about because we want to believe it never happens in our community. But the truth is child abuse can, and does, happen anywhere. Including here.

So let’s talk about it.

April is national Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month. This is a time to reflect on the terrible trauma that victims of abuse endure. It’s also a time to encourage everyone to help stop the problem by promptly reporting suspected acts of child abuse or neglect. 

Sadly, Washington County has the sixth highest rate of indicated child abuse among Maryland counties. By introducing a new tool for managing certain low-risk cases of child abuse and neglect, we hope to reduce occurrences of abuse.

Beginning this summer, Washington County and Western Maryland will implement a new child welfare practice called Alternative Response. This practice enables our caseworkers to work collaboratively with families to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to link them with needed community services, without the threat of formal findings of abuse or neglect. High-risk reports, including cases involving serious physical injury or sexual abuse, will be handled the same way they are today, resulting in formal findings.

Alternative Response is used in more than 20 states and has been shown to produce improved safety outcomes for children and stronger families. Several studies have shown that families are more receptive to this approach because they see their caseworker as someone who can help them rather than someone who is investigating them.

By focusing more on understanding the conditions that could jeopardize a child’s safety, we can better protect that child from future occurrences of abuse.

Our community partners play an important role in this transition by providing needed services to strengthen families. I would like to recognize Washington County Public Schools, Meritus Health System, Friends of Safe Place, and the many other public and private agencies that help us serve these children and families. People interested in learning more about child abuse prevention in Washington County had the chance to join our local child-serving agencies at our 25th annual Child Welfare Workshop last week at LifeHouse Bethel Church on East Wilson Boulevard in Hagerstown.

All Washington County residents are urged to report any suspicion of child maltreatment to our agency through our 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-per-week Child Welfare Hotline at 240-420-2222. Reports may also be made to any local law enforcement agencies throughout the county that are our wonderful partners in the protection of local children. 

Child protection is a community responsibility that requires all of us to be vigilant and responsible. Please call us with your concerns.

David A. Engle is director of the Washington County Department of Social Services. His email is david.engle@maryland.gov.

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