Almost one-third of the state's child-protection workers are barred from providing hearsay evidence in abuse cases, a city prosecutor has told lawmakers.
But the Maryland Department of Human Resources wants to change that with a bill that would allow testimony from unlicensed social workers.
While a 1988 law allows licensed psychologists, educators, doctors and social workers to testify about statements made by children under age 12, it does not extend to unlicensed social workers.
Yet unlicensed workers make up almost one-third of the state's protective services staff -- 170 out of 550, according to DHR.
Part of the problem is the budget, officials said, because agencies can't offer high enough salaries to maintain completely licensed staffs.
Charles A. Chiapparelli, chief of the Child Abuse Division of Baltimore's state's attorney's office, said he has seen "case upon case upon case" in which statements from unlicensed social workers could not be used.
"Doesn't this [the bill] make it easier to get convictions?" asked Sen. Frederick C. Malkus, D-Dorchester, at a hearing yesterday before the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
"Of course," Chiapparelli replied, adding that it also could result in more guilty pleas and fewer trials.
The legislation is one of two child-abuse bills introduced so far in
the state Senate. The other, inspired by parents who were wrongly accused of child abuse, would require videotaping a child's first interview with authorities.
George M. Lipman, a Baltimore public defender and the only person to testify against the hearsay bill, said it was part of a trend to chip away at defendants' rights. "There's this little creep going on," said Lipman, noting that advocates want to expand the scope of those who can testify to include school psychologists.