Reports of abuse exhaust agency Number of cases hit all-time high with 50 Tuesday


Fifty new reports of child abuse and neglect landed on the desks of Anne Arundel County's child protective services workers Tuesday, setting a record and sending social workers scrambling.

"That's an all-time high," said Ed Bloom, director of the county Department of Social Services.

It couldn't come at a worse time. Child protective workers, who have had many a day of 30 to 45 new reports lately, are already overwhelmed.

"I don't know how we are going to cope. We're buried," said Pam Smelser, supervisor of 15 Child Protective Services social workers in the Glen Burnie office of the county Department of Social Services (DSS).

The DSS received 536 reports in September and investigated 325 of them. Last September, it received 308 reports and investigated 221, Mr. Bloom said. All reports need to be screened.

Of the September reports, 192 -- or 36 percent -- came from the county public schools, double the percentage of reports that came from the schools a year ago.

Ms. Smelser and Mr. Bloom said some of the school system reports are incomplete. They detail everything from overheard students' conversations to allegations of abuse and neglect.

The jump in reports from the schools is most likely a byproduct of publicity generated by the case of Northeast High School teacher Ronald W. Price, convicted last month of having sexual trysts with three students, and by the sexual abuse cases pending against two other Northeast teachers. A state investigation concluded that county schools had mishandled allegations of sexual abuse of students, and a state-ordered probe is now under way.

The school system's 7,000 employees have begun training to recognize sexual harassment, child abuse and neglect.

School workers have been told to report all suspicions, said spokesman Nancy Jane Adams. "If there's any doubt at all, if you're not sure, it's not your job to find out. Err on the side of the child and report it," she said.

All those reports are exhausting child protective services. Five employees are being moved from jobs in continuing protective services, where they work with troubled families, to take on new cases.

But that is a temporary fix, Mr. Bloom said, because it means the department has to drop some families from its rolls sooner than planned.

Mr. Bloom said he will consider requesting that the state add child protective workers.

In fiscal 1989, the state had 517.5 authorized positions for child protective workers. This year, the number is down to 508.5, said state Sen. Gerald Winegrad, D-Annapolis.

He and other members of the Governor's Council on Child Abuse and Neglect are asking Gov. William Donald Schaefer to include in his budget proposal to the legislature 50 more positions statewide.

The number of child abuse investigations in Maryland has been climbing for years. Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Prince George's and Howard counties saw significant increases during the first half of 1993.

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