Young victim Rita Fisher should be a...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Young victim Rita Fisher should be a call to action for all

Every time I see the battered and bruised sad face of Rita Fisher, I think of all the adults who failed her in life.

From her mother to the social workers assigned her family's case, the people who were entrusted to protect her let her down.

Even more sickening is the fact that thousands of children suffer similar pain -- although they manage to live through it -- and often continue the cycle of violence.

I hope Rita Fisher becomes a symbol to adults who are abusing children, mentally or physically, to get help for their problem; a symbol to neighbors, friends and acquaintances who think they may be witnessing abuse to report it to authorities; and a symbol to teachers and social workers to take necessary action to help stop the abuse.

If you think abuse -- or in the case of Rita Fisher, torture -- is happening to your child or a child you know, look at a picture of Rita Fisher's face. Then do something about it.

If we won't protect our innocent children, who will?

Jeff Jirkovsky

Catonsville

I was shocked and outraged to read the comments from social worker Tear Plater, in the April 30 article "Safety net' let little Rita Fisher fall to her death." My purpose was not to protect Rita from abuse," she was quoted as saying.

What is her purpose as a county social worker in the Child Protective Services Division?

Is it to investigate the calls made, write reports and go on to the next case?

Why weren't questions asked when bruises began to appear on the child's face, when meetings were held outside of the home with Rita Fisher's mother, Mary Utley, and when tales of padlocks on refrigerator doors were discussed?

I hope any social worker in Baltimore County with an attitude similar to Tear Plater's leaves and goes to work somewhere else, where compassion and understanding are not requirements.

Lynne Beck

Baltimore

Regarding Dan Rodricks' May 4 column, "'Men of the house': a legacy of abusers," if we really want to reduce child abuse, we have to accept the costs.

Money is one cost; loss of privacy is the other. We have to spend more money for social workers to cept that possibility? Yes, I am, if it will save even one Rita Fisher from such a horrible fate.

I challenge my fellow citizens to accept the possible loss of some "privacy" to save children's lives. As for the monetary cost, I'd rather pay now to keep children from growing up into maladjusted, anti-social adults who are likely to land in prison, than pay later to keep them in prison.

Robert Bly is right. These "half-adult" victims of child abuse are becoming far too numerous in our society. Drastic action is needed to reverse this trend before our society disintegrates.

Elizabeth Fixsen

Savage

Considering the tragic circumstances of the Rita Fisher case, The Sun in its editorial ("The Rita Fisher verdict," April 30) and in Dan Rodricks' column ("We can't get off cheaply in protecting our children," May 1) gave reasoned views of the difficulties that social workers in Child Protective Services face daily in trying to protect children from abuse.

The articles showed the difficulty of proving the abuse, the lack of cooperation from parents and other involved agencies, the insanely heavy caseloads and the stress of making life-and-death decisions under the mandates of family preservation.

In contrast, Michael Olesker's column ("Rita's killers disgrace the human race," April 30) concerning social services' responsibility, include such comments as "something laughably called Child Protective Services," and "how dare they call themselves Protective Services" was vindictive and presented a false picture.

Child Protective Services works daily with families very similar to Rita Fisher's and prevents these cases from reaching a tragic end.

Mr. Olesker's comments were a disservice to a group of profes- sionals working under difficult and trying conditions.

Fred Davis

Pasadena

I felt I had to respond to the May 4 letter by Betty Smith. "Photographs of bruised girl didn't belong in the newspaper."

Although it was very painful to see the photographs and read about the cruel and wrongful death suffered by Rita Fisher, I commend The Sun for the courage to cover this case as accurately as possible. I hope that the amount of news coverage about this case will be a wake-up call.

We must insist that the welfare of children be our first priority. We must get involved in the lives of children and speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

It is necessary to have people see the evil in the world. In order to combat evil, we need to look it in the eye and not blink.

Lena L. Harrington

Baltimore

None of us can read the headlines about the death of Rita Fisher without being affected.

In the days after the verdict of this trial, it is important that we don't forget Rita Fisher. We all have something to learn from her tragic death.

The maltreatment of our children transcends all economic and social boundaries. If we choose to ignore the problem of child abuse, our society has no hope. We must prevent child maltreatment from ever occurring.

While it may seem an insurmountable task, resources within our community are making a difference. In response to the 29,000 ments in Maryland each year, Parents Anonymous and the Child Abuse Prevention Center merged to form the Family Tree, a comprehensive agency to help abusive and potentially abusive parents learn how to nurture their children and cope with parenthood.

gether, whether it is through educating ourselves about the issue, by volunteering with the Family Tree to work with families under stress or by contacting our legislators to encourage them to support child-welfare issues.

Rita Fisher was a small and unsuspecting victim of our society. She is a call to action for us all.

Frank Blanton

Baltimore

The writer is executive director of the Family Tree.

The April 30 article "'Safety net' let little Rita Fisher fall to her death' discusses gaps in the child protection system. The facts from the trial and the statements of the new social services director for Baltimore County seem to contradict the conclusion of a county committee that reviewed the case several months ago.

That committee concluded that the investigation was properly conducted. This contradiction points out major shortcomings of the statewide system.

Maryland has failed to implement several types of protections that are required or encouraged by federal law:

*A comprehensive and efficient information system.

Multidisciplinary teams to provide expert advice to primary investigators.

Independent and expert child fatality review teams that investigate all child deaths.

Independent citizen review panels to oversee Child Protective Services.

I do not wish to malign the Baltimore County Department of Social Services or the good work of its staff. This tragedy could have occurred in any county.

Our children deserve the best protection we can give them, and the public must have confidence in the system. Let's hope the state will adopt the good practices that will improve our child protection system.

Sally Millemann

Baltimore

The writer is a staff member of the Coalition to protect Maryland's Children.

I want to express my appreciation to my fellow Baltimore County citizens who served on the jury in the Rita Fisher trial.

They should be commended for their strength in listening to more than 10 days of horrible details about the life and death of the 9-year-old girl. Their verdicts were fair and obviously made after careful deliberation.

Alex P. Gross

Owings Mills

Having dedicated my 25-year professional career to protecting children, I commend the April 30 editorial's conclusions ("The Rita Fisher verdict")

Having been involved in reviews of many situations like this one, it isn't always clearhow the event could have been prevented. Yes, it would feel better to be able to put blame on a single individual or organization. But frequently, sorting out the facts leads to multiple pathways, none with satisfactory answers.

As parents, we don't want society to interfere with our rights to privacy. And, because the causes of child maltreatment are complex, it is not always easy to determine when the rights of the child must outweigh the rights of the family. As a result, the system will sometimes fail.

However, I am convinced that fewer children would suffer relutions for complex problems. It is time to take a hard look at ways families could receive effective help the first time they are reported so that fewer children suffer the consequences of our system's failures in the future.

Diane DePanfilis

Annapolis

The writer is an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and president of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children.

As secretary of the Department of Human Resources (DHR), I can assure the public that the state is continuing to examine Maryland's child welfare system to assess policies and practices. Two years ago, we asked the Child Welfare League of America to study Maryland's child welfare system, and as a result of the study, we have been instituting changes in the ways local departments of social services operate.

Recently, Gov. Parris N. Glendening approved funding for 30 additional Child Protective Service workers.

During the recent legislative session, DHR supported bills that will enable DHR to work with the Maryland Department of Budget and Management to develop a plan to improve the salary scales of social services staff. The same legislation will allow the state to raise the requirements for social services caseworkers.

DHR plans to allocate more funds for training, and all new workers must have 40 hours of training before being assigned a case.

Even with these measures, we cannot be sure that another child will not someday die at the hands of a caregiver. Though the case of Rita Fisher may appear clear-cut with 20-20 hindsight, it was more gray than black and white.

The Sun's editorial on April 30 ("The Rita Fisher verdict") pointed out the complexities and ambiguities of evidence coming from Rita's neighbors, teachers, police reports and pediatric experts at Kennedy Krieger Institute, as well as the Baltimore County Department of Social Services. As stated in the editorial: "We cannot delude ourselves into thinking that, even with such revisions, all children like Rita will be easy to spot or rescue."

Alvin C. Collins

Baltimore

Can't celebrate Law Day with greedy attorneys

I don't mean to rain on Richard Hailey's parade. Indeed, the legal profession has preserved our peace of mind and protected us from those who would succumb to greed no matter the consequences. In his Opinion Commentary article, "Celebrate Law Day with our beloved civil laws in mind" (April 28), he clearly makes his point.

However, there is no mention of the rewards reaped by the law firms in the pajama case, the Dalkon Shield litigation or the asbestos suits. A just compensation for hard work is acceptable, but not the making of fortunes out of others' misfortune. &L; Unfortunately, excessive monetary reward seems to be the norm in these situations in the legal industry.

Greed seems as deeply rooted in our nature as the basic mechanisms regulating breathing and the circulation of blood. It is something we all have to control.

Samuel I. O'Mansky

Baltimore

Honoring 'warrior' of medical community

One of the "quiet warriors" in our community, Eugenie E. Phillips, died on April 24. With love and respect, I honor her. She encouraged me to do my best, as she tried to do, no matter the circumstances.

She delivered eight of my 10 siblings and delivered two of my three children.

She kept watch over us as patients and kept up with us through my mother and our telephone calls as we grew up and moved on with our lives.

Dr. Phillips, who worked at Provident Hospital on Division Street and then at Liberty Medical Center on Liberty Heights Avenue, delivered many babies in the African-American community. She dispensed doses of motherly wit along with medical treatment.

Her Edmondson Avenue office was always full. When we were children, the aquarium in her office and the Hummel figures over the doorway were of interest to many of us as we exercised our imaginations in creating stories to relieve our waiting room boredom.

She demanded the best for her patients and demanded that her patients do their best to keep good health. When my baby sister died soon after birth, she sat with my mother to help her deal with the loss -- it was hard for my mother to let go. She did the same for me when I was grieving over my dying marriage.

She supported me while I was raising my children alone.

She has been one of the quiet warriors in my life, whose example I have tried to follow. I can no longer teach and work as I used to, but as a volunteer I will continue to demand the best for my community and demand that the comble.

I can only say to Dr. Phillips' family that we love you as she loved us and that she will be missed.

Julia N. Montgomery

Baltimore

Rehrmann should give her view on drugs

Although sad, particularly for suddenly awakened parents, the growth in drug use by juveniles should not be a total shock although substance abuse by children has been going on for years, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's drive to legalize drugs is well-known by every student.

I have yet to hear a serious concern stated by the governor or any county executive. It is almost like Mr. Schmoke's philosophy and promotion of drug decriminalization is sacrosanct and must not be challenged.

Eileen Rehrmann should state her position, not just on gambling, but on drug legalization. After all, many gamblers are addicted to gambling, why not a population double-addicted to gambling and drugs?

Marshal M. Meyer

Timonium

Thank schoolteachers for their contributions

Our public school teachers are doing an outstanding job. Compared with many professionals, they are underpaid and overworked. They perform daily miracles in their classrooms, which Americans take for granted. We have asked them to shoulder a major responsibility, and we often seek their help with nonteaching tasks. We are considered to be among the best-educated citizens in the world. And for that, we have our teachers to thank.

We can improve our country's education system significantly by respecting teachers and letting them know how much we value their contributions.

Dawn Ryan

Baltimore

World won't end when Jerry leaves

Somehow we survived the demise of "M*A*S*H" and "All in the Family." Cut the hype. Life will go on after "Seinfeld."

Dorothy Laytin

Baltimore

Pub Date: 5/09/98

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