Coordinating family services - from providing shelter space to long-term assistance programs - would help Carroll County combat domestic violence, a group of family advocates said yesterday.
Meeting in Westminster to identify gaps in family services, law enforcement officers, court officials, educators, social workers and therapists identified case management as one of several areas where the county lags in what it can deliver to families involved in domestic violence.
"There is fragmentation and missing pieces," said Toni Mickiewicz, therapist and supervisor of the county visitation center, where families in crisis meet with therapists. "Everybody is getting a little bit of the good stuff, but we need continuity."
After a lengthy discussion, the group of about 50 called for a case management system to coordinate services, a family violence shelter, comprehensive treatment for families, even for those not in a crisis, and community education, training and public awareness. The participants also saw a need for a data system to collect information.
The county has a state grant of $250,000 annually for the next five years to help expand services and fill gaps it identifies.
Funding also will help with data sharing, case planning and training professionals to deal with family violence, said Mary Scholz, administrator of Carroll County's Local Management Board, a 20-member panel appointed by the county commissioners to promote the well-being of children and families.
"If each of us stays in our own box, we will never effect change for families," said Scholz of the agencies.
Participants heard grim statistics on the long-term effects of domestic violence, how it repeats through generations of a family and how community services often fail families.
"We have to come up with new ways to coordinate agencies and services and get to the root of the problem," said Powel Welliver, family law administrator with the county Circuit Court. "That is how we can help families in crisis. We want kids heard and helped, and court is not the place to do it."
Nationwide, as many as 10 million children annually witness domestic violence. Many grow up believing they must use violence to solve problems, counselors said.
In Carroll County, the Child Abuse and Sexual Assault Unit prosecuted 433 cases last year and handled more than 1,000 reports of child abuse and neglect.
"If someone does not get involved with these families, something tragic will happen," said Maryland State Police Sgt. James DeWees, supervisor of the CASA unit. "We will be dealing with these children either as victims or as offenders. It is our job as movers and shakers to do something."
The management board will convene a work group to address the recommendations.
"We need to prove to the state that we are making a difference," Scholz said. "We will be looking at prevention, early intervention and treatment."