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Baltimore loses a great protector of children

Baltimore lost a passionate champion and fierce advocate for child welfare last week. Julie Drake, a long-time city prosecutor, social worker and former chief of the Family Violence Division for the State's Attorney's Office, a lawyer who prosecuted many of Baltimore's most heinous child murders and stood up for the city's most vulnerable citizens, died after a battle with cancer. Julie was a child welfare visionary for the prevention, prosecution and conviction of child abuse and architect of the Fatality Review Team located at Johns Hopkins Hospital. For the past five years she served as an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

Julie was a skilled jurist in the courtroom, aggressively preparing and arguing her cases. But she was always thinking about prevention and the lessons learned from every child abuse and child murder prosecution. Her mission was to prevent lives lost to abuse, and she worked quickly to close loopholes in laws that endangered children. She was a relentless advocate who often rallied an army of elected officials, law enforcement officers and health professionals to improve a protocol or regulation needed to protect children.

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Whatever the challenge, Julie always knew how to achieve change. Her leadership in early intervention in physical child abuse cases and in developing prosecution protocols led to a dramatic decrease in cases of child homicide and felony child abuse in the city over the past two decades.

Julie came to Baltimore with a social work degree from the University of Wisconsin. While securing her master's degree, she continued her education at the University of Maryland law school. In the late 1990s, Julie saw the need to link the prosecution of domestic violence and child abuse, having become keenly aware of the relationship between the two. With approval of then-state's attorney Patricia Jessamy, she formed a prosecution team of licensed social workers from the University of Maryland to work with her family violence unit to help families address child abuse cases. Court-ordered treatment and early intervention were the best ways to prevent future violence, she knew.

Julie never stopped learning. She consulted with the city's top neurologists to understand the damage to a baby's brain in shaken-baby-syndrome cases. Her regret was that she could not convince city prosecutors to merge the handling of child abuse and domestic violence cases with sex offense prosecutions, saying it would streamline police and prosecution resources and tap technology for better coordinated prosecutions.

Whenever Julie observed a loophole in the law, she sought to close it, often testifying in Annapolis. She pounced on opportunities to bolster child protection regulations, as she did in working with state officials to close gaps she noticed after the scalding death of a young boy. She dramatically illustrated how dog adoption guidelines were tougher than state regulations for adopting a child, resulting in new state laws.

Julie was a generous friend and active in her Original Northwood community. She often opened her home for brunch and dinner and lively conversation. She was a wonderful storyteller, which endowed her persuasive arguments. She adored her cats and loved animals, and she was a world traveler.

As a mother of four, one day I asked Julie, who had such a deep passion for children, if she regretted not having children of her own. She answered quietly yet earnestly: "I have many children. I have always considered that every child welfare case prosecution involved one of my children," a sentiment borne out by the vigor and passion with which she prosecuted and taught about child abuse.

Margaret T. Burns, Baltimore

The writer is a former spokeswoman in the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the law school Julie Drake attended. She was an alumna of the University of Maryland School of Law.

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