WASHINGTON – Child abuse and neglect investigations in Maryland have risen steadily from 1994 to 1998, state statistics show, mirroring similar increases on the national level.
But the number of confirmed abuse and neglect cases in Maryland, by contrast, has declined during that period. Child protective services officials said the fact that fewer reports of abuse are being substantiated “doesn’t mean there is less child abuse.”
Of the 28,463 child abuse cases investigated in 1994 by social services officials in Maryland, there was “credible evidence” of abuse in 34 percent. By 1998, only about 25 percent of the 31,091 cases investigated indicated abuse.
“The decline in indicated cases doesn’t mean success or failure. It may not be because a child hasn’t been abused, but because it (the abuse) can’t be proven,” said Tom Grazio, director of the state Department of Human Resources Office of Family and Children’s Services.
The executive director for Prevent Child Abuse Maryland said that child abuse and neglect is more widespread in Maryland than the drop in confirmed cases indicates. Gloria Goldfaden said state officials need to be more aggressive in their investigation of reported abuses.
“There were 31,000 cases of child abuse and neglect in Maryland last year and 24 children died from child abuse. Only about 7,000 cases were confirmed” Goldfaden said. “That number is a bit low and we need to be investigating better.”
She said that caseworkers often drop investigations too quickly and “they are not picking up on the cases that really need to be identified.”
Of the 7,908 confirmed cases in Maryland last year, 3,993 were attributed to neglect, 2,662 to physical abuse and 1,238 were to sexual abuse and 15 were listed as other by the Department of Human Resources.
Baltimore City led the state in the number of investigations as well as the number of confirmed cases from 1994 to 1998.
The number of cases investigated statewide during that period rose 9.2 percent, with changes ranging from a decline of 26.6 percent in Wicomico County to an increase of 59.1 percent in Queen Anne’s County.
“(Child abuse) is pervasive. It’s not confined to urban, rural or suburban. It’s not confined to ethnic factors,” said Maura Somers Dughi, president of the Prevent Child Abuse America board of directors.
The major risk factors for child abuse — drug and alcohol abuse, teen parenting and a personal history of abuse — “know no boundaries. We always find them, unfortunately, in all areas of society,” Dughi said.
Grazio said the number of reported abuse cases has been going up nationwide since the 1970s, and Maryland is no different.
“In the 1990s in Maryland, like in many places, there was an increase in substance abuse and poverty and as a result of those increases and awareness (of child abuse), the calls have been more and more,” Grazio said.
When they receive a complaint, child protective services workers first evaluate whether it falls within the legal definitions for child abuse and neglect. If it does, they investigate the claim, which may then be rejected outright as unfounded; categorized as unsubstantiated if there are indications of abuse without strong evidence; or categorized as substantiated or “indicated” if evidence indicates abuse or neglect.
Reported and confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect are on the rise nationally, according to a study released Tuesday by Prevent Child Abuse America and the U.S. Department of Justice.
“America is a far better place today for everybody but America’s children,” said A. Sidney Johnson III, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse America.
“In the last four years, the overall crime rate in this nation has gone down by 21 percent. The only rate going up is child abuse and neglect, which increased by 4 percent in confirmed cases and 8 percent in the number of reported (cases),” he said.
The study found that 47 out of 1,000 children were reported abused or neglected in 1997 and 15 children out of 1,000 were confirmed as abused or neglected.
Grazio said the state recently added 35 child protective services workers and said there is legislation pending in Annapolis aimed at balancing caseloads between workers.