WASHINGTON – More than 15,000 kids in Maryland were the victims of child abuse or neglect in 2002, and 33 of them died as a result, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Child Maltreatment Report, released Thursday, said 11.5 children out of every 1,000 in the state were abused or neglected in 2002, slightly below the national average of 12.3 kids per 1,000.
While the 15,843 cases of mistreatment in 2002 made for a fairly typical year in Maryland — cases in the state have fluctuated between 15,559 and 16,214 in the last six years — reports of suspected abuse have been rising steadily.
Far from being discouraged, however, state officials see hope in the growing number of reports.
“The thing that I’m encouraged by is the numbers haven’t gone in the other direction,” said Steve Berry, manager of in-home services for the state Department of Human Resources.
Berry said the increase in reports, and the stable number of actual cases, is a sign that Marylanders are taking a proactive approach to prevent child abuse. Public awareness of the problem has made a difference, said Department of Human Resources spokeswoman Elyn Garret Jones.
“It’s (child abuse and neglect) something we are all responsible for reporting,” she said.
Nationally, the report said there were 896,000 of confirmed cases of abuse and neglect in 2002, out of 2.6 million reports. About 1,400 children died of abuse or neglect during the year.
The number of neglect and abuse cases was down about 20 percent from 1993, when maltreatment peaked at 15.3 children out of every 1,000. Maryland saw a similar drop over the decade, according to state reports.
During the past three years, the maltreatment rate nationally has been constant: 12.2 kids per 1,000 in 2000; 12.4 per 1,000 in 2001; and 12.3 per 1,000 in 2002.
The report, which comes at the start of Child Abuse Prevention Month, is based on information collected through the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. Despite the steady decline in child abuse over the past 10 years, government officials said more needs to be done.
“Children in this country are abused, mistreated and even killed because of the government’s comprehensive, bipartisan failure,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.
“Kids are dying, and it’s the grownups’ fault,” said DeLay, who called on the federal government to take a more active approach. “We have to act.”
But Berry said there is only so much the government can do. He said his department’s hands are tied, because it can only get involved if suspected abuse reported.
Of the 33 children who died in Maryland as a result of abuse two years ago, he said, “23 were situations not known to us at all . . . in 10 of the situations, we were working with the family.”
And the kids who are saved from abuse still face a tough road, said Surgeon General Richard Carmona.
“The wrenching mental and physical health effects of child maltreatment continue for that child long after he or she is placed in a safe environment,” Carmona said Thursday. “The frequency with which child maltreatment occurs in our society compels us to be aggressive in developing ways to stop it.”
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