When report cards come out, child abuse cases go up. So when Baltimore schoolchildren take home their report cards Friday, they will be given a leaflet full of advice for their parents along with their marks.
The leaflet was prepared by the Baltimore Commission for Children and Youth after a frustrated appeal from Peggy Mainor, a Baltimore prosecutor and commission member. Instead of sending parents to jail, she wanted to help them do better by their children.
Ms. Mainor, who has been prosecuting child-abuse cases in Baltimore for four years, remembers seeing eight to 10 bleeding belt wounds on a child's back and reading the police account of the beating: The parents were disappointed with their son's report card.
"With the first few cases I got," Ms. Mainor said, "I started noticing that a number of abuses occurred around report card time or when notes went home from school."
It turned out the problem was recognized nationally, to the extent that it even has a name -- report card syndrome. "We came up with the idea of an insert that would catch a parent's eye at the time of greatest stress, when they are disappointed with their children's grades," Ms. Mainor said.
She remembers that the parents who inflicted the bloody belt wounds on their son were desperate for information. "They wanted to hear about tutoring," she said. "They wanted to hear about options."
The leaflet doesn't refer specifically to child abuse, said commission assistant Sara Mandell, because many parents who don't consider themselves abusers would automatically turn away from anything couched in those terms. "We felt all parents needed these tips and needed help in dealing with anger and distress," she said.
So the leaflet tells parents who are happy with their child's report card to say so and provides tips for those who are not happy. The leaflet -- paid for by a $10,000 grant from the state Human Resources Department -- offers this advice:
Visit school and talk to the teacher.
Ask the principal to arrange tutoring or call Urban Services at 396-7191.
Check homework every day.
Children having difficulty with homework can call Dial-a-Teacher at 466-1545 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday to get help from the Baltimore Teachers Union. They can call the Pratt Library at 396-5430 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
City Hall runs a Kidsline at 727-5397 from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. And parents who need help dealing with their children can call Parents Anonymous at 243-7337 24 hours a day. The referral service First Call for Help is available at 685-0525.
"I really think that one of the most important tips is to sit down with your child and listen to what your child has to say about the report card," Ms. Mainor said. "You have to sit down and find out why the grades aren't as good as you would like. It takes time."
She said both the state's attorney, Stuart O. Simms, and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke were extremely enthusiastic about the project. The mayor has taped public service announcements discussing it that are to be broadcast after report cards are issued.
The leaflets were originally aimed at elementary and middle school students, Ms. Mandell said, but high school principals asked for them, too. "The schools are very interested in doing this," she said.