A dramatic surge in child abuse during the past decade has prompted two state lawmakers to offer legislation protecting foster children, outlawing possession of child pornography, helping drug-addicted babies and aiding criminal prosecutors.
Child abuse reports more thandoubled in Maryland, from 5,330 in 1980 to 13,507 last year, according to the state Department of Human Resources. Reported cases in AnneArundel rose from 421 in 1980 to 814 in 1990.
Yesterday, Sens. Thomas M. Yeager, D-Howard County, and Gerald W.Winegrad, D-Annapolis, unveiled a half-dozen bills proposed by the Governor's Council on Child Abuse to stem the tide. Yeager and Winegrad have worked with the council eight years.
"If there is any solution that makes sense to our problems with crime, prison overcrowding and drug abuse, it starts right here," Winegrad said. "If you look atour prisons, at people with drug and alcohol abuse problems, in manycases, you'll see these people (were abused children)," he said.
Three bills would make it easier for prosecutors to bring a child's account of abuse into court.
They include -- for the first time -- allowing social workers who do not hold master's degrees to repeat statements of child victims in court. Two-thirds of the state's protective service workers do not have master's degrees.
In addition, theuse of closed-circuit television would be expanded, allowing child witnesses to testify from outside the courtroom. Victims of child abuse can already testify via closed-circuit television.
The other three bills would establish standards of care for foster children, prescribing frequent checkups by social workers; include children born addicted to drugs under child-neglect laws, and make possession of childpornography illegal.
Ten percent of children born in Maryland areborn with illegal drugs in their bodies, Winegrad said.
"Right now there are no laws against a mother giving birth to a child addictedto cocaine and then walking out of the hospital free to subject thatchild to a lifetime of abuse and neglect," he said.
The ban on child pornography possession will help police bargain with pedophiles to reveal the names of their victims, who then can be located and treated. Similar legislation passed the Senate last year, but failed in the House Judiciary Committee.
"They had a hard time wrasslin' withthat last year," said Delegate John Gary, R-Millersville, who sponsored the 1990 bills. "But over the summer months, they seemed to have worked out the wrinkles. That's positive."