BALTIMORE'S project to reduce the incidence of child abuse at report card time has won high marks from local teachers, principals and parents and from educators in this country and in Canada.
In November, the Mayor's Office of Children and Youth introduced its "Stop, Look and Listen" cards, which were sent home with the report cards of 110,000 elementary- and secondary-school students.
A new version of the cards will be distributed with report cards in the city tomorrow.
Although there are no statistics linking child abuse to bad report cards, educators and police often cite anecdotal evidence of such a connection. The office of children and youth became aware of this situation last spring after an article in a national magazine. The report-card program is an attempt to make teachers aware of the problem and offer parents other ways to handle a child's bad grades.
Key to the program are colorful cards that do not mention child abuse. Instead, they urge parents to "stop whatever you are doing; look at your child's report card; listen to what your child has to say."
They also urge parents to praise their children for good grades and offer help and encouragement if the grades aren't so good. The cards include several numbers for finding that help. (The statewide Public Education Task Force to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect distributed almost 300,000 similar tips to students in February.)
Since the cards were distributed, the city's Urban Services office received 3,000 calls from parents interested in tutoring services. "They were absolutely overwhelmed," says Sara Mandell, who is in charge of the report-card project for the office of children and youth.
Parents Anonymous, a hotline for parents with problems, received at least a dozen calls "definitely in response to the card" and the number of calls to Kidsline, a telephone service for latchkey children, doubled the week after the cards were sent home, says Mandell.
"The teachers and principals have been wonderful; one principal mailed the card to every parent," she says. A high school principal who requested the first cards for only ninth-graders now wants them for all her students.
Mandell has heard from many parents who were grateful for the information. She says that the youngsters definitely got the message.
"They would say 'I got a bad report card, but read this first,'" Mandell says she heard repeatedly.
In addition to the local response, Mandell was contacted by educators and administrators -- including the superintendent of a Catholic school system in Newfoundland -- who wanted to duplicate the program in their schools, she says. These educators had read about Baltimore's program, which was funded with a $10,000 grant from the Department of Human Resources, in newspapers and educational journals.
"We knew in our hearts that it was a good thing to do, but no one expected the response we got," says Mandell.
Just as it is impossible to verify that child abuse increases at report-card time, so it is difficult to show the reduction of that abuse, Mandell says. She is, however, attempting to compare police records of child abuse at report-card time this year with previous years.
The latest version of the card will carry more numbers than the earlier card and more suggestions for parents. Among them are:
* Reading 15 minutes a day improves test scores.
* Giving children jobs they can do well improves self esteem.
* Check your child's homework every day.
* Encourage children to get homework help from Kidsline (727-5397); the Pratt Library (396-5430); or Students Helping Students Hotline (396-8659).