Howard County will open a child advocacy center by July to coordinate assistance for sexually and physically abused children and the prosecution of their attackers.
The center will bring lawyers, therapists, pediatricians, police investigators and social workers under oneroof.
Samuel W. Marshall, director of the county's Department of SocialServices, said the budget for the center is $234,113. That includes a $46,050 start-up grant from the state Department of Human Resourcesand the salaries of workers already employed by six county government or non-profit agencies who will be assigned to the center.
He said a project coordinator will be named to oversee the center, which expects to work with 100 sexual abuse and 300 physical abuse victims and their families yearly.
Howard County has witnessed a rise in reports of abuse in recent years.
At present, however, several agencies receive them under different kinds of circumstances.
The increase, said county health officer Dr. Joyce M. Boyd, has been "withouta commensurate increase in the number of staff who respond to these reports" over the past five years.
"As a result," the health officer added, "it is often difficult to investigate these reports in an efficient and timely manner."
Boyd said the child advocacy center "would allow strained resources to respond to child abuse reports moreeffectively and efficiently and ensure that services for assessment and treatment are readily available to children."
Marshall said the center will be near the county government and court complex in Ellicott City, but a site has not been identified yet.
"This type of system will not only benefit the children and families involved in child abuse, but will have a positive impact on the morale and cooperative spirit of the participating agencies," he said.
"The coordinated services will include intake, investigations, assessments, examinations, treatment and preparation for court."
Lisa Goshen, executive director of the Howard County Sexual Assault Center, said child advocacy centers now operate in Baltimore city and Baltimore County.
She said the concept of a team approach, "bringing everyone to one place where children come for an interview, a medical exam, police and social worker interviews to determine if the child was abused," beganin 1985 in Huntsville, Ala.
"By streamlining the evaluation process, the police and prosecutors will have better cases because the investigations will be better," Ms. Goshen said.
"As a result of the center in Huntsville, Ala., the kids became better witnesses. They had more cases settled with a guilty plea and without a trial because of that fact."
The child advocacy center staff will consist of three social workers and a child protective services supervisor; four county police Child Abuse Unit detectives and a sergeant; an assistant state's attorney; a pediatrician and nurse; an assistant county solicitor; and a child therapist from the Howard County Sexual Assault Center.