Tips with city report cards striving to avert child abuse Aim is to defuse parental anger over bad grades.

November 21, 1991|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

It happens whenever report cards arrive home from school, as they did in Baltimore this week.

A parent, upset about poor grades, decides to "teach" the child a lesson and goes too far.

The result -- another case of physical child abuse that might have been prevented.

For the second year in a row, city officials are trying to curb such incidents with a unique program urging alternatives to physical punishment.

Called "Tips For Parents," the program features a card that is packed with suggestions and hot line numbers, offering help to frustrated parents. The cards have been mailed to every parent with a child in a city school.

The program is funded through a $10,000 child-abuse-prevention grant from the Maryland Department of Human Resources. It has drawn national attention as an effort to address a widespread problem.

Law enforcement officials have long noted that child-abuse cases increase at report card time, according to Peggy Mainor, a child-abuse prosecutor for Baltimore.

She estimates that 20 percent of the hundreds of physical-abuse cases each year involve school-related discipline, stemming from report cards or notes sent home from school.

In many cases, parents "would be trying to get the child to do better the next time -- and it would just go too far," says Mainor.

"Often, the parent will say, 'I didn't know what to do,' " says Sara Mandell, special assistant in the mayor's Office of Children and Youth, the agency that started the program. The "Tips" program is intended "to help defuse some of that anger."

The cards that went out to 110,000 homes around the city urge parents to "STOP whatever you are doing; LOOK at your child's report card; LISTEN to what your child has to say."

"If you're happy with your child's report card, say so!" it states. "If not, use the tips on the other side of this card."

When they turn the card over, parents will find a number of suggestions, which include visiting the school and talking with the child's teacher, checking the child's homework and seeking homework help.

The card lists several numbers where students can get help on their homework, including the Pratt Library and Dial-A-Teacher.

And it includes the numbers of the Parents Anonymous and First Call For Help crisis intervention lines.

Last year, the "Tips" program drew thousands of telephone calls from parents, and led at least 40 families to enter counseling with Parents Anonymous, says Mandell. "We've gotten a wonderful response," she says.

And while Mainor has no statistics to prove it, she says the program has resulted in a drop in complaints of school-related physical abuse.

"It's a positive effort to get parents to sit down and think before they react," she says.

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