Bill urges videotape use in abuse cases

January 22, 1992|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- As one Frederick family sees it, a single videotape could have saved them $65,000 and six months of living without their two sons.

In May 1990, a relative accused the parents of sexually abusing their 5-year-old son. Although no criminal charges were filed, the 5-year-old and his 2-year-old brother were placed in foster care and the parents fought a costly and protracted legal battle to get them back.

Were they the victims of an overzealous social worker who led their imaginative son to implicate up to 14 family members in sexual abuse? Or did the family receive the proper services from a concerned Department of Social Services that investigated a complicated case to the best of its abilities?

Today, a Senate committee will hear testimony on a bill the parents believe could have answered those questions definitively -- a requirement that the first interview with a child be videotaped, in order to determine if a child's testimony has been coerced.

"This is really important," the mother said in a telephone interview yesterday. (The family, which has been interviewed before, prefers to remain anonymous to protect their sons from publicity.)

"It would make me feel like I've fixed something wrong."

But opposition to the bill, introduced by Sen. Donald F. Munson, is expected to focus on the cost and the small number of allegations that are proven false.

The Department of Human Resources, which supervises the state's 24 Departments of Social Service statewide, also is expected to oppose the bill.

Ellen Mugmon, a lobbyist with the Governor's Council on Child Abuse, said that she would prefer to see money directed toward training and staffing.

"I think it's a laudable goal to mandate or implement measures that improve child abuse investigations, but we don't believe Senate Bill 210 will achieve that," Ms. Mugmon said.

A parents' group that supports the bill, Citizens for Family Preservation Inc., believes the bill will be less traumatic to the child, however, because it could spare the child from excessive interviewing.

It also would allow supervisors to review the decisions made by child protective workers, said the group's vice president, David Hodge.

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