Countians Travel To Annapolis To Testify On Legislation

Wrongly Accused Vow To Be Heard On Abuse Records

February 26, 1992|By Adam Sachs STAFF WRITER

ANNAPOLIS — Three Carroll residents had hoped to tell their personal horror stories Monday of how they had been wrongly accused of child or adult abuse, then unjustly kept on record by social service agencies.

The hearing unexpectedly was postponed for a week, but the trio vowed to return Monday to fight what they perceive as a bureaucracy that abusespowers and conceals information and mistakes from citizens.

The trio, along with several individuals from other counties who share similar stories, met Monday with Del. Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, who is sponsoring two bills intended to change the way the state Department of Human Resources handles records for reported abuse cases.

Two Westminster men -- Elliott Burgher and David R. Hodge -- are embroiled in court actions to clear their names and changegovernment procedures. Burgher was suspected of abusing his mother in 1989 in a case later ruled to be without basis. Hodge was reported for suspected abuse in 1989 when his infant son was misdiagnosed. He was cleared, but his name remains on file as a suspected abuser.

"We have definitely created a well-financed bureaucratic monster, which we have foolishly endowed with virtual immunity to nearly all avenues of relief for injured parties," Hodge wrote.

Jocelyn Buck's case remains listed as "substantiated." The Mount Airy resident contendsshe was falsely accused in 1990 of abusing her son by her ex-husbandin the midst of divorce proceedings. Her son actually had gotten into a fight in school, a story that has been verified, she said. She has stopped pursuing a legal case because of exorbitant costs.

Elliott's bill would require the state Department of Human Resources to:

* Allow suspected child abusers to see their own social services records.

* Establish and maintain a central registry for all reports, records and data pertaining to abuse cases, notify suspected abusers of appeal rights and have administrative hearings upon request by asuspected abuser.

* Expunge names from the registry if the reportof suspected abuse or neglect is "ruled out."

"We have people whoare exonerated, and DHR will not set them free," said Elliott. "It'swrong."

DHR opposes the bill, contending that financial and procedural disadvantages of resurrecting the central registry system it once used "far outweigh any benefits."

The agency opposes releasing information without knowing why it was requested. It claims that appeals hearings would become backlogged and the adversarial proceedings would scare off families who were receiving services. And it estimates that implementing the system would cost about $15 million.

The other bill, a follow-up to a 1991 Elliott measure pertaining to child abuse and neglect, would require social services departments to expunge reports of suspected adult abuse or neglect within 120 days of thereferral if the agency finds no wrongdoing occurred.

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