Carroll County followed state and national trends with sharp increases in reports of child abuse during the past 10 years.
Child abuse reports in Maryland more than doubled from 1982 to 1991, according to state Department of Human Resources statistics. The number of reports in the county rose from 105 to 182, a 73 percent increase.
"We are looking at a significant increase," said M. Alexander Jones, director of social services. He attributed the increase to "more reporting or more suspected abuse. We don't know which one and probably some of both."
Jones also sees abuse reports becoming a larger share of the caseload, while the percentage of neglect reports shrinks. Ten years ago, "by and large, for every abuse [report] you might have 1 1/2 neglect [reports]. But that's shifting," he said.
Social services workers found evidence of abuse or neglect in one-third of the reports they checked, a 1990 statewide survey showed.
But Jones cautioned that in the remaining two-thirds, which are classified as unsubstantiated, abuse or neglect cannot be ruled out. The worker may not have had enough information to draw a conclusion, he said.
"That doesn't mean all 67 percent [of unsubstantiated reports] don't reflect an unhealthy life situation for a child," the social services director said.
State law requires police and social services departments to conduct joint investigations of reported sexual abuse of children. Where the report involves physical abuse, county practice is for the Department of Social Services to investigate and send a report to state police. State police handle child abuse investigations countywide except inside Westminster, where city police are responsible.
If a report from social services workers indicates serious physical abuse, "we'll conduct a follow-up investigation with a trooper," said state police Sgt. Jeff Merson, unit supervisor for child abuse investigations.
Merson keeps statistics by numbers of victims, although he noted that several children may be victims of one abuser. Of 235 reported victims in 1991, 128 involved accusations of sexual abuse; 107 involved complaints of physical abuse. Police made 65 arrests and have several additional arrests pending, he said.
In the first 5 1/2 months of this year, police investigated cases with 135 reported victims, 70 involving accusations of sexual assault and 65 of physical assault. Merson reported that police made 18 arrests and have about 35 cases still open, with arrests pending in 15.
A support group for parents who have physically abused their children or want to learn better child-rearing techniques opened a Carroll chapter in February. But the formation of a local chapter of Parents Anonymous was not in response to the increasing number of child abuse reports, said Dennis M. Cardiff, program coordinator.
He said the chapter was requested by the county Community Services Council to provide another local resource.
Reported cases of abuse in Maryland rose 157 percent in the past 10 years, from 5,900 to 13,590. Nationally, reports climbed from 1.2 million in 1982 to 2.9 million in 1991.
In the Baltimore metropolitan area, Carroll County showed the smallest percentage increase. Abuse reports during the decade more than doubled in Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties, doubled in Anne Arundel County and rose by 88 percent in Baltimore.
More emphasis should be placed on prevention, said Diane Rich, director of development for the Child Abuse Prevention Center of Maryland. The center offers lay therapists who work with parents on dealing with children.
The center has volunteers in the Baltimore metropolitan counties, but it cannot always provide services to families in those counties because money for professional supervision of the volunteers is tight, Rich said.
"If we could get satellite offices in the counties, we could provide services more regularly," she said.