Abuse-prevention office opening

August 08, 1993|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

The Child Abuse Prevention Center of Maryland -- a private, nonprofit organization that helps families build safe, nonviolent home environments -- will open an office in Bel Air to serve Harford County residents later this month.

The Baltimore-based organization trains volunteer "lay therapists" to regularly visit families in their homes and offer moral support and alternative disciplines to parents struggling with the day-to-day stress of raising children.

The Bel Air office will open at 7 W. Courtland St. as soon as a local coordinator is named, said Stephanie Davis, CAPC executive director. She said in-home visits would probably begin in October.

The opening of the Harford center, the first satellite office to be established by the 11-year-old abuse-prevention group, is being supported by a $10,000 grant from the Harford County government for the first year of operation.

The organization also received $5,000 from the Joppa-based Merry-Go-Round Enterprises Inc., and $2,200 from the Exchange Club of Harford County, a key player in getting the satellite office in Bel Air.

"There is nothing up here that addresses prevention like this does," said Philip Wohlfort, past president of the Harford Exchange Club, whose members also donated furniture and office space to the new center.

"It's proven to be a very effective way to deal with the problems of abuse," he said of the center's in-home therapy.

Nationally, the Exchange Club more than 10 years ago adopted the prevention of child abuse as a service priority and ever since has been raising funds for organizations like the CAPC of Maryland.

Last year, some 528 cases of physical and sexual abuse of children were investigated in Harford County, according to H. James Armacost, a supervisor for Child Protective Services. In addition, he said, 486 cases of child neglect were investigated.

By autumn, the Harford office will have a minimal staff of trained, supervised volunteers to act as "lay therapists," or parent aides, who will regularly visit designated Harford homes and become practically a member of the family, Ms. Davis said.

Volunteers, who are trained and supervised by the Maryland center's clinical staff, will spend five to 10 hours a week with their designated families, suggesting disciplinary changes and alternative behaviors to violence during family crises. The home visits continue for at least a year.

"The point is to build a consistent, trusting relationship with the family," Ms. Davis said. "Most abusive parents don't trust anyone because they were abused themselves. So there needs to be a consistency of visits over time to convince parents that there is someone they can trust," she said.

In-home lay therapy is unlike many other parent-support systems,

most of which involve regular meetings outside the home where parents air their concerns publicly.

"This program attracts older, nonteen parents," said Ms. Davis, adding that often only experienced parents in their late 20s or 30s will admit that they need help and are willing to make the commitment to have a visitor in the home regularly.

Most families are referred to the center by the courts, social service agencies, churches, schools or clinics.

A social worker or psychologist on staff matches the family in need with an appropriate volunteer.

In Baltimore, the center also offers a series of parenting classes every six weeks that are team-taught by volunteers. Children participate in a child-care program in an adjacent room while their parents are in class.

But, Ms. Davis said, because of minimal funding, the Harford center will conduct only in-home visits during its first year. She said the center expects to begin training new volunteers in September.

Volunteer home visitors are usually experienced parents who have been carefully screened by a clinical staff before going through 12 to 15 hours of training with physicians, psychologists and social workers experienced in child welfare.

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