2 agencies merge to better fight child abuse Family Tree vTC focuses on prevention, aids stressed-out parents

February 09, 1998|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

Two respected nonprofit groups that try to prevent child abuse are targeting the problem with new programs and a new name.

The two agencies -- Parents Anonymous and the Child Abuse Prevention Center -- joined forces in July. They created the Family Tree, a name that is kinder and simpler to better describe the protective nature of their mission.

The goal is to more aggressively serve the 15,000 parents calling each year in need of free child-rearing help.

The service focuses on preventing a problem considered acute. More than 9,000 Maryland children were confirmed to have been abused in 1996, according to authorities.

The agency features a 24-hour Family Stress Line run by 400 trained volunteers. In December 1997, they answered 450 calls for help from troubled parents.

Jennifer Kinneman, manager of public education, described typical call:

"A parent comes home after a long day and is stressed out. The children are cranky or sick. More bills are in the mail. The caller feels like he or she is going over the edge.

"The volunteer tries to redirect their anguish so the caller doesn't lash out at the kids. They offer different kinds of advice. They even get callers to relax with breathing exercises."

The agency has added child care and child-rearing programs in Baltimore to train seniors caring for grandchildren and young fathers of children born to teen-age mothers. Family Tree has eight programs, all free and heavily dependent on volunteers.

When combined last year after 35 years of service, the two agencies' name was bulky -- Parents Anonymous Child Abuse Prevention Center.

"The old name was cumbersome," said Stephanie Davis, deputy director of Family Tree. "But it was also threatening to many parents who called us. They are stressed out with their children. They aren't necessarily abusive. They want help to prevent more serious problems, but they don't want to be labeled child abusers."

Davis, who had headed the center, and Executive Director Frank Blanton, who directed Parents Anonymous, say Family Tree is a classic example of why nonprofit groups doing the same work can benefit from merging. It can save money and combine their strengths.

"It's almost like 2 and 2 equal 5," said Blanton, outlining the advantages of merger.

First, he said, the Child Abuse Prevention Center, operating as a single agency, needed to hire a volunteer manager and a fund developer. Parents Anonymous as a separate agency had those. No staff was cut in the merger, but money for services was saved.

Second, the agencies had served troubled parents in different ways: the center with a 12-week structured program and Parents Anonymous with open-ended support. Families might need both kinds of help.

Finally, the geographical reach in Maryland became wider. Both agencies worked in Baltimore, but Parents Anonymous had an office in Landover and programs in 10 counties. The center was strong in Harford and Anne Arundel counties. These emphases were kept.

In praising the merged agency at a news conference last week, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said 29,778 cases of child abuse were reported in Maryland in 1996.

About a third were found to have no basis, a third were possible cases and a third were confirmed cases. More then 9,000 times in 1996, Maryland children were abused.

"And those are only the reported cases," said Davis.

The agency, with 35 full-time and part-time staff and a budget of $1,521,667 this year, directs operations from its offices at the Rotunda, 733 W. 40th St. It is looking for a new Baltimore home with a recent $100,000 grant from the Abell Foundation.

The volunteers who staff the help line, in typical shifts of two hours, have a minimum of 10 hours training in counseling and handling emergencies. Callers dial a central number and may be forwarded to volunteers' homes.

Crisis intervention, information and referrals are offered.

Volunteers help in other ways, as in the program PANDA (Parent Aides Nurturing and Discovering with Adolescents). The Family Tree has nominated an adult adviser, Charles Boone, 40, of Baltimore for an award for two years of mentoring a teen-age boy, Damen Mitchell, who learned before he turned 18 that he was to become a father.

Mitchell followed advice about the responsibilities of a parent, being a partner, dealing with conflicts, getting a job, communicating with others and loving his daughter, the agency said. "I think if I didn't have Charles as a mentor, I would have gotten into trouble," Mitchell told the agency.

Pub Date: 2/09/98

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