24/7 help for abused kids

July 06, 2004

IN THE PAST, when an abused or neglected child arrived at a Baltimore emergency room in the middle of the night, it might have taken hours for an on-call state social services worker to get there to investigate. But starting last week, the Baltimore Department of Social Services has increased its evening and night-shift staff from 10 to 25 workers to handle these most sensitive cases on a round-the-clock basis.

This is a welcome change.

It comes more than five months after recommendations for improving the services were made in a report issued by Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the city's health commissioner. It also comes weeks after the beating deaths in May of 1-month-old twin girls who had been born at Johns Hopkins Hospital. A social worker at the hospital had called DSS before the babies were discharged, but had not been given information about the mother that might have indicated the twins were at risk. The parents have been charged with murder in the twins' deaths.

Floyd R. Blair, the interim director of the Baltimore Department of Social Services, calls the plan Extended Hours Plus, and the hope is that the additional workers and longer hours will reduce the wait time for calls and a staff response. Rather than be on call, staffers will be based at the agency's Howard Street office, ready to respond. These workers begin the process of determining whether children who may be victims of abuse or neglect can remain safely in their home.

The Extended Hours Plus plan coincides with the agency's decision to implement a centralized phone number (410-361-2235) to report abuse.

These are two small changes in how the social services agency does business, but they are a start. And if they can improve Maryland's record of service to these vulnerable children, then it matters not how small the changes are.

Mr. Blair and his boss, state Secretary of Human Resources Christopher J. McCabe, have pledged to correct service gaps that were identified as a result of the twins' deaths. Maryland children deserve no less.

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