Totsline offers harried parents a knowing ear

Child care experts dispense advice and encouragement over the telephone


When should my toddler move into a big-boy bed? Why won't my infant daughter drink breast milk from a bottle? Why isn't my 18-month-old talking like other children?

Totsline, an Anne Arundel County-run hot line for parents, gets hundreds of these calls every year. From developmental questions to problems such as violent outbursts at day care, three child care specialists field questions from anxious parents, as well as from social workers looking for resources to help troubled families.

They try to publicize the service at events, such as Babies in Bloom, a county library program that teaches parents how to entertain and connect with their children.

At Thursday's Babies in Bloom class at the Annapolis library, there was no shortage of parents with questions.

"I don't have biting, but I have scratching and hitting," Michele Barrett told Totsline's Candace Place about Barrett's 14-month- old son, Jack. "He does it when he gets excited."

Place recommended timeouts and demonstrated how Barrett should address Jack after an incident: Look directly at him and tell him in a low, calm voice to stop the behavior.

Place handed Jacqueline Scaccia an inflatable beach ball with the Totsline number on it. Scaccia is trying to handle her 17-month- old's crying when she has to leave him in someone else's care.

"His big thing is the whole separation anxiety," Scaccia said.

Place's visits to Babies in Bloom and other events have helped get the message out. Totsline fielded its largest number of calls - more than 1,600 - during fiscal 2006, which ended June 30, according to its annual report. The number reflects an 18 percent increase over fiscal 2005.

Social workers and child care providers can call Totsline for referrals to behavioral specialists or additional services, said Estee Summers, the coordinator of Totsline. It is part of the Family Tree, a nonprofit program designed to prevent child abuse.

In fiscal 2005, more than 6,000 children were abused or neglected in Maryland. At least 500 of those children lived in Anne Arundel County, according to the state Department of Human Resources.

Totsline receives about $80,000 a year from the local management board, which also provides rent-free space in its offices in Annapolis.

The local management board wants to expand Totsline so that staff members can help parents navigate a new online database of county mental health services and parenting programs, said Alice Harris, the board's director. The database will be launched in September.

The board is applying for additional state funding to pay for more staff members and training, Harris said.

Summers, a pediatric nurse and grandmother, also fields calls on Totsline. Place has a master's degree in human services and certificates in professional counseling and adult education. Ruth Shock, the third staff member, has been a clinical social worker for 20 years.

The three provide comfort and solid advice to parents, said Cindy Hackett, a program coordinator at Annapolis Library. She referred her daughter, Courtney Bulis, to Totsline when Bulis was looking for ways to get her 2-year-old son, Jake, to stop using his pacifier. The counselor advised her to leave her son's "binky" alone. With a baby sister on the way, Jake didn't need any more stress, the counselor said.

"It was kind of a sympathetic ear," Bulis said. "It's almost like they've got your back."

Parents and child care providers can call Totsline at 877-817-8687 between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. weekdays or submit questions online at

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