Eastern Shore Launches New Approach For Tackling Child Abuse - 47 ABC - Delmarva's Choice

Eastern Shore Launches New Approach For Tackling Child Abuse

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MARYLAND  - A brand new approach to tackling child abuse and neglect is officially underway on the Eastern Shore.

"It's here and we're definitely excited and ready," says Lori Engle, a child protective services supervisor, and supervisor for screening intake at the Wicomico County Department of Social Services.

Out of the average 2,000 cases of child maltreatment the State of Maryland sees every month, the Department of Human Resources estimates anywhere from 35 to 40 percent of the cases will receive the new approach, called "alternative response." It was reportedly first signed into law back in 2012, and after extensive work with stakeholder meetings and advisory groups, the State started having certain regions across Maryland go live in 2013.

The response will only be used in cases where there are low-risk, low-level cases of child abuse and neglect.

"It's those child neglect issues that come to our attention that maybe have to do with the cleanliness for the home or hygiene items for the children," says Engle.

"They are serious things that need to be dealt with but we approach them in a different way," says Ted Dallas, secretary of Maryland's Department of Human Resources. "It allows us to proceed without a formal finding and engage the family without investigating them, and it will keep those low-risk cases from becoming high-risk cases."

Engle says the new approach will include doing announced visits and having direct family communication.

"It's about doing a full comprehensive assessment of what the family needs, what the family has, what are their strengths, their concerns, what works for the family, rather than us just going out for an investigation, making a finding and then being done with the family," says Engle.

The main goal is to get families to engage.

"They don't really want to engage with Social Services, we definitely have been labeled over the years as being judgmental, child snatchers, that sort of thing," says Engle. "This is a way to engage them more, and have them see us in a positive light, and that we're not just there to label them, to judge them, to make a finding. We really want to work with their strengths and help them resolve any issues that they have."

To get ready for the April 1st launch, Departments of Social Services across the Eastern Shore have been making presentations in the community and educating Health Departments, school systems, and other health agencies.

"Our community partners are key to this," says Engle. "They work with the families on a regular basis so if they understand what Social Services are trying to do, it can help educate the families."

While Engle foresees a very promising future, she feels that the education factor may be tough at first.

"Helping our families understand that our practice has changed is going to be the biggest hurdle," says Engle. "I think if they realize we're really there to help they'll be more willing to engage with us."

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