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New Md. Child Neglect Law Could Have Big Impact

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Maryland lieutenant governor Anthony Brown (center) receives tour of the Baltimore Child Abuse Center.  At left is the center's director Adam Rosenberg.
Royce Bair: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ironrodart/4265327611/
Maryland lieutenant governor Anthony Brown (center) receives tour of the Baltimore Child Abuse Center. At left is the center's director Adam Rosenberg.

On October 1, Maryland became the last state in the country to make child neglect a crime -- in this case, a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to five years in prison.

At the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, painted butterflies decorate the walls.  They're one of the many ways the center tries to be a bright place, because many of the stories told in here are anything but. Children suspected of being abused come here to be interviewed, as authorities believe it is easier for them to talk in a place like this than a police station.

"A child is able to be a child when they're here," says Adam Rosenberg, BCAC's executive director. "And they can go from being a victim back to being a child."

Each child who comes to the center gets to decorate a butterfly. Rosenberg says that, unfortunately, those butterflies cover all the walls of the four-story building -- as many as 887 just in 2010.

Many of those interviewed at the center were not abused, just neglected, and that's something Rosenberg says they couldn't do much worth before the signing of the new child neglect law. Previously their only recourse was to make a referral to child protective services.

"For years, Maryland has had a neglect statute for vulnerable adults and animals, but not children," says lieutenant governor Anthony Brown, saying that it was a major oversight that they were eager to correct.

The general assembly approved the law earlier this year, after bills seeking the measure were defeated the previous three years.  One of many reasons for that was concern the law was too broad.  

Brown says disagrees: "We're not intending to prosecute parents or guardians who are unable to sufficiently take care of their children due to an involuntary condition such as poverty or homelessness."

One of the hopes Adam Rosenberg has for the law is that people who see child neglect may feel more inclined to report it.

"We're only as successful as people who report abuse," says Rosenberg. "We're not going to find this on our own.  And, this battle against child abuse and neglect is something that folks like me and you in our private lives need to be able to take a stand, and pick up a phone and report that they see something."

Last year, Maryland's child protective services received more than 14,000 reports of suspected child neglect, and confirmed more than 4,000 of them.

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