Press Release drafted by Teresa Vandergriff March 9, 2012
March 8, 2012 — To help ensure government transparency and accountability for Maryland’s abused and neglected children, First Star, a national child advocacy organization, testified today before the Judiciary Committee of the Maryland House of Delegates.
First Star strongly opposes a bill would eventually weaken the work of state agencies accountable for child protection. That bill, HB 834, proposes to authorize the Department of Human Resources (DHR) to establish an alternative response to reports of child abuse and neglect. As currently drafted, HB 834 would further remove the DHR from accountability with respect to abused and neglected children in Maryland and, absent other changes and funding, provides no measurable benefits to these children.
An even greater concern is the need for transparency and accountability of the DHR. First Star testified about disconcerting experiences with the agency in connection with implementation of a Maryland law involving abused and neglected children. That law, enacted in October 2010 is entitled, Child Abuse and Neglect – Disclosure of Information (H.B. 1141 and S.B. 948, codified at Md. Human Services Code Ann. § 1-203). It increases transparency about fatalities and near fatalities of abused and neglected children.
Having worked with other advocates, state legislators and state officials to make this law a reality, First Star made several attempts over a ten-month period to obtain information from DHR about Maryland’s child fatalities and near fatalities, as well as the development of relevant regulations to implement the requirements of Child Abuse and Neglect – Disclosure of Information.
The agency’s replies included information on only three fatalities and further noted that it was not providing information about cases which were “ruled out” or subject to appeal.
First Star testified that evaluating the information received from DHR has been problematic. For example, a comparison of sheer numbers with child fatality data maintained nationally indicates a significant discrepancy. Data for Maryland from the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN) indicates that the numbers of child fatalities was 20, 17 and 24, respectively for each of 2008, 2009 and 2010.
“Even without the additional ‘ruled out’ information, the discrepancy in the numbers argues strongly for more accountability of DHR, not less,” stressed Sherry A. Quirk, First Star’s Vice President. “If the Agency is somehow not maintaining information about so many more children who died in Maryland, or worse yet, is choosing to hide that information, such an agency cannot be given room for increased action without any accountability.”
“Sadly, it is apparently a naïve view to expect that when a child dies or nearly dies, the agency charged with that child’s care would want an examination of its processes to understand what took place so as to avoid another child’s death,” said Elissa T. Garr, First Star’s Executive Director.
First Star, a national 501(c)(3) public charity, has been dedicated to improving the lives of victimized and abused children for over a decade. Our mission is to shed light on the issues facing society’s most vulnerable children, since these children are often unable to do so themselves. First Star promotes a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach that encourages interaction among child advocates and decisions-makers to improve life for these children. Along with the Children’s Advocacy Institute, First Star publishes State Secrecy and Child Deaths in the U.S. This report is a graded analysis of state laws regarding the availability of information about abused and neglected children in state care who die or who experience near fatalities. For more information, visit www.firststar.org
 Children’s Bureau, Child Maltreatment 2010, Table 4-2 available at http://www.acfhhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/index.htm#can.