Nearly 100 cases of suspected child abuse were reported in the District of Columbia from July 1974 through June 1975. Two of those cases resulted in death, according to a new report on child abuse published by the metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
Neither social nor criminal authorities can determine how these reported cases reflect the actual amount of child abuse that occurs. Like many social deviations that can cause embarrassment and other difficulties for the victim and family - including alcoholism, rape and drug addiction - reported cases are believed to be far fewer than actual incidents.
Testimony during Senate hearings in 1974 on child abuse gave conservative estimates that at least one million abuse incidents were thought to have occurred that year on a nationwide basis, yet only 60,000 cases were reported, said Janice Forney, author of the COG study on abuse.
More than 100 of the reported cases in the District were severe enough to require medical treatment, but the report adds that since only about three cases a year are reported by private physicians, many more seriously injured children may also be treated by private doctors but not reported to the youth division of the metropolitian police department. The youth division receives reports on child abuse and investigates abuse cases in the District.
"Abuse is only beginning to be recognized as a national problem, rather than just a few isolated incidents," Forney said. "National studies indicate that abused children show a higher incidence of juvenile delinqquincy, of becoming involved in violent crimes, of becoming abusive parents themselves. Not dealing with the problem now is tantamount to breeding an increase of violence in the future."
Of the 306 reports of suspected abuse in the District, 273 were verified and substantiated, but only 120 had sufficient evidence to be heard in court.
Besides the reported abuse cases, there were also nearly 1,000 cases of neglect reported in the District in fiscal 195, the COG study says.
About 40 per cent of these cases were heard in juvenile court, and the remaining either could not be verified or lacked sufficient evidence to be brought to court. Neglect normally does not involve direct physical abuse, but does involve damage to a child as a result of "abandoning the child to his own resources," Forney said. Neglect includes failing to provide a child with medical attention or other physical needs.
"Child abuse can range from the extremes of death or brain damage caused by blows on the head, to small bruises resulting from a severe spanking," Forney continued. "But most cases appear to fall in a middle ground, where children display easily apparent brulses and welts from obvious maltreatment. Where you draw the line between discipline and abuse is a very cloudy, problematic area that needs to be better examined."
The 306 abuse cases reported in the District account for only 12 per cent of the 3,270 cases reported in eight jurisdictions in the Washington metropolitan area in fiscal 1975. The COG study includes tallys of child abuse form six northern Virginia jurisdictions, Prince George's and Montgomery counties and the District.
"Again, methods of reporting result in a great disparity among the figures," Forney explained. "For example, Virginia includes neglect cases in abuse totals, yet the District does not. Maryland and Virginia require social workers, teachers and [WORD ILLEGIBLE] people to report abuse, but the District has require only medical practioners to [WORD ILLEGIBLE]
As an example of the actual incidence of child abuse can be [WORD ILLEGIBLE] by those cases reported, the COG study shows that only 426 cases of abuse was reported in Virginia before new legislation concerning abuse went into effect. The following year, the number of reported cases jumped to 30,061, after people such as teachers, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] system employees and mental health professionals were required by law to report child abuse.
New legislation on child abuse is scheduled to be acted on by the D.C. City Council May 17, the legislation calls nurses, social worker and educators, among others, to report abuse. Failure to report would carry a penalty of a $100 fine or 30 days in jail. Presently, only medical practitioners are required to report abuse in the District.
The legislation also would establish a central registry for reporting abuse cases and compiling records on child abuse.
Individuals who suspect neglect or abuse of children now may call the youth division of the police department (626-2070), a hotline sponsored by a nonprofit community service organization, the Rose Home and School Association (626-3226), or protective services of the department of human resources (629-3098).
Other services in the District designed to deal with abuse include the Children's Hospital Child protection center where a child abuse trauma team works with both abused children and abusive parents. The protection center has a private physician's consulting services that provides a pediatrician who will examine a child suspected of abuse and appear in court in place of the private physician. The service apparently has resulted in increased reporting by private physicians, the COG study says.
The D.C. Corporation Counsel maintains a child abuse reference library and provides public education presentations on abuse and neglect, as well as four attorneys who work exclusively with abuse and neglect cases.
The COG report recommends increased and more detailed methods or reporting abuse in the metropolitan area "in order to get a more clear idea of the extent of the problem," Forney said.