The number of Maryland children who died as a result of child abuse was nearly four times higher in 1982 than in 1980, reports a doctor who has been appointed by the governor to head a task force on child abuse.
Charles I. Shubin, chief of pediatrics at Baltimore's Lutheran Hospital, said that according to state Department of Human Resources data, six children died because of abuse or neglect in 1980, 10 in 1981 and 23 last year. Most of the children who died were younger than 2, the age group in which children are least able to defend themselves, Shubin said.
Child abuse is a dire problem, Shubin said. He said that of the 23 children who died last year, 38 percent of the deaths were attributed to brain damage, 28 percent to internal injuries, 14 percent to infections or illness after an injury, 10 percent to suffocation and 10 percent to starvation.
The average age of the parent or caretaker in these cases was 24.
Trends of increases in neglect and physical and sexual abuse of children have been reported recently by Children's Hospital in the District.
"There is a scary trend there. . . . The number and severity of the cases is increasing, " said Shubin, adding that recent studies around the nation have tied increased family violence to the unstable economy and increased joblessness.
Shubin cautions, however, that might not be the whole picture. He notes that reporting of child abuse has improved greatly in recent years, particularly among school teachers. According to Shubin, such reports are more common in poor and urban areas where social service and emergency room personnel get involved. Private doctors are much less likely to report abuse, the doctor said.
Shubin was named by Gov. Harry Hughes to be chairman of a 14-member task force on child abuse, which was created July 1. The task force members represent schools, social services, health-care providers, law officials and state legislators. The panel is supposed to prepare a preliminary report by January outlining the problem and offering possible remedies. The task force will be holding public meetings at the state Senate building in Annapolis on the first and third Thursday of each month through December. The first public meeting is scheduled for Aug. 25.
Shubin, who specializes in child-abuse problems, said that too many people never learn how to be parents and how to deal with frustrations in nonviolent ways. Legislation is needed for "early education and prevention programs, but that is the hardest to get funded because there are no immediate results," Shubin said.