A Columbia middle school teacher was charged yesterday with several child abuse offenses in connection with two alleged instances of fondling a 12-year-old girl last year, Howard County police said.

Donald B. Cohen, 42, turned himself in to authorities about 10 a.m. at police headquarters in Ellicott City, police headquarters, said Sgt. Angus Park. Cohen, a music teacher at Wilde Lake Middle School, was charged with one count of child abuse, two counts of third-degree sex offense, two counts of fourth-degree sex offense and two counts of assault and battery.

Marna McLendon, Cohen's lawyer, said her client is "absolutely innocent" of the charges.

Cohen was released yesterday on his own recognizance pending trial.

The Cohen case is the latest of an increasing number of reported child abuse cases in Howard County in the last three years, officials said. The cases range from physical assaults to sexual attacks, police said.

In 1984, there were 71 reported child abuse cases, Park said. Two years later, the number almost doubled to 138 reported cases, he said. About 15 of those cases were related to the highly publicized sex abuse trial of Sandra A. Craig, the owner of a now-defunct day care center, Park said.

Through September this year, police have logged 77 reported child abuse cases, Park said.

County social service officials and police have few explanations for the rise in child abuse cases. Linda Zumbrun, assistant director of the county's social services unit, and Park said the county's rapid population growth and increased public awareness of child abuse probably have contributed to the increased reports.

In the case of the 12-year-old girl, police said she told her parents about the sexual assaults in September, saying Cohen had "tickled her stomach." The child's parents reported the case to school officials, who called the police. Park said the police began investigating the case on Sept. 24.

Cohen, who has taught in the Howard County school system since 1977, was removed from the classroom and put on administrative duties after the allegations were made by the girl's parents, said school spokeswoman Patti Vierkant.

Cohen is accused of touching the girl's breast while teaching her to play the guitar. In November 1986, according to police, the girl said Cohen touched her in a private part while they were standing alone in a hallway. In both instances, the girl was fully clothed, police said.