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Department of Social Services

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is child abuse and neglect?

A.
From time to time many of us may observe behavior towards children that we feel is inappropriate. Child abuse and neglect are legal terms and are defined by the Maryland Family Law Article 5-701 as:

"Abuse" means

1. the physical or mental injury of a child by any parent or other person who has permanent or temporary care or custody or responsibility for supervision of a child, or by any household member, under circumstances that indicate that the child's health or welfare is harmed or at substantial risk of being harmed;
or 2. sexual abuse of a child, whether physical injuries are sustained or not. Sexual abuse means any act that involves sexual molestation or exploitation of a child by a parent or other person who has permanent or temporary care or custody or responsibility for supervision of a child, or by any household or family member.

"Neglect" means the leaving of a child unattended or other failure to provide proper care and attention to a child by a parent or other person who has permanent or temporary care or custody or responsibility for supervision of a child under circumstances that indicate

1. that the child's health or welfare is harmed or placed at substantial risk of harm;
or 2. mental injury to the child or a substantial risk of mental injury.

"Mental injury" means the observable, identifiable, and substantial impairment
of a child's mental or psychological ability to function.

If you believe a child is being abused or neglected, contact the Department of Social Services at 410-853-3000 to discuss this situation with our Screening Unit.

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Q. How old does my child have to be before I can allow her or him to be home alone?

A.
The fire code, the most commonly referred to law on this subject, states that a child under the age of 8 must be in the care of a person who is at least 13 years old. Generally, it is left up to the parent's judgment to decide whether a child who is 8 or older is mature enough to be home alone. Anytime you leave your child alone, be sure the child knows what to do in the event of an emergency.

Baltimore County Department of Social Services' Child Protective Services (CPS) may become involved if a child of any age is left alone and is placed at risk of harm because he or she is unable to manage on his/her own. CPS may also become involved if your child's babysitter or caretaker is unable to properly care for her. This is particularly important if you have an older child babysitting your child. Is the babysitter responsible? Is she mature? Is she emotionally and intellectually able to handle the job?

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Q. Do parents have the right to discipline their children as they see fit?

A
. Parents have the right to discipline their children. Parents do not have the right to abuse or neglect their children.

Discipline means helping children learn right from wrong and helping them learn how to succeed in life. There are many ways to discipline children. If you or someone you know has questions about discipline, wants information about community counseling services, or wants information about support groups for parents, call 410-853-3000.

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Q. What should I do if I see unsupervised children in my neighborhood and I am worried about their safety?

A.
Call the Baltimore County Police at 911. They will make an immediate assessment of the child's safety and if necessary, the police will contact Child Protective Services at the Department of Social Services.

If you have a general concern and there is not an immediate issue of the child's safety, you can call 410-853-3000 to discuss the situation with our screening unit. Depending on what you have observed, a child neglect investigation might result.

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Q. Are there full time summer camps and do you provide transportation?

A.
A variety of summer programs are available. Contact your local Community Recreation Office to see what programs they offer.

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Revised May 5, 2014

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