Year of the Infant ends

January 31, 1991|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Evening Sun Staff

The Year of the Infant is over.

Announced by Gov. William Donald Schaefer in a banquet room at the Towson Sheraton last January, the Year of the Infant was a crazy quilt of state and local programs designed to focus attention on the early needs of children.

"Our children are our future," Schaefer proclaimed as he unveiled programs ranging from the symbolic (commemorative baby certificates "suitable for display") to the substantive (a treatment program for drug-addicted pregnant women).

That was Jan. 4, 1990.

A year later, few of the more than 25 initiatives announced by Schaefer and his Office of Youth, Children and Families actually are under way. Most have been delayed or scrapped or turned out to have little money or staff allocated to them. The two most expensive programs -- a center to treat drug-addicted pregnant women and another center offering special services to parents -- are planned to open later this year.

Advocates for children said they were skeptical of Year of the Infant when it was announced by Schaefer and Nancy Grasmick, special secretary for the Office of Youth, Children and Families. While Grasmick is personally popular and generally receives high marks -- Schaefer's decision this week to name her as secretary of Juvenile Services was well-received -- advocates said Schaefer didn't provide enough money for substantive Year of the Infant programs.

A year later, advocates say they remain skeptical of how much the program has accomplished.

"The Year of the Infant is very important if it made people aware we have to commit to our children. It was good at public awareness," said Susan P. Leviton, president of Advocates for Children and Youth Inc.

"It failed at actually serving kids," she added.

Grasmick's year-old Office of Youth, Children and Families, which coordinates all services affecting youth and families in the various state departments, was responsible for implementing Year of the Infant.

The idea sprang, in part, from Schaefer's visit late in 1989 to the Mount Washington Pediatric Center, where several children were living because their medical problems made it difficult to place them in foster care.

To Grasmick, the yearlong promotion was a success.

"I feel good about it and I feel good from several perspectives," Grasmick said when asked to assess 1990 as Year of the Infant.

"One, I think it really drew attention in many different ways in the importance of looking at a child from the beginning of his or her life. Second, I think it emphasized what we're doing with our . . . work, to impact the larger system."

Leviton and other advocates say they admire the public-service aspect of what Grasmick has done, but would like to see more substantive measures.

"One of the problems is, we have been unwilling to make a commitment to prevention and putting money up front," Leviton said. "Until we do that, we're going to continue to provide crisis services that are very expensive and not very effective."

Leviton is concerned that the General Assembly, with its austerity mind-set this year, will provide even less support to preventive services than it has in the past. Children's programs can't afford to be cut, she said.

"In these tough economic times, it's hard to tighten your belt when all you're wearing is a diaper," Leviton said.

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