Study of children paints mixed picture

February 02, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer

In the first comprehensive look at children's well-being in Maryland, a study has found that while fewer infants are dying of disease in the state, more teen-agers are being killed by violence.

The report of the Maryland Kids Count Partnership, to be released today in Annapolis, indicates that Maryland's rates of infant mortality, births to teen-agers and child poverty have dipped as violent deaths of teen-agers and arrests of teen-agers for violent crimes have soared.

The statistical profile, produced by an alliance of advocacy groups and state agencies with a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, depicts a state in which the fortunes of its 1.2 million children vary widely depending on who cares for them and where they live.

"The real thing that comes across is the disparity in quality of life," said Susan Leviton, president of the nonprofit Advocates for Children and Youth, the lead agency in compiling the report. "For some kids, childhood is innocence. For others, it's extreme poverty, going to the worst schools and being fearful of walking outside your house."

"We're a very wealthy state, but we have very poor kids who don't do well," she said. "There's something wrong with a community that lets infants and toddlers be the poorest group in the state."

Family income is the single best indicator of children's well-being, according to the report, which includes data on poverty, education, health and safety.

On average, married couples with children have nearly three times more income than do single mothers. A Baltimore toddler who lives with only his mother is seven times as likely to be poor as one living with both parents.

Children in Baltimore, where only 27 percent of youngsters live with two working parents, have the state's highest rates of poverty, school failure, lead poisoning and arrests for violent crimes. The rate of suspected child abuse is also highest in those homes.

But the statistics also show problems for children in suburban and rural Maryland:

* Average family income was lower in rural Allegany, Caroline, Dorchester, Garrett, Somerset and Worcester counties than in Baltimore.

* The rate at which youngsters were added to the welfare rolls from 1990 to 1992 increased faster in suburban Frederick, Prince George's, Baltimore, Howard and Harford counties than in the city -- although Baltimore still accounted for more than half of Maryland children receiving benefits.

* The number of children receiving free school lunches increased most last year in suburban areas such as Baltimore County (30 percent), Howard County (26 percent) and Frederick County (20 percent).

* The three counties with the highest percentages of pregnant women receiving late or no prenatal care were Somerset, Dorchester and Wicomico, all on the Lower Shore.

* The number of teen-age homicide deaths more than doubled, from 42 in 1985 to 91 in 1990.

* Nineteen of the state's 24 jurisdictions had increases in arrest rates of youths for violent crimes.

In other categories, Baltimore's children -- nearly 70 percent of whom are black -- stood out as by far the most disadvantaged.

"Far too many children in Maryland are in crisis," the report said. ,, "In particular, African-American children face great obstacles and suffer disproportionately. African-American children are more likely to be born in poverty and stay poor, have a single mother and die of homicide."

The report found that:

* Sixty percent of Baltimore children live with a single parent -- and two-fifths of those parents don't work. Child care expenses eat up 29 percent of the income of an average city family with young children, more than such a family typically spends on food or housing.

* Nearly one-third of Baltimore children live in poverty, and black children statewide are almost four times as likely as whites to be poor. Fewer than one-sixth of city parents were complying with court orders to pay child support, by far the worst rate in Maryland.

* The rate of "indicated" child abuse and neglect investigations in Baltimore -- those where evidence suggests that abuse or neglect did occur -- is triple the state average. The rate of arrests of youths for violent crimes in the city was more than twice the Maryland average.

* Only 39 percent of Baltimore students who entered ninth grade graduated from high school four years later. In contrast, no Maryland county had an on-time graduation rate of less than 70 percent.

Ms. Leviton said the report "shows that certain areas where we have concentrated resources have improved." She cited drops in infant mortality and births to teen-agers.

Sandra J. Skolnik of the Maryland Committee for Children said the report also spotlighted areas where reliable statistics are lacking, including children's mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence.

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