County listed first in state for children Kids Count report rates well-being of youngsters

But problems are noted

More youth violence, welfare cases concern officials

August 04, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

People say Carroll County is a great place to raise children. Now, the numbers say so, too.

Carroll ranked first in the state for the well-being of its children in the 1995 Maryland Kids Count Factbook released this summer.

But a closer look at the statistics shows an increase in the number of children on public assistance and increasing youth violence here and in every other suburban county in the Baltimore area.

Carroll County saw a drop in juvenile violent crime arrests, but experienced an increase in violence-related school suspensions, from 24.4 per 1,000 students in 1993 to 33.5 in 1995.

People are moving here because it's a good place for children, but the migration has added to the social problems, said Richard Simmons, a pupil-personnel worker for Carroll County Schools.

"Now, 500 more families will want to move here," Simmons said upon hearing about Carroll's top ranking. "We get just under a thousand new kids a year. I think people move here with the impression it's a panacea, and it isn't."

The report ranks counties by the well-being of their children, as defined by 14 measures including children in poverty, violent deaths, child abuse and third-grade reading scores.

The statistical portrait is compiled by a partnership of public and private agencies, including Advocates for Children and Youth and the Baltimore Urban League, and is paid for by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation. The Casey Foundation has sponsored comparable reports in all states for the past four years.

Carroll County ranked first overall, but came in first in only one of the specific categories: the lowest rate statewide for infants born weighing less than 5.5 pounds, an indicator of general mother-child health.

Must remain alert

Carroll should be commended for its impressive showing, but residents need to remain alert, said Rosalie Streett, a longtime child and family advocate and member of the Maryland Kids Count Partnership.

"I don't think you can ever really let your guard down in prevention," Streett said. "This is for this year. Let's make sure it's this year, and the next year and the year after that."

Streett moved to Carroll just over a year ago, after living in Baltimore for 34 years. She has worked on a state and national level on child and family issues, founded the agency Friends of the Family, and most recently was national director of pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton's child advocacy group, Parent Action.

"It's wonderful," she said of Carroll's showing in the report. "We're always predicting doom and destruction, and this is good news. Carroll County should feel very proud."

However, she noted that in addition to the increase in violence-related school suspensions, the rate of students who don't graduate on time in Carroll has also risen.

The number of children on public assistance has also gone up at a higher rate in Carroll than the state average -- by 30.5 percent in Carroll from 1990 to 1995, and 25.5 percent statewide for the same period.

"That's something people in the county need to be thinking about," she said. "Does that mean the county is getting poorer? If so, we're going to see the other indicators starting to rise."

Carroll has the second-lowest child poverty rate in the state -- 4 percent, compared with 15 percent statewide. Howard had the lowest, 3.7 percent, and Baltimore had the worst, 32.2 percent.

"Poverty breeds a lot of other problems," said Jan Schmidt, a spokeswoman for Advocates for Children and Youth, the lead agency that puts out the report. "Schools don't have as many resources, there may be more substance abuse, more drive-by shootings."

The increase in violence in suburban counties doesn't surprise Simmons, but poverty is not the only cause, he said. Much of it is that parents are under more stress today, usually from divorce and the resulting complications.

The most alarming trends teachers and principals see are increasingly younger children in elementary school who are rude to teachers, and an increase in physical attacks on teachers.

During the past school year, four kindergartners were suspended. Simmons said such suspensions happens only after repeated acts of aggression, as a way to insist that parents come in for a meeting.

Changing culture

"It's partly due to the changing population and partly due to the changing culture," Simmons said. "We have an influx of people whose value system is different from the people who used to come to Carroll County schools."

According to state planning figures, most of Carroll's new residents are coming from Baltimore County. And considering that Carroll County's low minority population of 4.5 percent hasn't gone up significantly and the average cost of a house is $153,195, the figures indicate most of the new residents are white and middle class.

Carroll saw a drop in juvenile crime arrests beginning around 1989, For 1994, it was 9.4 arrests per 10,000 children between the ages of 10 and 17; in 1990, it was 11.8.

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