Saving Baltimore's children Casey report: Non-city residents must realize they have a great stake in the outcome, too.

March 24, 1997

A WALL now separates Baltimore City from the rest of Maryland. Those who live in suburbs, small towns and rural areas inhabit a world far removed. It is unfair to say they do not care about city children. People cared and cried when they saw the face of little James Smith III, shot and killed in a Hollins Market barber shop while getting a haircut on his third birthday, smiling from the front page of this newspaper or their TV screens several weeks ago. Such horror still elicits a response.

The problem is that those people on the other side of the wall have come to expect the urban conditions that breed failure and tragedy. That's why a recent Annie E. Casey Foundation study, which shows Baltimore City children ranking near the bottom of all the categories used to measure well-being, is not often the topic of debate around the office water cooler.

Children's advocates call the report shocking, but in fact the findings are too predictable. People already know life is bad for city kids; that's why so many moved their own elsewhere.

Because of this, children's advocates face a formidable challenge in changing the conditions that cause Baltimore kids to have it so hard. The city's political clout in Annapolis, where the brunt of governmental responsibility for addressing Baltimore's poverty and educational problems lies, is waning. Change will not occur unless Marylanders everywhere stop expecting the city to decay and start demanding that it improve. That will happen when non-city residents realize they cannot escape by leaving; when they see that they have a stake in whether city poverty is reduced, city education improved, city families strengthened.

Childrens' and city advocates, social services officials and especially elected county leaders must hammer at the theme that the city is not an island; if it sinks, it pulls the region with it.

Pub Date: 3/24/97

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