Progress of effort still not obvious

At midway point, campaign to aid kids offers mostly hope

April 08, 2001|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's Safe and Sound Campaign - a 10-year effort to improve the lives of children - began five years ago with $400,000 and much hoopla.

Three months ago, the campaign passed its halfway point with more than $50 million in its coffers - but with little hoopla and few measurable results.

Those who fund and run the campaign say it is right on track.

Even so, they say it will be another five years - perhaps longer - before they can produce solid evidence of progress.

Executive Director Hathaway Ferebee points to a list of accomplishments that include:

Attracting 7,000 people to a 1997 event to help set goals.

Raising $51,856,987 to be spent during the next three years.

Creating the capacity to place 15,000 students in after-school programs, reach 2,770 families with effective parenting services and reach 1,000 families through home-visiting programs.

The hope is that the campaign will help prevent juvenile gun homicides, ensure that all third-graders can read and improve the health of Baltimore's children.

But, few statistics show progress in these areas.

"It just takes a lot longer than you would imagine. Most scientific literature says that it takes a while to have outcomes," says Diana Silver of the Wagner School of Public Service at New York University, who was hired by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to track the success of the campaign.

The Safe and Sound Campaign began in 1996 with $400,000 from the foundation. Baltimore has received about $4 million from the foundation during the past five years.

Charles Royer, national program director for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Urban Health Initiative, says Baltimore is doing better than most of the other four cities in the program: Detroit, Philadelphia, Oakland and Richmond.

But, he says, the effort is not without its flaws.

All five cities have had trouble putting their theories into practice, Royer says. And though Baltimore's campaign has excelled at community organizing, it has not done as well marketing its efforts.

"You need to get to the people with a clear message of what is going on and what needs to be done," he says. "If you're not communicating strategically with people whose behaviors you want to change, you are not going to make much progress."

Experimental aspect

Ferebee says the Safe and Sound Campaign is on its way to remedying that problem and could sign a contract with a communications firm as early as this week.

Royer is candid about the Robert Wood Johnson effort, saying it is an experiment that might or might not work.

"That's what the foundation funds ... learning efforts so that the whole field can learn how it is that you organize communities and mobilize communities," he says.

Cities in the Urban Health Initiative were supposed to plan for two years, but Royer says all five cities took longer.

In Baltimore, the first four years were spent planning and gathering baseline data.

The dollars began reaching the streets last spring.

Locally, most observers praise the initiative, despite the delay.

K. C. Burton, a senior associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, says the only complaint he has heard about the campaign is that other nonprofit groups around the city find that it eclipses their efforts, making it hard to find money to fund shorter-term programs.

`Give it a chance'

But, Burton supports the campaign.

"When it comes to a comprehensive, citywide initiative focused on children and families, they are probably the biggest, best-organized effort and game in town," he says. "So you don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water. You want to really give it a chance to unfold."

Other voices of support come from board members, including Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, Baltimore's health commissioner.

"This is not just a mushy-mushy campaign," he says, adding, "In terms of moving the numbers rapidly, that's not the world's easiest thing. There are huge underlying social issues - poverty, joblessness, racism - all kinds of things affecting this city that will not change overnight."

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