Report gauges well-being of Md. children

Foundation finds statewide increases in teen deaths, low-weight newborns

fewer are living in poverty

Nationally, survey says, more youths living in low-income homes

July 27, 2005|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Maryland has witnessed a slight increase in teen deaths and low-birthweight babies, while posting significant improvements in the prevention of child poverty and births to teen mothers, according to a report to be released today by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The report documents a 3 percent increase in deaths among youths ages 15 to 19 from 2000 to 2002. The state recorded 275 such deaths from all causes in 2002, the most recent year for which federal data were available.

There was also a 5 percent increase in the number of Maryland babies weighing 5.5 pounds or less at birth. In 2000, 8.6 percent of babies were born underweight; 9 percent were born underweight in 2002.

William O'Hare, a foundation official, said automobile crashes have pushed up the number of teen deaths nationwide, but in Maryland homicides account for the increase. In 2000, the state reported 65 teen homicides, compared with 83 in 2002.

O'Hare also speculated that the increase in Maryland's low-birthweight babies resulted from multiple births among middle- and upper-income women who can afford fertility treatment, and from poor health and malnutrition among low-income women.

The Casey foundation issues the annual report to rank efforts by states to ensure the well-being of children. Maryland posted improved scores in eight of 10 categories the survey uses to measure child wellbeing, including school attendance and parent employment. Survey officials ranked Maryland 19th among all states, up from 27th place last year.

The foundation's 2005 Kids Count survey also documents a 23 percent decrease in the number of Maryland children living in poverty between 2000 and 2003, and a 15 percent drop in births to teenagers from 2000 to 2002.

Although the report provided no explanation for the change in teen births, those numbers reflect a recent trend in Baltimore. The city's teen birthrate dropped by 11 percent from 2002 to 2003 and has fallen 40 percent since 1991, when it peaked.

Recently, city health officials have credited sex education, the availability of contraceptives and abstinence groups for helping reduce teen births.

The survey also described a nation that is letting more children slip into poverty.

Between 2000 and 2003, the number of children living with parents who were chronically unemployed jumped from 3 million to 4 million, according to the survey. Nationwide, there were nearly 13 million children who were living in poverty in 2003, or about 500,000 more than in 2000.

Douglas W. Nelson, president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, called the nationwide shift in child well-being alarming and called on federal and state elected officials to work harder to help families overcome employment barriers.

"Too many parents want to work their way out of poverty but are unable to," Nelson said. "The futures of too many kids, as a result, are severely compromised."

Casey officials noted that although Maryland posted improved scores compared with other states, child poverty remains a significant issue, especially in Baltimore, where one child in three lives in poverty. Some of those children live with parents who have no full-time, year-round employment, they said.

"The fact that there has been improvement is good news, but there are still plenty of children in need," said O'Hare. "There are 140,000 kids in poverty in Maryland. So those are 140,000 kids who are not celebrating the improved rank in Maryland. The average income of those families is half the poverty rate, or about $9,000 a year."

The survey also shows that the nation's infant mortality rate increased in 2002 for the first time in more than 40 years after hitting an all-time low in 2001. O'Hare said that this change was "cause for concern" because such statistics are often used to measure societal well-being. An increase in infant deaths could hint at a deterioration in support networks, including aid for struggling families, he said.

Jennean Everett-Reynolds, director of research for Advocates for Children and Youth, said that though Maryland has seen progress in some areas, there is much to do to wipe out child poverty. "We are in the middle of the pack," she said, referring to the state's ranking. "We should be doing better than that. We are one of the richest states in the country."

The Kids Count report

Maryland ranked 19th among all states in the Annie E. Casey Foundation's annual report measuring the well-being of children. A foundation official noted that traffic accidents account for the increase in the teen deaths nationwide, but in Maryland the increase is attributable to homicide. Nationwide, there were 13 million children living in poverty in 2003 - 500,000 more than in 2000. But in Maryland there was a 23 percent decrease in children living in poverty during the same period.

Casey officials said that though Maryland is doing better than many other states, child poverty remains a significant problem.

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