Maryland is one of the nation's wealthiest states, yet its infant mortality rate increased 11 percent between 2000 to 2004 and ranked as the nation's ninth worst, according to the 2007 Kids Count Databook, a report released yesterday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
"Maryland's current rate of 8.4 infant deaths per 1,000 live births is nearly 23 percent higher than the national rate," says the report, also noting that the number of low birth-weight babies increased by 8 percent and was more than 15 percent higher than the national rate.
The Kids Count Databook uses 10 indicators to measure how children are faring nationally in the areas of health, education and safety. The indicators include death rates of children and teenagers, parents' employment and income, and teen pregnancy and dropout rates.
While Maryland ranks 24th among the states in child well-being -- a drop from 23rd last year -- the report says some of the indicators show improvement:
The rate of Maryland children living in poverty was reduced by 15 percent between 2000 and 2005, while nationally the rate increased by 12 percent.
Maryland's percentage of teen high school dropouts fell by 36 percent, matching the national trend. State and national rates decreased from 11 percent in 2000 to 7 percent in 2005.
Maryland's teen death rate decreased by 6 percent between 2000 and 2004.
"The pattern here is that Maryland's performance for children is much lower than it should be, considering its wealth," said Matthew Joseph, executive director of Baltimore-based Advocates for Children and Youth, calling the state of children's well-being in Maryland "a disgrace."
Despite the improvements in some of Maryland's indicators, child care advocates called for more to be done.
The report says that for every 1,000 children in Maryland, nine are in the foster care system and that at any given time as many as 12,500 children are living in foster care.
Eleven percent of Maryland's children live in poverty (income below $19,806 for a family of four in 2005), according to the data book, the second lowest percentage in the nation.
At the meeting to release the results yesterday, several child advocates were quick to point out reasons Maryland's children are falling so far behind those in other wealthy states. Many said they worry that any recent improvements in children's welfare policy have been stagnated.
In education, the gap between low-income and other fourth-graders is the second largest in the nation, according to a study done by Advocates for Children and Youth.
In terms of health care, 70 percent of children enrolled in Maryland Children's Health Program or Medicaid go without dental care each year, according toPatricia Bell-McDuffie, Baltimore's oral health director.
Charlie Cooper, who works for the state's Department of Human Resources, pointed out that the percent of Maryland children placed in group home care -- which some experts say often reinforces deviant behavior -- has doubled in a decade, thanks to a decline in foster families and a "very passive government" that has not offered enough incentives for foster parents, he said.
All of these factors have put Maryland "behind on the eight ball," in terms of child well-being, he said.