Maryland, one of the wealthiest states in the nation, ranks only 24th in the well-being of its children, according to the latest Kids Count report. That's a notch below last year and a drop of five places in two years, pointing to a continuing, shameful gap and a need to reorder state priorities.
This year's look at the condition of children by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that, nationally, the rates of child deaths, teen births, high school dropouts, teenagers who were not in school and not working, infant mortality and teen deaths have all shown some improvement since 2000. But the number of low-birthweight babies, children in poverty, children living with a single parent and children in families without a parent who is employed full-time throughout the year increased.
Maryland still posted improvements on more than half of the indicators from 2000 to 2005, including the high school dropout rate, the child poverty rate and the teen birth rate. But some of those gains did not change much from last year, while other losing indicators, such as the infant mortality rate and the percent of babies weighing 5.5 pounds or less at birth, were slightly worse.
In addition to those national comparative indicators, child advocates around the state are also rightly disturbed by other local trends, including the 27 percent of foster care youths who are placed in group care rather than with foster families - a proportion that has doubled in the past decade. Among juvenile offenders released from residential programs in 2003, the recidivism rate was 53 percent after one year and 66 percent after two years.
In addition, 70 percent of children enrolled in Medicaid or the state's child health insurance program don't receive dental care in a given year. It was lack of treatment for a cavity that led to a brain infection and ultimately the death of 12-year-old Deamonte Driver of Prince George's County this year.
Such grim conditions need to be addressed by the state with more urgency, including increasing the number of dentists and dental clinics that treat children; developing more small, community-based facilities and treatment programs for troubled youths; and providing more foster family and kinship care placements for youths who need to be separated from their parents because of abuse or neglect.
The longer Maryland allows its children to languish, the sooner it will lose its ranking as a place of affluence and opportunity.