Md. Slips In Child Well-being Tally

July 29, 2009|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,brent.jones@baltsun.com

Maryland's higher infant mortality rate contributed to the state's fall to 25th in the nation in overall child well-being, according to the 2009 Kids Count Databook, an annual report released Tuesday by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Based on the most recent data, Maryland's rate of 7.9 infant deaths per 1,000 live births is nearly 18 percent higher than the national rate, according to the report, which also shows a state increase by 12.5 percent in the child (ages 1 to 14) death rate. But Maryland's 18 deaths per 100,000 children in that category remained one better than the national average.

The state's overall child well-being ranking dropped six spots from a year ago despite Maryland's status as the country's wealthiest state by per-capita income, according to Matthew Joseph, executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth. The negative-24 ranking gap between child well-being and income is the third-highest disparity in the country, according to the report, and the worst showing for the state since 2002.

"It was very disappointing," Joseph said. "You can see how other states who are the wealthiest have rankings closer to where their wealth is. To see Maryland move in the wrong direction in that regard is very disappointing, and to see it driven in large part by infant health is tragic."

Joseph reiterated his stance from previous years that the gap exists because Maryland makes poor investment choices, criticizing what he called overspending on group homes, juvenile institutions and community-based programs.

The Kids Count Databook uses 10 indicators to measure how children are faring nationally in health, education and safety. Indicators include death rates of children and teenagers, parents' employment and income, and teen pregnancy and school dropout rates. The report compares years since 2000, and its most recent findings are from 2006 or 2007.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has called infant mortality a critical priority of his administration and said he is working to establish programs that will reduce the rate, despite the state's budget shortfall. He also cited numbers showing Maryland's teen birthrate dropped 16 percent between 2000 and 2007 as evidence of "significant progress, even during difficult economic times."

But Maryland's national ranking fell in seven indicators when compared with other states. The state is at the national average with 64 deaths per 100,000 teens, which ranks 22nd in the nation. The share of children living in families in which no parent has a full-time, year-round job was unchanged at 28 percent, seventh nationally. The percentage of children in single-parent families barely shifted - from 32 percent in 2006 to 33 percent in 2007, which ranks 31st nationally.

The report does not include the height of the economic downturn, and representatives from Kids Count say the numbers are likely far worse now. "We know this is a big underestimate of what's going on with kids today," said Laura Beavers. "We know the unemployment rate is tied closely with poverty and child poverty rate."

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