Child Poverty, Abuse, Lack of Health Care Issues Spotlighted


WASHINGTON (Sept. 16, 2008)—Maryland has the lowest child poverty rate in the country, with just one out of every 10 children falling below the threshold, according to a non-partisan group calling attention to children's issues in the upcoming elections.

But Maryland also has one of the highest infant mortality rates and thousands of children without health insurance.

With the economic crisis clouding the country, children are becoming more neglected, child advocates said at the National Press Club Tuesday. Leaders from 30 national children's organizations joined the Every Child Matters Education Fund, hoping to bring issues such as child poverty, abuse and lack of health care to the candidates' attention.

"Strong children are the essential building block of a strong America, and America's kids and families are waiting to hear from Sen. (John) McCain and Sen. (Barack) Obama that help is on the way," said Michael Petit, founder and president of Every Child Matters.

Petit said his organization produced ads during the primaries and likely will air more before November, asking the candidates to address children's health, education, safety and economic issues.

The ads are funded by non-profit, non-partisan foundations, such as The Atlantic Philanthropies.

Health care is on the forefront of both candidates' platforms, and children are among the millions of uninsured Americans.

"Barack Obama is committed to making sure every child has health insurance," his Web site states. "Forty-seven million Americans lack health coverage, including 9 million children. Obama has a plan to sign legislation providing quality, affordable health care to all Americans by the end of his first term. Obama's health plan will mandate coverage of children."

"John McCain will reform health care, making it easier for individuals and families to obtain insurance," his Web site states. "An important part of his plan is to use competition to improve the quality of health insurance with greater variety to match people's needs, lower prices and portability. Families should be able to purchase health insurance nationwide, across state lines."

The number of Maryland uninsured children - 137,000 - falls in the middle of the states, the education fund reports.

But the 130,000 who were uninsured in 2004 to 2005 has increased to 150,000 for 2006 to 2007, said Ben Steffen, director for the state's Center for Analysis and Information Services.

Economically, children's health care shortages are easier to fix than adults', said Renee Jenkins, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"Compared to adult care, when we look at the cost, it's a bargain," she said.

Lack of health care could account for one of the reasons the state's child death rates are also high. Maryland has the 10th worst infant mortality rate among the states, with 8.4 deaths for every 1,000 births, according to the education fund report.

But the Maryland Vital Statistics Preliminary Report for 2007 gives the infant mortality rate as 8.0 deaths per 1,000 births.

Race is a significant factor when looking at the high infant mortality rate, said Lee Woods, medical director for the state's Center for Maternal and Child Health.

"A black infant is three times as likely to die as a white one," she said. "That's true nationwide that there's quite a disparity. ... Some of it is the demographic in our state."

The state is working to provide more people with health care services to reduce these numbers.

"We're looking at access to care, which is obviously an important issue," Woods said.

Though state programs are important, children's issues must be dealt with at all governmental levels, Jenkins stressed.

"As politicians it's no longer good enough just to kiss a baby or hold a child in your arms during the campaign - that's not enough," she said. "You got to show us that you intend to work for children and children's issues when you get to the statehouse, when you get to Congress and certainly when you get to the White House."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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