An annual snapshot of child well-being is highlighting the urgent need to address youth mental health in Maryland and other states.

The 2022 Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation was released today, and sheds light on health, economics, education, and other measures of child wellness.

Leslie Boissiere – vice president for external affairs with Casey – said there’s a troubling increase in children and teens struggling with mental health challenges, including one-in-eight in Maryland who are experiencing anxiety or depression.

“Children were struggling with mental health issues prior to the pandemic,” said Boissiere, “and the pandemic absolutely exacerbated that – with schools closing, with lack of access to normal socialization that children would see.”

The findings note that racial and ethnic disparities contribute to disparities in mental health and wellness conditions among children of color.

The report calls for improved access to mental health professionals and school counselors, as well as trauma-informed and culturally relevant mental health care to meet the individual needs of youth.

The Data Book ranks Maryland 19th among states for overall child well-being, which the Kids Count Director at the Maryland Center on Economic Policy – Nonso Umunna – contended is not a good place to be since Maryland is a wealthy state.

“There are close to 150,000 kids, nearly 12%, living in poverty,” said Umunna. “Over 300,000 kids living in households where parents lack secure employment, and more than 400,000 – about 30% – live in households with a high housing-cost burden.”

Umanna noted that families across Maryland benefited from federal pandemic-relief programs, such as tax credits and food assistance. But he pointed out that this long-term solution are needed.

“Making sure we do not take a step back in our support for working families by continuing expansion to the Earned Income Tax Credit,” said Umunna. “Getting cash to families is one of the most effective tools to improving well-being across many metrics.”

The Data Book measures where Maryland did worse, including a child and teen death rates, fourth-grade reading proficiency, and eighth-grade math proficiency, as well as the number of three- and four-year-olds not enrolled in school.

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