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Monday, June 6, 2011

Kids on the Mean Streets of Baltimore

           For any of you who have not read the front-page article in the Baltimore Sun yesterday I am going to put the link to the article at the end of this blog.  If the Sun doesn’t win a prize for this article something is wrong.  Since I have started this blog I have been thinking how best to relate what I have been involved with in Baltimore to a Howard County audience.  For the past 7 years I have had a contract to develop support services for grandparents raising grandchildren in Baltimore.  The population of “grandfamily” homes in Baltimore is very large.  While the exact number is hard to determine it is generally estimated to be somewhere in the 15,000 to 25,000 household number.  Just think about that.  We live next to a city that has relatives raising children because both biological parents are incapable of raising their children.  While the number of children in Baltimore in foster care is around 6500 to 7000, there are probably triple or quadruple that number being kept out of foster care by relatives who have stepped up to the plate and have taken on the task of raising the children of relatives.  The situations also occur regularly in Howard County just not with the same huge numbers.

        The story I have heard from the grandmothers (yes most of the grandparent headed households are single grandmothers) is that they fear what will happen to their grandchildren as the get older and are not as easy to control.  When their grandchildren are younger the grandmothers walk them to and from school and closely monitor their movements with friends.  But the grandmothers know that when the grandchildren enter their teen years that will not be possible.  As the grandmothers tell it they will “lose their grandchildren to the streets.”  Having traveled these streets of Baltimore the past 7 years I can tell you that these are not the cul-de-sacs of Columbia.  I have learned to recognize the drug dealers signals as I pass the street corners. Martin Luther King Blvd and North Avenue are the areas you see this best. Seeing a white guy in a car is a signal that a “suburban dude” is prowling the drug streets of Baltimore for his latest fix.  I even had a Baltimore policeman pull me over on Greenmount Ave for no reason other than he thought I might be one of those “suburban dudes.”  After checking my drivers license and registration he came back to my car and said “Have a good day and be careful.” This was a policeman who lived “The Wire” TV show everyday just like the residents in the Greenmount Avenue area do.  For those who haven’t watched that show the episodes are all available from Netflix.  You will never believe the life that goes on everyday 15 miles from your suburban front door. Think of the irony of filming in the morning on the drug streets of Baltimore and then coming to Columbia in the afternoon to film the inside scenes in the warehouse where they are now building the Wegman’s store.

       What leads kids to the gangs in Baltimore?  The same thing that leads suburban kids to join youth sports or the boy or girl scouts--- a sense of belonging to a group.  Groups help kids develop a self-identity and group cohesion assist kids navigate the difficult teen transition years.  The problem is that for most of our suburban kids these connections lead to sleepovers and birthday parties.  In Baltimore the gang groupings lead to shootings, fights and revenge killings. I hope you can just take a moment to think about what that grandmother’s dread feels like. Can you imagine how you would feel if it was your child or grandchild that faced that reality?

I know today’s blog was a little of a downer so I wanted to leave you with an uplifting story that I saw yesterday on CBS Sunday Morning.


Anonymous said...

I did my student teaching at Randallstown HS in Baltimore County back in 2000. I believe the stat there was that a third of the kids enrolled were either in foster homes or living with aunts/uncles/grandparents.

I taught 10th and 12th grades. It was astonishing the lack of structure and support in many of the kids lives. They were a great bunch to work with nonetheless.


duanestclair said...

I am not surprised with the stats you mention. Many foster care agencies recruit foster parents in the Randallstown/Reisterstown area. Group homes for the agencies also concentrated in that area.