Maryland, which lays claim to having the lowest child poverty rate in the nation, plans to unveil today a broad-based plan aimed at improving the well-being of children in the state.

The plan, the result of three years of work as well as numerous public hearings and round-table discussions in local communities, will seek to set concrete guidelines by which to measure improvements in areas such as the health of newborn babies and other children, the success of children in school and the sense of safety enjoyed by children in their communities.

"The good news is we made progress," said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D), who has chaired the Maryland Partnership for Children, Youth and Families. "But we can't rest on our laurels."

The report cites 1998 U.S. Census figures, released in the fall, showing that 6.9 percent of children younger than 18 in the state live in poverty, down from 13.4 percent in 1997.

By comparison, 8.7 percent of such children in Virginia lived in poverty in 1998--down from 17.6 percent the year before--and 45.3 percent of those children in Washington lived in poverty in 1998, up from 38.6 percent the year before.

However, a U.S. Census Bureau official cautioned that it wasn't entirely fair for any one state to claim the lowest poverty rate, saying the sample size used in the study was large enough at a national level, but not big enough for each state.

"At the state level, the variability is so high that you really can't compare states with one another," said Joseph Dalaker, a statistician for the Census Bureau.

Moreover, the figures from the District reflected the city alone, whereas the state figures included suburban areas.

Nonetheless, Maryland officials are pleased with the results of an effort that, according to Townsend, has had much to do with gathering private-sector support. She said local management boards have been set up in all the counties throughout the state. That way, she said, local communities have been able to set "standards of what they should achieve."

In the report, which will be unveiled at a news conference today in Baltimore, Maryland has set up eight "results" that describe "the general well-being of Maryland's children and families in an area we know affects a child's ability to grow up healthy and secure." Those areas deal with health, education, safety, economics and community life.

The state has also set up indicators designed to measure those results. For example, factors such as infant mortality and low birth weight will be used to measure the result area titled "babies born healthy."

Townsend's introduction to the report is labeled "A Call to Action From the Lieutenant Governor."

"This data is the bedrock on which we are building a strategy to improve our schools, neighborhoods, and communities," she wrote. "These results and indicators will periodically be reassessed and refined to give Maryland a responsive and effective system for measuring the status of children and families and mapping our State's progress in improving their well-being."