By Ben Miladin, Director of Health, Community Impact, United Way of Greater Cleveland
Infant mortality, defined as the death of a baby before reaching his or her first birthday, occurs at shockingly high rates in our country and in Cuyahoga County – especially in neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty and racial segregation. For example, while infant mortality rates fell across the state of Ohio in 2014, rates increased for African-Americans, according to findings from the Ohio Department of Health. Also, rates are generally higher in Cuyahoga County than in counties with less concentrated poverty. Rates in the city of Cleveland are higher still at around 13 deaths per 1000 live births. These early deaths could happen for any one of a number of reasons, including accidents, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), premature birth, or other factors.
September is Infant Mortality Awareness month. And while the local statistics are alarming, many community organizations are taking major strides to increase the number of babies living to celebrate their first birthday and beyond. There is hope!
According to the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s Strengthening Families framework, many of the best ways to help children lead healthy and happy lives involve helping the parent to be more effective at parenting. Nowhere is this more important than in reducing infant mortality. While people living in poverty are often dismissed in today’s society, we at United Way of Greater Cleveland believe just the opposite; because we see programs in the community actively making a huge difference in reducing infant mortality and improving people’s lives.
Families in the City of Cleveland’s Moms First program experience half the infant mortality rate of the city at large, demonstrating that with help and advice from professionals who visit the home (to encourage breastfeeding, father involvement, birth spacing and smoking cessation) infant mortality can be reduced.
Beech Brook’s Family Drop-In Center, a United Way-funded program, provides new mothers with supplies (like Pack ‘n Plays) and education about safe sleeping practices to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and other forms of tragic accidental death.
More hope comes from the new First Year Cleveland initiative, spearheaded by Cuyahoga County and the City of Cleveland, which recently received $3 million in state funding to combat infant mortality and partner with community groups that provide education and support for women who are pregnant and considered high risk for poor birth outcomes.
The national best practice Nurse-Family Partnership, with start-up funding from the Mt. Sinai Foundation, provides intensive in-home visits from a nurse to first-time mothers to build essential parenting skills.
Help Me Grow in Cuyahoga County helps pregnant women with their prenatal and early child-rearing concerns by identifying the right program (including many of the above) for them through one easy phone number: (216) 698-7500.
By making infant mortality a priority, governments, foundations and medical providers can make a difference and ensure more children live to see their first birthday.