Grantee Spotlight: Montco Mamas Seeks to Improve Birth Outcomes Among Black and Brown Women and Babies
If babies born to Black women in Montgomery County had the same infant mortality rate as babies born to white women, then 61% of Black infant deaths could be prevented. This shocking call to action is the impetus behind Montco Mamas, a public-private collaboration and 2021 HealthSpark Innovation Lab grantee. Led by Maternity Care Coalition and the Maternal and Early Childhood Consortium, Montco Mamas seeks to develop a systems-based change model to improve the health and well-being of Black and Brown pregnant women, infants, and their families.
Toscha Blalock, M.S., Early Head Start Senior Director at Maternity Care Coalition and a project lead for Montco Mamas, explains that this project is an invitation for Montgomery County to embrace Black and Brown women and families and to welcome thriving babies into the world. The Maternal and Early Childhood Consortium, the parent collaborative to Montco Mamas, published a 2020 report on infant birth outcomes that highlighted significant disparities in emotional and mental health support, nutrition and weight, access to services, health across the life course, and interactions with healthcare providers, and informal and formal education that impact maternal and child health in Montgomery County for babies born to Black and Brown women.
“People think disparities are driven by behavior, by health, by other individual factors. But it’s really become clear- and research has shown- that it’s not individual behaviors, its social determinants of health,” Ms. Blalock explains as to why these disparities exist. “It’s environment, where we work, neighborhoods, a number of different things are impacting these outcomes.”
That’s why Montco Mamas is using a racial equity lens when addressing this problem. A racial equity lens starts by acknowledging that experiences or outcomes are not equal between races, and develops solutions by purposefully investing resources in those people and communities that have been underinvested in. “There’s no way we can catch people with disparities up without using that lens,” explains Ms. Blalock.
HealthSpark Foundation’s Innovation Lab grant program prioritizes projects that are explicitly addressing racial disparities in Montgomery County as a component of its work to advance greater racial and social equity for all people. “Maternal and infant mortality for women and children of color unearths the seismic health disparities and racial inequities in our community. HealthSpark’s support of Montco Mamas demonstrates our commitment to seeking innovative models to address health inequities and efforts to build a stronger social safety net,” shared HealthSpark’s Director of Equity and Inclusion, Chinwe Onyekere.
Montco Mamas is putting a racial equity lens into practice through intentional outreach to Black and Brown women in their planning discussions and committee participation. Having voices at the planning and policy table- tables from which Black and Brown women and others have long been excluded- allows women to speak to their actual lived experiences with prenatal health, childbirth, postnatal support, and other factors that contribute to positive birth outcomes.
In addition to Black and Brown women and mothers, the Montco Mamas project is including representatives from healthcare, education, mental health/developmental disabilities, and public health. Evidence-based home visiting programs such as Parents as Teachers, Nurse-Family Partnerships, Healthy Families America and Early Head Start have been serving pregnant people and families with infants in Montgomery County for many years and have joined together through the Maternal and Early Childhood Consortium to support this initiative.
Ms. Blalock explained that the inclusion of these groups in the planning process is because birth outcomes are not determined by one industry or agency alone. Montco Mamas is using a collaborative approach called “collective impact” to engage multiple partners and identify a common plan of action. Grant funds from HealthSpark will be used to support consulting services for project partners to develop a shared agenda for change, including common metrics, backbone support, and developing mutually reinforcing activities among partners. “Don’t be afraid to reach out for that kind of guidance and expertise outside of the systems that you’re normally in,” Ms. Blalock shared regarding hiring external expertise with grant funds. “Sometimes having that extra set of eyes or a new framework can enhance the way you look at things.”
Montco Mamas is beginning its first planning sessions later in February. For more information on Montco Mamas and the Maternal and Early Childhood Consortium, please contact Toscha Blalock at firstname.lastname@example.org.