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Riley Children's Foundation funding leads to new initiative to reduce infant mortality rate in Indiana

Jack Turman

What started as an initial grant from Riley Children’s Foundation has given rise to a comprehensive series of programs assisting at-risk mothers and their babies across Indiana. Now, the visionary leader of the effort is seeing the promise of even more progress in reducing the state’s infant mortality rate.

In 2018, Jack Turman, Jr., Ph.D., professor in the Dept. of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health and a professor in the Dept. of Pediatrics, IU School of Medicine, started the effort to launch community-based programs to improve pregnancy and infant development outcomes among at-risk mothers in Indiana. The Grassroots Maternal and Child Health Initiative was born. Grounded in the training and mentoring of women from neighborhoods with poor infant mortality rates, the women helped to identify key areas where help was most needed.

Targeted areas included building capacity in housing, early childhood education programs, faith-based organizations, teen development and the justice system. “We celebrate that Riley Children's Foundation funding provided my team to do the groundwork and the partnerships that led to a new federal grant,” says Dr. Turman. In September, the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, awarded $2.4 million to launch a housing equity initiative to reduce Indianapolis' infant mortality rate. “That funding will allow us to provide housing and wraparound services for low-income women who are housing insecure in Indianapolis through their pregnancy and the first two years of their baby's life.”

Housing instability has been linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes. The newly funded Housing Equity for Infant Health Initiative will address housing, a key social determinant of poor infant health. The initiative will provide support in finding housing and navigating the legal system to pregnant and parenting women in Marion County. Using evidence-based research, the initiative will address city, state and federal policy and systemic barriers that keep women and parents from having quality and stable housing.

Dr. Turman says he is grateful as well for Riley Children’s Foundation funding the Mothers on the Rise program, a collaboration with the Indiana Department of Corrections. “We literally have created the nation's first individualized coordinated system of care for mothers and babies leaving the Indiana Women's Prison Leath Nursery Unit,” says Dr. Turman. “There is nothing like this anywhere else in the United States and now states are contacting us to learn how to build that model for their states.” Dr. Turman says the program has resulted in zero recidivism among participating mothers, when typically the rate is around 30%. “We positively support the woman and her baby as they transition into her community.”

In the meantime, Dr. Turman says more assistance will be needed in improving maternal and child health outcomes which require interventions at hospitals, outpatient clinics, and community levels. “Because we train and partner with women with lived experiences in these communities, they know the problems and solution strategies,” says Dr.Turman. “We work alongside them to build systems to sustainably improve Indiana’s maternal and child health outcomes.”

For more information on giving, contact Pamela Fairchild-Clark at pfairchild-clark@rileykids.org or 317-850-4922.