MANSFIELD - Richland County has taken a hopeful first step in addressing the issue of infant mortality in north central Ohio.
Leaders from various aspects of women's care and infant care throughout the region met last week with Jennifer Clary and Michelle Vick, co-founders of the Los Angeles-based initiative The Baby Box Co. The gathering triggered a discussion about the implementation of Baby Box University to mothers and expectant mothers in the community.
"We were impressed that so many community leaders came together to work on this initiative to help ensure the best start for new babies," said Michelle Vick, co-founder and president of The Baby Box Co. "We are very excited to move forward with our plan to bring Baby Boxes to Richland County and the rest of Ohio."
Baby Box University is a platform established by The Baby Box Co. to provide expecting and new parents with universal access to educational resources and a support system. Developed in conjunction with leading medical experts, Baby Box University includes short form videos, articles, an ‘ask an expert’ feature, e-books and more.
The two-hour presentation took place at the Richland Area Chamber of Commerce and was organized by Richland Source. It became an offshoot of the award-winning solutions journalism piece Healing Hope, which detailed the local infant mortality issue.
Local leaders were introduced to the Baby Box program with a presentation that discussed the company's global reach and its impact and results all over the world.
Baby Box University is modeled after a Finnish tradition that encourages safe sleep, with studies showing the education initiative paired with the boxes have helped Finland achieve one of the lowest rates of infant mortality in the world.
Between the years 2005 and 2015, there were 14,877 live births in Richland County and 108 deaths, according to the Ohio Department of Health. This equals an infant mortality rate of 7.3 infant deaths per 1,000 infants born – only slightly lower than the state’s 10-year rate of 7.6.
The Baby Box University initiative could be brought to Richland County at little to no cost, according to Vick.
"Baby Box University programs are supported by the proceeds from our direct-to-consumer website, foundational partners and donors," Vick said.
"It truly does take a village to bring a Baby Box University program to fruition, but fortunately for our universal model, we have a strong support network which alleviates many of the fiscal road bumps which might otherwise slow down or fully obstruct program implementation."
This is a program designed to be available to all mothers, regardless of socioeconomic status. According to Clary, infant mortality strikes across the entire spectrum and has no boundaries based on income, race or religion.
“In our research, universal initiatives benefit more than targeting specific members of the population, like parents at a certain level of poverty or certain demographics,” Clary explained. “If you distribute to everyone equally, regardless of economic status, the people who are most vulnerable are more likely to use the intervention properly.”
Both Clary and Vick also emphasize the importance of educating mothers to reduce infant mortality rates, not just distributing boxes.
"Parenting education must go hand-in-hand with Baby Boxes for the program to be truly effective," Vick said. "To that end, parents must first watch a short syllabus of locally developed educational parenting videos (on important topics including safe sleep, breastfeeding, and infant brain development) on BabyBoxUniversity.com, which is a free educational website, before claiming their Baby Box."
The Baby Box Co. expects to work closely with members of the health community in Richland County to bring Baby Box University to the area in the near future, and hopefully to save lives.
"We found it to be an incredibly productive meeting, and we feel very optimistic about the outcome," said Vick.