COLUMBUS – State Representative Andrea White (R-Kettering) has introduced legislation with State Representative Latyna Humphrey (D-Columbus) to help address Ohio’s s staggering infant and maternal mortality rates and improve mother’s and infant’s health, learning and development outcomes.
The legislation, named the Strong Foundations Act and recently introduced to the House Families and Aging Committee, puts a sharp focus on expanding access to prenatal, postnatal, infant and toddler services and supports.
“More mothers are dying from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth in Ohio than in most states and more than 1 in 150 Ohio babies don’t live to see their first birthday,” said White. “We have a serious problem on our hands and we must invest in the futures of infants and children now or there won’t be an opportunity to do so later because we are losing so many lives in our state.
The experiences, environments and relationships in a child’s prebirth and first 1000 days of life are absolutely crucial to their future trajectory in life – leading the toward thriving or limiting their ability to flourish and contribute as adults,” White added. “Now more than ever, Ohio mothers and their children need us to come alongside them to help save their futures.”
White said House Bill 7 focuses on a multi-pronged approach by expanding existing proven strategies, combining innovative approaches, pilots, and technology, and leveraging the power of relationships in local communities to truly move the needle.
Key provisions of the bill include initiatives addressing access to nutrition, housing, transportation, health care and legal services which impact pregnant women, infants and toddlers. The bill creates a pathway to Medicaid funding of doula services, which are proven to reduce preterm births, cesarean births and increase healthy outcomes for both mother and child. Another provision calls for investing in technology to make it easier for mothers and children who qualify to apply for the Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) to apply for and access formula and food. Currently almost 48% of Ohio women and children who qualify for WIC are not participating due to transportation and administrative hurdles.
To help provide infant and toddler wraparound and child care services, HB 7 establishes a grant program for locations around the state that are experiencing limited access to child care. These grants will be given to support new or enhanced Early Head Start child care with an emphasis on providing family support and positive learning initiatives for young children.
“The lack of investment in our state’s young children and child care leaves Ohio’s young children behind and jeopardizes our future workforce,” said Julie Stone, executive director, Ohio Head Start Association. “We have all heard the statistics that only 38% of Ohio kindergartners entering the classroom ready to learn, and only 38% of Ohio students are proficient in 8th grade math. Ohio’s workforce readiness is in jeopardy.”
White’s legislation will also expand mental health training and coaching for child care professionals and parents of young children, as well as mental health and early intervention treatment options for very young children. A full look at the innovative solutions being proposed in HB 7 can be found HERE.
“As children mature, early childhood mental health supports growth in other essential areas of healthy development including physical health, cognitive skills, language and literacy, social skills, and readiness for school,” said Lynanne Gutierrez, chief operating office, Groundwork Ohio. “When children experience trauma and their emotional health deteriorates, they are subject to poor outcomes in these areas, because their ability to form close and secure relationships, manage a full range of emotions and explore their environment is compromised.”
The legislation had its second hearing Tuesday with a dozen proponents testifying in the House Families and Aging Committee, which can be seen on the Ohio Channel or White’s press conference on the issue can be found HERE.