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Battling Ohio's alarming infant mortality rates: Step Forward's initiatives to support families

The joy of welcoming new life into the world is one of the most profound experiences a family can have. However, in Ohio, this joy is often marred by a harsh reality: Ohio has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 20,000 infants died in the United States in 2020. Ohio ranked eighth for the highest infant mortality rate nationwide, with more than 900 infants dying before their first Birthday in 2021.

One year prior, in 2020, the Ohio Department of Health identified infant mortality as a priority. The agency’s data showed the highest infant mortality rates occurred in 11 counties, including Cuyahoga County. The statistics showed African American infants in Ohio were more than twice as likely to die before their first Birthday compared to white infants.

A mother holds her infant

“This gap is an urgent call to action to address systemic issues contributing to this disparity,” LaTasha Thomas, Step Forward’s Community Services Coordinator, said. “It’s disheartening to see these statistics, but they serve as a stark reminder that we need to do better. Supporting expectant and new mothers is not just a choice, it’s a necessity if we are to change these distressing numbers and ensure a equitable and brighter future for families.”

Now, Ohio representatives are advocating for House Bill 7, which would appropriate $1 million in Fiscal Years 2024-2025 to fund Centering Pregnancy Services and other evidence-based and evidence-informed pregnancy education programs and target areas with gaps in services. It would also provide $1 to establish a community-based grant program to expand access to infant vitality support. Ohio Representatives Andrea White (R) and Latyna Humphrey (D) introduced the bill.

Amidst the troubling statistics, Step Forward, Ohio’s designated anti-poverty agency in Cuyahoga County, has taken significant steps to support expectant and new mothers.

Baby and Mommy Support (BAMS): Step Forward’s Baby and Mommy Support program is a holistic approach to maternal and infant health. The agency provides prenatal and postnatal education, support, and resources to ensure pregnant women receive the care and guidance they need to have healthy pregnancies and so that they can give their babies the best possible start in life.

Parenting: Through Step Forward’s Personal Development program, the agency offers parenting classes that equip parents with the essential skills, from infant care, nutrition, emotional support and guidance on developmental milestones. The classes are intended to empower parents with the knowledge and confidence, ultimately benefiting the wellbeing of their children.

A toddler reads a book

Early Head Start: Step Forward’s Early Head Start program focuses on providing a comprehensive early childhood education and support to low-income families. By focusing on children’s development from birth to age three, Early Head Start aims to bridge developmental gaps and ensure that children are prepared for success in school and in life.

Step Forward actively engages with the community, too. The agency partners with local organizations and healthcare providers to reach families in need.

All of Step Forward’s programs and services are at no cost to income-eligible families in Cuyahoga County.

For more information about Step Forward’s BAMS and parenting programs, click here.

To enroll your child for Early Head Start, click here.

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