The source of a healthy childhood can come from many places: Access to healthy food and safe housing, availability of primary care, and the support of a community, among other things. Unfortunately, not all opportunities may be equally accessible, depending on where you live. Issues like racial disparities and health inequities far too often affect maternal and childhood health outcomes.
Infant mortality rates are 3.4 times higher for U.S.-born African Americans than their white counterparts. Disparities in academic achievement for Black children versus their white counterparts are also stark, with major gaps in educational opportunities.
To help, UnitedHealthcare recently awarded a $150,000 grant to the African American Babies Coalition and Projects (AABC), in support of community-based initiatives aimed at boosting African American childhood development, recruitment of child care professionals and development of programs for Black families in the Twin Cities.
The African American Babies Coalition and Projects (AABC), now part of the Wilder Foundation, was formed in 2008 when a group of African American women saw a need for brain science and early childhood development research to be more accessible and shared in a more culturally relevant way. Their work in the community has underscored the interconnections between trauma and adverse childhood experiences and the effects it may have on children’s brain development.
AABC research shows introducing healthy practices in the very early stages of childhood can also help prevent health inequities experienced in adulthood.
The grant will help address disparities in the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota area, starting at birth. The funding from UnitedHealthcare will be used to:
- Create a Families, Friends and Neighbors (FFN) Crisis Manual to help visiting professionals understand the connections between early childhood development, toxic stress, adverse childhood experiences, health disparities and the importance of respecting and integrating culturally congruent practices of wellness to connect with the families they serve. The resources emphasize home visits for professionals to meet families where they are.
- Recruit and train up to 15 childcare professionals with experience in the Twin Cities, as well as rural areas that include historically underserved populations, to serve as home visitors.
- Help with the development and infrastructure of the Minnesota African American Licensed Childcare Provider Association to increase their capacity, training and deployment in Minnesota to support entire families.
“The funding that UnitedHealthcare is giving will help us reach a lot of people within the next two years,” said Sameerah Bilal-Roby, founder and director of AABC. “People need to take a cultural lens. We meet our families in a respectful way, so that they want to return to their appointments. Mothers were judged and decided they would not go back, which interferes in the health visits they could go through. I would like to see our family of health care workers meet them where they are, to have empathy, to rethink about the jobs they’re in — to help and not create more pain, or more mental anguish.”
The goal with the grant is to eventually reach 5,000 families.
This investment in cultural competency, health equity and “training the trainer” is crucial in order to address the underlying causes of these disparities. In creating a more holistic environment for training, increased institutional knowledge of adverse childhood experiences, and additional professional links for Black childcare workers, the grant can help create the opportunities that are greater than the sum of their parts.
“We are honored to support Wilder AABC in its efforts to expand reach of its programs and to recruit and train critical childcare professionals,” said Victor Fields, CEO, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Minnesota. “We must address the gaps in education that African American children face head-on and provide resources and support, starting in early development, to help us create a more equitable society and help people live healthier lives.”
Through these efforts to create greater cultural sensitivity in the community, AABC hopes more families will be able to navigate through these barriers with healing and hope.