Montgomery County has some of the highest rates of infant mortality in the country, and data show the problem is often related to premature birth and low birth weight.
Now, the Dayton Police Department is trying something new as part of a larger countywide effort aimed at bringing infant mortality rates down. Police will be collaborating with an intensive home-visiting program that helps families with newborns and young children.
Officers will partner with the Help Me Grow Brighter Futures program, run by the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association (GDAHA). It’s part of a statewide Help Me Grow program that offers prenatal and postnatal health services to high-risk families with infants and toddlers.
Major Wendy Stiver with the Dayton Police Department says officer involvement in the program made sense once she looked at area infant mortality data for a three-year period.
“That data told us that in nearly 100 percent of the infant mortality cases in our community, there was some contact with the police during the pregnancy,” She says.
“We also looked at prenatal care numbers and saw that a very low number of those parents in infant mortality cases were going to prenatal care appointments -- something like 60 percent in the first trimester, dropped to 6 percent in the second trimester and it was 0 percent in the third trimester for those cases that we looked at.”
Stiver says the department saw an opportunity to “leverage” the personal contact some officers were already having with some families at highest risk for infant mortality.
Public Health Dayton and Montgomery County data show African American babies, particularly in West Dayton, are at a much higher risk for infant mortality than white babies. The risk is highest in seven Dayton zip codes, and one in Trotwood.
Through the new partnership, as officers in the field come into contact with potentially eligible families, whether it’s through a simple traffic stop or some other form of contact, officials say they'll refer them to the Help Us Grow program. Eligible families could then receive in-home visits from a nurse for up to two years.
The program is overseen by the Ohio Department of Health and locally administered by the Montgomery County Family and Child First Council through local providers.
Since February, officials say police have so far made 27 referrals, with five families signing up for visiting nurse services.