Florida continues to struggle with key child health measures – including low birthweight babies – according to the 2019 KIDS COUNT Data Book released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The state ranked 37th in key indicators of child health and well-being in the latest data book, compared to 34th last year. While there were some bright spots in the new report, Florida lags other states in outcomes related to health and poverty.
An increase in the number of low birthweight babies and uninsured children contributed to Florida’s low ranking in health (40 out of 50 states). Concerns about high housing costs and other issues in high poverty neighborhoods over-shadowed improvements in economic development indicators, leading the state to drop in ranking for this domain from 42 in 2018 to 45 in 2019. Overall, Florida is not faring as well as the U.S. on 10 of the 16 indicators that make up the index.
In response to stalled progress in reducing low birthweight rates – the leading cause of poor birth outcomes and developmental delay – Florida Healthy Start introduced major program changes in March to sharpen its efforts in identifying and addressing key risk factors in pregnant women and families of newborns. These risk factors include perinatal depression, tobacco and other substance use, intimate partner violence, and early developmental problems. The program will screen for these conditions during pregnancy and after delivery, and offer proven interventions either directly or through referral to a community agency. Evidence-based services, including the nationally-recognized Mothers and Babies program, are now integrated into the statewide program. Ensuring pregnant women and infants get prenatal and pediatric care will continue to be a program priority. Healthy Start will also work with pregnant women and families of newborns longer and provide additional education and support, using the Partners for a Healthy Baby curriculum. Additionally, a special program focus will help new mothers prepare and plan for subsequent pregnancies by linking them with health care and family planning services.
The Florida Association of Healthy Start Coalitions (FAHSC) and the Florida Department of Health (DOH) worked together over the last five years to strengthen components of the statewide program based on the latest maternal and child health and home visiting research. The refined model also incorporates activities to address the social determinants of health, such as housing and economic self-sufficiency. In addition to DOH support, the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), provides major program funding under a state Medicaid waiver. Local Healthy Start Coalitions will work with managed care organizations to coordinate services for women insured by Medicaid during their pregnancies.
The Florida Healthy Start program has contributed to demonstrable improvements in birth outcomes since 1991, including a 35% decrease in infant mortality. The impact of the strengthened Healthy Start model will be monitored through program outcome and performance measures.