Large Disparities Found in Giving Babies the Right Start

Report from Michigan’s Children, Jane Zehnder-Merrell or Judy Putnam at (517) 487-5436

Nearly half of Michigan’s babies are born to mothers in cities or communities larger than 25,000. And many of those children start life without equal opportunities to thrive, arrive at school ready to learn and go on to become part of a highly educated workforce, according to “Right Start in Michigan 2010 – The Other Half.”

The report, released by the Michigan League for Human Services’ Kids Count in Michigan project, looks at eight indicators of maternal and infant health across 69 communities of populations of at least 25,000. It sorts those communities by risk, finding that two of every five births were in high-risk communities, including most racial minority births. It also found large disparities based on race and poverty.

“As we struggle in Michigan to get back to prosperous times and create a highly educated workforce, these measures are a dark cloud on the horizon,’’ said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, director of the Kids Count in Michigan project. “Disparities at birth fuel future inequities. Without early intervention, these disparities become the readiness gap in kindergarten, and the achievement gap in school.’’

Many studies have proven that prevention and early intervention can make a difference. For example, the recent Wilder study of school readiness costs in Michigan found that taxpayers’ investments were more than offset by reduced need for special education and social services, and reduced crime.

“Economists, brain scientists and social scientists agree that investing in early childhood development has the greatest payoff in the short- and long-term for the individual, community and state, but our public policies do not reflect this knowledge,” said Jack Kresnak, President & CEO of Michigan’s Children, a nonprofit and nonpartisan advocacy group. “As a state, we keep cutting funding for vital supports that give children and families the supports they need to succeed.  We are disinvesting in Michigan’s future.”

According to the Right Start analysis, African American mothers and infants were at the highest risk for poor outcomes, scoring the worst on five on eight indicators (including births to teens and unmarried mothers). Hispanics had the highest rates on two indicators. Regardless of their racial profile, however, communities with high concentrations of low-income women were at the highest risk.

The eight indicators and their rates are:

(Average of 2006-2008)
• Births to teens (10%)
• Births to teens who are already mothers (18.6% of teen births)
• Low birthweight babies (8.5%)
• Preterm babies (10.1%)
• Unmarried mothers (39.4%)

(2008 only)
• Mothers with no diploma or GED (16.5%)
• Late or no prenatal care (3.2%)
• Smoked during pregnancy (18%)

Statewide, the report found improvements between 2000 and 2008 on three indicators — teen births, teen mothers who give birth to another child and preterm births. Those improvements have stalled in more recent times, though they are still improved over the start of the decade.

Two worsening trends were non-marital births and low-birthweight babies. Three more measures could not be tracked over time because of changes in the way the information is collected on the birth certificate.

Already, state funding for maternal and child health has fallen victim to budget cuts. Between 2002 and 2010, state funding for the Department of Community Health’s Family, Maternal and Children’s Health Services dropped from $21.7 million to $3.5 million.
Despite years of budget cuts, Michigan’s ability to pay for vital services needed by citizens is falling short. A gap of $1.6 billion is projected for the year that starts Oct. 1, 2011.
“Michigan will be challenged more than ever in the coming year to provide early intervention and support for these vulnerable children,’’ said MLHS President and CEO Sharon Parks. “We will need a balanced approach as we move forward to make sure that needed investments in children continue. It’s not just about kids – it’s about having a thriving economy and a skilled workforce.’’


Kids Count in Michigan is a collaboration of the Michigan League for Human Services, which researches and writes state-level reports, and Michigan’s Children, which works with communities to bring attention to the reports’ findings.The state project is part of a national effort to measure the well-being of children at state and local levels. The state project is supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation of Baltimore, The Skillman Foundation of Detroit, the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation and the Michigan Association of United Ways.