CSSP and HealthConnect One Will Address Racial Disparities in Maternal Health With Equity-Based Early Relational Health Doula Training Curriculum

Washington, DC and Chicago, IL (May 31, 2022)—The Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) and HealthConnect One today announced a partnership aimed at helping to eliminate racial disparities in maternal and infant health by expanding the community-based doula workforce and raising awareness of the foundational importance of early relationships among mothers, birthing families, babies, and communities.  

The two organizations will plan and develop an equity-based, early relational health-focused doula-training curriculum. Early Relational Health is the state of emotional well-being that grows from positive emotional connection between parents and their babies and toddlers experienced through everyday moments of caregiving and nurturing. This emotional connection—from safe, stable, and nurturing relationships—is crucial to young children’s growth and development. These enduring and resilient relationships also protect the family from the harmful effects of stress. 

Due to generations of systemic racism, traditional maternal and infant health care is either inaccessible to many communities or of inadequate quality. Community-based doulas provide culturally sensitive pregnancy and childbirth education; early linkage to health care and other services; labor coaching, breastfeeding promotion, and counseling; and parenting education, while encouraging parental attachment. HealthConnect One’s community-based doula model succeeds because doulas are of and from the same community as their clients and can bridge language and cultural barriers for optimal health and well-being. This project will train 312 community-based doulas, reaching over 6,000 people during the critical perinatal period, one year before to 18-24 months after the birth of a child. This period is an important window of opportunity through which early foundational relationships can be reinforced.  

Today in the US, Black and Brown mothers and infants face strikingly worse outcomes for birth and pregnancy than their White counterparts. This national maternal and infant health crisis is especially profound in under-resourced communities. Managing the staggering loss and unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic has also left Black and Brown communities with additional stress, causing harm and strain on overall community well-being, especially mental health. This cumulative harm, on top of generations of injustice, may be impossible to address for some communities without culturally-responsive, community-based programming. 

Recognizing the benefits of relational and perinatal supports delivered by community-based doulas, federal, state, and local initiatives are expanding to address the impact of the pandemic and structural racism. This two-year project, funded by the Pritzker Children’s Initiative, the Burke Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, will analyze and develop a community-based doula training curriculum that deepens the foundational impact of early relationships between children and their caregivers. The curriculum will highlight the justice-oriented, resiliency building, and relational focus of peer-to-peer support in communities. The curriculum will be developed in partnership with community-based doulas and piloted in doula programs in seven communities: Trenton and Newark, NJ; Detroit, MI; Milwaukee, WI; San Francisco, CA; Spartanburg, SC; and Columbus, OH. 

David W. Willis, MD, a Senior Fellow at CSSP said, “We are thankful for the visionary investment by the Pritzker Children’s Initiative, the Burke Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to advance early relational health through our partnership with HealthConnect One and their doula networks. In partnership with community-based doulas, this learning journey to identify the critical elements of training for the early relational supports for young families offers an opportunity to broaden the approaches of all early childhood system building to advance equity, improved maternal child health, and support community resilience.”   

Zainab Sulaiman, Vice President of Impact and Advocacy at HealthConnect One, said, “HealthConnect One’s partnership with CSSP is an excellent opportunity to highlight racial, restorative, and reproductive justice within community-centered approaches and to invest in strengthening familial bonds through peer-to-peer support that centers on communities most impacted by years of historical disinvestment and structural inequities. Thanks to investment from our three funders, the Early Relational Health Collaboration will elevate the positive culturally-reflective support community-based doulas offer. By building, partnering, and collaborating with communities, we hope to bring an Early Relational Health curriculum and program that impacts families in meaningful ways, ensuring their success, overall well-being, and joy within the first 1,000 days of life and beyond.” 

Learn more about CSSP’s efforts to advance early relational health at: https://cssp.org/our-work/project/advancing-early-relational-health/    

About CSSP. The Center for the Study of Social Policy is a national, non-profit policy organization that connects community action, public system reform, and policy change to create a fair and just society. We work to achieve a racially, economically, and socially just society in which all children and families thrive by translating ideas into action, promoting public policies grounded in equity, supporting strong and inclusive communities, and advocating with and for all children and families marginalized by public policies and institutional practices. Learn more about CSSP at www.CSSP.org.  

About HealthConnect One. HealthConnect One is a nationally recognized nonprofit training and technical assistance agency that uses innovative, community-centered approaches to support direct-service providers in promoting the health of mothers, infants, and birthing families. Operating with the awareness that birth equity is fundamental to racial equity, HealthConnect One collaborates with community-based organizations and advocates, to train community health workers, connect community-based initiatives, and mobilize diverse stakeholders to build policies and programs that improve birth equity. Learn more about our work here: https://www.healthconnectone.org/our-work/.