Few times are more special for moms and dads than when their baby is fresh out of the womb. Those tiny fingers and toes, the bright shining eyes, and of course the dreams of future endeavors and accomplishments these little humans will one day achieve.
Parenting can also be a stressful time, with little sleep, adapting to a new lifestyle and trying to meet the needs of young ones who can't clearly communicate what they want except, of course, with the urgency of crying, sometimes in loud bursts.
Our babies are our most vulnerable family members and deserve our investment to ensure they are born healthy and are able to celebrate their first birthday. The Florida Healthy Start program was created by former Gov. Lawton Chiles to make sure every baby has a chance for a healthy beginning — to provide a solid foundation of support and education for parents.
Since its creation in 1991, Florida Healthy Start's community-based outreach includes universal screening of pregnant women and infants to identify any risk factors for poor birth or developmental outcomes. In partnership with an impressive variety of health, education and social service providers, we strive to develop and implement quality systems of care unique to the diverse communities we serve.
We're pleased to report significant progress since Healthy Start began. Florida has had a 35 percent decrease in infant mortality rate since 1991 due in part to the resources and services coordinated by the program. Florida leads our southeast region's outcomes in progress made in infant health. In addition, other indicators like smoking reduction and earlier access to prenatal care early have also improved.
Last year, Florida Healthy Start provided support for nearly 80,000 pregnant women by helping connect them to vital information and community resources. In addition to the state and federal support we receive, Healthy Start Coalitions leverage other valuable funds to fill gaps in resources to address their locally assessed maternal, infant and child health needs.
Healthy Start is consistently strengthening our services by implementing additional evidence-based risk evaluations and intervention components for pregnant women and newborns based on recommendations of the federally funded Maternal, Infant & Early Childhood Home Visiting initiative.
Healthy Start has also led efforts to increase access to services, while reducing duplication, by implementing the Coordinated Intake & Referral process and streamlining local systems of care for expectant and new families. To protect against duplication "Managed care plan Florida Statute 409.975 (4), accountability" legislation came into effect in 2014 mandating systems coordination between the Medicaid-managed care plans and Healthy Start.
Healthy Start serves families in every Florida county, making sure Mom is taking care of herself, working with family members to monitor developmental milestones, and recruiting community partners to meet the personalized and holistic needs of each unique family.
For more than a generation, Florida Healthy Start has been responsive to the needs of communities and families to achieve our ultimate goal — giving every baby the best possible start in life. We know that timely investments in prevention care pay great dividends and pave the way for brighter futures.
As we launch into this special month ahead, book-ended by celebrations of both Mother's and Father's Day, we are honoring our commitment to enjoy a new generation of healthy, happy, secure and productive Floridians — one baby and one family at a time.
Faye Johnson, executive director of the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition, is president of the Florida Association of Healthy Start Coalitions, which Cathy Timuta leads as statewide executive director. For additional information please visit Healthy Start Florida.