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This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.

Editor’s note: This story is part of an occasional series that highlights groups and people worth knowing in Milwaukee. To nominate a person or a group, email info@milwaukeenns.org and put “Spotlight” in the subject line.

Daisha Winder first learned about Milwaukee County Healthy Start in December 2019 when she was five months pregnant.

The program, which seeks to reduce and ultimately eliminate maternal child-health disparities for Black women in Milwaukee, assigned Winder a “maternal health navigator” named Tina.

Tina helped connect her with resources she’d need as an expectant mother, including getting a car seat, new clothes and diapers ahead of her child’s birth.

“She’s very nice,” Winder said. “Most of the family knows her and we love her. Wouldn’t change nothing about it.”

Healthy Start began last year as a result of a five-year, $5 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services. It is a joint effort of the Milwaukee Health Department, Easter Seals Southeast Wisconsin, Children’s Wisconsin, MyNP Professional and the Black Child Development Institute.

According to a report from the state Department of Health Services, Black women experience pregnancy-related mortality five times more than non-Hispanic white women in Wisconsin. The reasons: lack of access to care and chronic disease.

Sheena Slade-Walker, a prevention manager with Healthy Start, said the program’s main goal is to tackle such issues.

Though the program’s target demographic is Black women, Slade-Walker said any woman in her child-bearing years can apply.

The program, which enrolled 59 people from late August 2019 to March 31, is available to women who are pregnant, considering pregnancy or have children under 18 months old.

It also is available to their male partners and anyone caring for an infant. Healthy Start seeks to serve 350 clients during its second grant year.

“They just do a lot of different things that are helpful when you’re getting ready to have a baby,” Winder said.

Winder participated in a maternal support group that provided her with information about pregnancy and child care, including how to navigate hospitals and different techniques she could use during her pregnancy. The staff also provided her with handmade blankets.

Not for women only

In addition, the Milwaukee Health Department administers fatherhood outreach programs that feed into Healthy Start.

Erica Olivier, director of the department’s Maternal and Child Health Division, often oversees the programs, which inform fathers and soon-to-be fathers of benefits they can receive.

“Having the father of the baby involved is just a statistical strength,” Olivier said.

Olivier voiced concern that fatherhood support programs are often overshadowed, even though the father plays an integral role in child development. For example, Olivier said single fathers with children under the age of 5 can qualify for the Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program, even though the name does not include fathers.

Olivier said in some cases fathers are averse to support, often because they view the systems as being specifically tailored to mothers. She’s been working with other service providers to include more father-specific programming.

“Inevitably,” she said, “we all have the same intention of doing better at building the family as a whole, and that takes acknowledging all of the caregivers and doing better at servicing them and meeting them where they’re at and tailoring ‘What does health and support look like to you?’”

How to participate in Healthy Start

The Healthy Start program is free. It can be reached at (414) 292-4243 or through email at healthystart@chw.org. Its website is milwaukeehealthystart.org.

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