For every 1,000 babies born alive in Palm Beach County last year, six black babies died before reaching their first birthday.
Granted, that’s not a statistic a community usually celebrates, but we’re doing just that. Why? Because while any child death is unimaginably tragic, Palm Beach County is actually making real progress.
The 6.0 mortality rate for black infants is a 20-year low. And Palm Beach County is doing better – much better – than the state, and all other urban Florida counties.
Even the huge disparity that persists between black and white infant deaths has narrowed. For example, 10 years ago, the Palm Beach County infant mortality rate for black babies was 9.1. For white babies, the rate was 4.4. In 2017, the infant mortality rate for black babies was 6.0, compared to 3.8 for white babies.
So here at Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County, we’re celebrating.
We’re celebrating our partners – like Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies; our local Healthy Start Coalition, Florida Department of Health’s Palm Beach County office, the county’s Youth Services Department, March of Dimes, Sickle Cell Foundation and many others – who work every day to reduce infant deaths and racial disparities by ensuring that expecting families have access to health care and supportive services. This kind of collective impact takes time, trust and transparency.
And we’re celebrating our community’s families, especially families of color, who – despite the stressors many of them face – are doing all they can so their babies are born healthy.We’re celebrating our medical community, for intervening as early as possible with high-risk pregnancies, and for saving the tiniest and most vulnerable babies every day.
We acknowledge that none of this is easy, or quick, work. Nor is it over.
Women of color continue to fight racism at every turn. This has a devastating effect on their health, and that of their babies. In fact, a U.S. National Institutes of Health review of 15 scientific studies done between 2009 and 2015 confirm a strong link between racial discrimination and poor birth outcomes.
That’s why this month, Infant Mortality Awareness Month, we’re shining a light. We’re hosting events, sponsoring proclamations and sharing valuable information with the public. We’re recognizing the continued struggles of women of color for health equity. And we’re examining the root causes of persistent racial disparities in birth outcomes, so we can help bring about meaningful change.
But above all, we’re celebrating. And we remain hopeful that this year, like last year, will mean more black babies get the chance to blow out their first birthday candle.
LISA WILLIAMS-TAYLOR, WEST PALM BEACH
Editor’s note: Williams-Taylor is CEO of the Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County.