Good data can mean a Great Start for Wayne County kids

Fawn Kern is a Highland Park resident and mother of a 19-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son. She’s an ordinary citizen who is doing something extraordinary—she’s working to make her city a better place for children and families. That’s no easy task in Highland Park where the percent of low birthweight babies is the highest in the county, at 16.7 percent. That’s twice the state average of 8.5 percent.

 In fact, Highland Park far exceeds the state average on a number of birth-related factors. Statewide, 10 percent of births are to teenagers. In Highland Park, that number is more than double, at 24 percent.  In Michigan, 27 percent of all mothers have inadequate prenatal care. In Highland Park, that number is 46.8 percent. And Highland Park’s infant mortality rate is 18 per 1,000 live births – more than twice the statewide rate of 7.4.

These are only a few of the facts that Kern learned about her community when we gathered last week to reveal the results of the Wayne County Great Start Collabortive’s report entitled: “How are the Children? Community Report 2010”

“To point out that Highland Park has one of the highest disparities in the county was kind of shocking for me,” said Kern. “The data show where there are gaps in services that people don’t acknowledge. It made me think that I’ve got to go back and see what services that we can get for our area.”

That’s a big reason why Data Driven Detroit is a part of the Great Start Collaborative for Wayne County. We know that in order for the county to better serve its children from newborn to school age, it needs to have good data about the economic security of families, early child care and education, parenting education, and physical/emotional health care for children.

“The first thing I know is that to fix a problem, you have to acknowledge that there is a problem,” said Kern, one of the parent representatives on the Great Start Data and Evaluation Committee. “When you have all the information in front of you, it speaks for itself. The data show that the children of Wayne County are living in deplorable situations.”

She’s right. More than half of Wayne County’s children under the age of 6 live in families that are below 200 percent of the poverty level. The county’s teen birth rate has risen for the past two years, reversing the previous downward trend. And in 2007, 52.3 percent of all births in Wayne County were to unmarried mothers.

D3 believes that in order to make good management decisions about our scarce resources, Wayne County must develop an integrated, “real time,” interactive database that will track the indicators of child and family well-being.  It’s simple: What gets measured gets done.

But numbers are nothing without commitment and action.

 “What I hope to gain out of Great Start collaborative is just that – a collaboration of services,” said Kern. “If you have a collaboration, people like me, parents in the community, and service providers can come to the table and say ‘Ok, this is how you can help meet people where they are.’ You can have all the services in the world, but if you’re not able to meet people where they are, it’s just dollars being wasted.”