First Steps Kent's collective impact work focuses on three areas that will ensure every child in Kent County is healthy and ready for kindergarten. Progress in each is measured by an indicator that helps us know if we are advancing the work at a community level. Each indicator is aligned with initiatives throughout Michigan and across the country.
The first is CHILDREN ARE BORN HEALTHY. The weight of a baby at birth is a significant predictor of a child's health. Low birthweight is defined as a baby weighing less than five-and-a-half pounds. Newborns weighing less than that are at risk of poor developmental and health outcomes throughout life. In 2019, 745 out of 8,176 babies born in Kent County had low birthweight. That was 9.1 percent of all births, up from 7.9 percent in 2018. There are significant disparities by race and ethnicity within these numbers. Systemic racism, lack of trust, and lack of investment all impact the disparate birth outcomes. Read about the work we’re doing to promote equitable births here.
The second is CHILDREN ARE HEALTHY AND DEVELOPMENTALLY ON TRACK. Early detection of developmental concerns is key to a child’s later educational success. Across the state, less than one-third – only 29 percent – of children between the ages of nine months and 35 months receive developmental screenings. During 2020 and 2021, the top two concerns parents expressed about their children's development during the screenings were lagging communication and gross motor skills. We’re working to track these numbers through our Navigation and Outreach requests so that we can learn how the pandemic is impacting young children. Other areas of concern cited by parents include sleeping, social skills, fine motor skills, eating habits, and problem-solving. Through the Ready by Five Millage, First Steps Kent has served more than twice as many children from 2020 to 2021. Read more about the Ready by Five Millage here.
The last is CHILDREN HAVE ACCESS TO QUALITY EARLY LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES. Research shows when a child is in an environment that supports development through stimulating activities and has a positive relationship with a responsive caregiver, the benefits are maintained even after the child has left the program or provider’s care. First Steps Kent is working to stabilize the child care industry which will alleviate stress on families and offer quality learning opportunities for kids. Together with a collaborative of community partners, Shared Services was able to help coordinate outreach efforts for the 2021 child care stabilization grants, resulting in nearly 90 percent participation among eligible providers. Read more about child care here.
While we are making collective progress, there is more work to do in all three areas. First Steps Kent is doing that work with a renewed commitment to equity and substantive parental engagement. We continue to build a system that works for ALL young children and families in Kent County.