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Maternal Health State and County Fact Sheets Released  

Maternal health ensures mothers and birthing parents are healthy and their children have the best start possible. Research shows healthy mothers are more likely to raise healthy babies. Unfortunately, the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries, and racial disparities plague the health care system for Black and Brown women.  

Our first-ever maternal health county fact sheets show each county's overall perinatal vulnerability index (PVI). The PVI uses data across five domains: behavioral health, environmental context, health care availability, pregnancy and birth outcomes, and social stratification. The fact sheets also highlight data about prenatal care and the percentage of low birth weight births.  

In 2020, there were over 130,000 total births across Pennsylvania. Yet, only 13 counties had moderate access to care, and six counties were considered maternity care deserts, based on the March of Dimes Maternity Care Deserts Report (2022).  

Research shows low birth weight is a strong indicator of maternal health, and the rate increased nationally by 4% since 2014. When children are born with low birth weight, there is an increase in the risk for future health and developmental issues.  

Racial disparities limit access to maternal health care and can impact the health of both mother and child:  

  • The rate of non-Hispanic Black women giving birth to children with low birth weight is 14.5% compared to 6.8% of White women and almost double the state rate of 8.3% across all races.  
  • When comparing counties, the rate of low birth weight among Black women ranged from 22.9% in Lebanon County to 7.5% in Bucks County.  

Thriving PA aims for women and birth parents to have access to the health resources needed for a healthy pregnancy and delivery. Maternal health is necessary for raising healthy children, and more attention is needed to make maternal health care more accessible, especially for Black and Brown women who have a higher risk of poor birth outcomes and maternal mortality and morbidity.  


National Kinship Care Month Around the Corner 

September is National Kinship Care Month, recognizing countless relatives, friends, and community members caring for a child when their parent or caregivers cannot do so. Unfortunately, not all children can safely remain in the care of their parents, but if they require out-of-home placement, the best option is to be raised by kin or someone they know and trust. Informal kinship caregivers receive no structured support and often have to navigate various community-based resources to independently meet the child's needs. Fortunately, Pennsylvania has KinConnector, which aids kinship caregivers with accessing resources across the state.  

In 2021, over 20,000 children were in the foster care system, with 42% residing with a kinship caregiver. While the rate of kinship caregiving has increased over the last five years, we must work harder to ensure every child has the right to be raised by or connected to their family. HB 1058 would give kinship caregivers a voice in dependency proceedings, allowing them to notify the courts regarding their ability to care for a child in the foster care system; however, if formal placement is not feasible, kin can still advocate for ongoing visitation and connection. The bill has passed the House and is awaiting review by the Senate Aging and Youth Committee. PPC is working with policymakers in the Senate in support of the bill so that it sees final passage during this legislative session. 


Universal Free Breakfast Helps School-Aged Children Succeed 

Each day, families struggle with food security and the ability to provide their children with healthy meals that fuel their minds and bodies. Lack of nutrient-rich food impacts child development, overall health outcomes, mental and behavioral health and academic achievement, performance, and participation. Free school breakfast has been one initiative provided to Pennsylvania school-aged children to combat child hunger and ensure students succeed.  

For the first time, all Pennsylvania public school students heading back to school this month will be eligible to receive a free breakfast regardless of income. The 2023-24 budget includes a $46.5 million increase to provide universal free breakfast to Pennsylvania's 1.7 million public school students. 

Our fact sheet shows the benefits of free school breakfast, including:  

  • Increasing access to nutritious meals and building healthy eating habits.  
  • Improving academic performance, including concentration, memory, comprehension, and learning, while reducing hunger-related behavioral problems.  
  • Reducing the stigma associated with students who access free or reduced meals compared to their peers. 

The state budget also expands free lunch to 22,000 eligible students for reduced-price lunch. While universal free breakfast and expanded free lunch are a great first step for Pennsylvania students, PPC advocates for expanding free lunch to all students because no child should go hungry, and no parent should worry about feeding their child. 


Research Spotlight: New Study Shows Students' Experiences Varied during the COVID-19 Pandemic  

Researchers from the University of California released a paper this month examining the disparate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on school students. The pandemic exacerbated longstanding educational inequities in student academic performance and mental health outcomes based on race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.  

Data from students across the United States during the 2020-21 school year shows: 

  • Pre-existing achievement gaps in reading and math widened notability for students of color and those from high-poverty school districts.  
  • Absenteeism and grade retention increased at higher rates for Black and Hispanic students, who were more likely to attend schools negatively impacted by the transition to remote learning.  
  • School closures were more typical in underserved communities, and low-income families had limited access to traditional in-person instruction and high-quality remote learning experiences.  
  • The pandemic led to widespread increases in fear, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and behavioral issues for students of all ages, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.  
  • School engagement rates were highest among students from households with higher incomes and parental education levels.  
  • Black and Hispanic students were more likely than White students to feel very or extremely worried about the pandemic. They reported disproportionately high rates of COVID-related stress despite their caregivers being less likely than white caregivers to report concerns about their children's mental health in the wake of school closures. 

Did You Know?


In Case You Missed It...

  • Senate GOP leadership recently announced the chamber would return to Harrisburg for one legislative session day on Wednesday, August 30th, to finalize spending authority legislation (i.e., the fiscal code) that would drive out the remaining $1.1 billion in the state budget. This negotiated bill will impact programmatic spending for public education, emergency services, and defense. 
  • Interest in Career and Technical Education increases statewide, creating waitlists for some programs. State budget increases will assist CTE programs in building capacity. However, more is still needed to address needs with building capacity, improving equipment, adding educators, and more that contribute to student access.  
  • DHS's recently released Annual Child Abuse Report outlines child abuse and neglect response data by county child welfare agencies. The report shows that there was a slight increase in CPS and GPS reports statewide since 2021, but substantiation rates declined.  
  • Allies for Children highlights PPC's recent trip to D.C. to participate in a congressional staff briefing on the needs of transition age foster youth. As a part of the Journey to Success Campaign, youth leaders from 20 different states and several national and state partners convened to elevate needs centered on increasing permanency and nurturing family ties. 
  • The Pennsylvania Head Start State Collaboration Office and Hope PHL released a brief, A State-Level Brief: Participation of Infants and Toddlers Experiencing Homelessness in Early Childhood Programs in Pennsylvania, that shows nearly 3,000 children under age three were served in shelters or transitional housing across the state.  

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children
200 North Third Street 13th Floor
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17101
(717) 236-5680

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