Our View: Boosting Dad Quotient could help reduce infant mortality

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There is no question about it: If a dad is involved with his kids, those kids generally do better in life. But can boosting the Dad Quotient also reduce the risk of infant mortality? The Milwaukee Health Department is betting that it can. We like the new program called Direct Assistance for Dads, one of four pilot projects focused on supporting black men to help reduce the city’s appallingly high rates of infant mortality.

Babies are dying needlessly in Milwaukee. In some neighborhoods, they die during their first year of life at rates approximating those in Third World countries. Black babies are nearly three times more likely to die than white babies. For the fourth year in a row, the three-year rolling average for black infant deaths rose in the latest year surveyed. The worst problems are concentrated in a few ZIP codes battered, no surprise, by poverty and crime.

The role of fathers in birth outcomes has been “sadly and inappropriately” dismissed, Nicole Angresano, vice president of community impact for United Way of Greater Milwaukee, told the Journal Sentinel’s Sarah Maslin.

The new fatherhood program helps coach prospective dads in a variety of ways. The program, the first of its kind in Wisconsin, is working with 28 fathers this fall on such basics as how to open a bank account and look for work. Numerous studies show that more involvement by fathers is a plus.

“Public health efforts, especially those employing new or innovative strategies, sometimes require a leap of faith,” Angresano said. “But what’s the alternative? Previous efforts to reduce infant mortality haven’t worked. We cannot continue to focus only on the health care of the expectant mother.”

There is little doubt that poverty and extreme levels of black male incarceration feed this problem. As reported in the 2010 U.S. Census, Milwaukee had the highest rate of black poverty of any large metropolitan area in the nation. There is a lack of affordable housing and public transportation in the city and an extremely low percentage of black married families, Maslin reports.

It’s a recipe for trouble, which is exactly what we have in too many inner city neighborhoods…

Visit the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to read the full editorial.