Coalition Fights Teen Pregnancy, Infant Deaths in Shelby County

Le Bonheur leads program that links expectant mothers and families with young kids to resources they need.

The Tennessee Department of Health announced last September that Shelby County ranked last among Tennessee's 95 counties for the healthy growth and development of children and families. The finding was based on a statewide needs assessment that identified risk factors affecting families' health and well-being. The factors included rates of infant mortality and teen pregnancy, as well as exposure to poverty, domestic violence and crime.

As the numbers suggest, there is great cause for concern. With the highest or near-highest rates of teen pregnancy, exposure to violence, infant mortality and preterm birth, the need for effective solutions was obvious. The Early Success Coalition stepped up with a plan to link expectant mothers and families with young children to the services and resources they need.

Le Bonheur Children's Hospital is the lead agency of a five-year federal grant from the Department of Health and Human Services that, along with core community partners, created the Early Success Coalition. With participants from more than 65 local and state, private, public and faith-based organizations, the coalition is bringing people together.

All members share three common goals: improve birth and health outcomes for infants, decrease child abuse and neglect, and increase school readiness for young children. Together, these goals lay a foundation for lifelong success, promoting optimal brain development in children from conception to age 3 is the cornerstone of this foundation. Coalition member agencies are provided with training opportunities to support the concept of "better brains for babies" as well as messaging materials to encourage parents to touch, talk, read and play with infants and young children because these activities enhance brain development.

The Early Success Coalition recently launched a plan to expand access to home-visitation and site-based services by creating a network of service providers, including the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department, Porter-Leath, The Exchange Club Family Center, One-By-One Ministries, Christ Community Health and Le Bonheur Children's Hospital. In addition to these services whose focus is the health and well-being of families with young children, the network also includes service agencies that focus on the broad range of needs families have, such as housing, employment and education. This "no wrong door" approach means that a young mother who is applying for housing assistance could be informed about a home-visitation program that would support her in developing positive parenting skills, monitor the development of her young child, and assist her in identifying other community resources to benefit her family.

The goal is to expand outreach to families and connect them with programs that can support positive outcomes for young children -- namely, improved birth outcomes, decreased child abuse and neglect, and more children better prepared to start school.

Each agency has something to offer these families. The network works side by side with parents throughout different stages of life to help them achieve the best outcomes for their children.

Programs offered range from home visitations by a registered nurse to help first-time, low-income moms achieve a healthy pregnancy to early at-home intervention to increase the school readiness of young kids.

The network especially emphasizes the importance of early intervention. If not detected early, a child's medical condition or disability can have a domino effect on families. Prematurity and extremely low birth weight can lead to lifelong social, emotional and academic challenges that decrease a child's potential to be successful in school and increase the risk for negative outcomes in life.

Shelby County has realized that healthy babies and strong families are the foundation of our community's success. Because of this, the Early Success Coalition continues to expand its services. It will continue to implement plans to enhance the effectiveness and quality of services available to children and families in our community, bringing additional resources where gaps exist and building support for early childhood intervention.

By Shandrian Guinn

Shandrian Guinn is project coordinator for the Early Success Coalition at the Le Bonheur Center for Children and Parents. For more information about the coalition, call (901) 287-4707 or visit

This is one in a series of monthly guest columns on the importance of public/private investment in early childhood. For more information, call The Urban Child Institute at (901) 385-4233.

Originally appeared in The Commercial Appeal at