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Center for Social Concerns


2013 Update on 2011 Seed Grant Recipient—

Improving Infant Health in St. Joseph County


Seed Grant produces impact in community

Improving Infant Health in St. Joseph County” was one of three 2011 recipients of a Ganey Collaborative Community-Based Research Mini-Grant. The project team included community partners Jamie Reinbold and Sue Taylor of the St. Joseph County WIC Program, Memorial Hospital; and University partners Jeanne Mattei, Center for Children and Families, Kristin Valentino, Psychology, and undergraduate psychology students Taylor Thomas and Brianna Piper.


A measurable and positive community benefit

In St. Joseph County (Indiana), rates of poor birth outcomes for low-income women and racial disparities related to infant health are significantly worse than state and national rates. Infants born prematurely and underweight are at greater risk of long-term health and learning problems.

Valentino, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology, is the William J. Shaw Center for Children and Families Collegiate Chair at the University of Notre Dame. She said the county numbers are very high. For example, of the 500 women participating in the study 29 percent had four or more adverse childhood experiences including sexual, emotional, and physical abuse.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention links adverse childhood experiences to increased risk of poor outcomes in adulthood, including: alcoholism, depression, liver disease, illicit drug use, domestic violence, and heart disease.

Reinbold, a prenatal care coordinator, believes this project has the potential to have a long-term impact on the community.

“It gives us really good base data,” she said. “It’s more than ‘we think’ it’s this way. It is factual.”

She said one participant was able to use the study’s feedback to get additional testing for her infant and ended up catching potentially dangerous seizure activity early.

Learning opportunity for students

The participants go through a prenatal survey where their background experiences are noted. Then they do six- and 12-month appointments to assess the infants’ cognitive, social, and emotional development. So far, about 250 babies are all the way through the first check-up and some are starting the 12-month.

Psychology students Thomas and Piper gained a lot of first-hand experience, Valentino said, as they were integral in gathering data at all stages of the study.

Access to the students helped tremendously and made it easier to do all the surveys, Reinbold said.

Faculty and community partner expertise impacting community

Valentino said the program has been a win-win on the academic/research/community partner side and the women and infants side.

“Memorial was great—they were a dedicated community partner,” she said.

Reinbold said working with Notre Dame helped the program attract more attention. Plus, Valentino’s huge knowledge base and experience doing research projects aided in the outcome of the study.

“It’s been a great opportunity to partner with community members and do research that will have a direct impact on the community,” Valentino said. “We are grateful for the opportunity the grant has provided.”


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