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Collaborating to Improve the Health of Native Babies

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Collaborative project aims to spread infant safe sleep messages and share other health information in Native communities

Healthy Native Babies Project logo

Since the Back to Sleep campaign began in 1994, the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) rate in the United States has decreased by more than 50 percent. This decrease occurred not only in the overall U.S. SIDS rate, but also in the SIDS rates for different racial/ethnic groups. The decrease is more than just a number—it represents thousands of infant lives.

While the lower SIDS rates are a great accomplishment, there is still work to do to help improve the health of U.S. infants. SIDS remains the leading cause of death among infants between 1 month and 1 year of age. And infants in certain ethnic groups remain at higher risk for SIDS than white infants.

For example, American Indian/Alaska Native infants have the highest SIDS rates in the United States and are nearly three times more likely to die of SIDS as are white infants. In addition, /AN SIDS rates among American Indians/Alaska Natives are particularly high in certain areas of the U.S. Northern Tier, namely: Aberdeen, Alaska, Billings, Bemidji, and Portland.

The NICHD's Healthy Native Babies Project, an outreach component of the Back to Sleep campaign, strives to understand the possible causes for these disparities and find ways to further reduce the SIDS rates in Native communities. This innovative and collaborative project released its Workbook Packet earlier this week, the first of several outreach tools meant to help local programs working in American Indian/Alaska Native communities to share safe sleep and other health messages. You can learn more about the project and the packet below.

Laying the Foundation for Collaboration
A Project Like No Other
Just the Beginning

Laying the Foundation for Collaboration

Because those who live in and work within communities are often the best resource for information about those communities, the NICHD began meeting with Native and Native-serving organizations in 2002 and 2003. These meetings provided a forum for members of American Indian/Alaska Native communities, American Indian/Alaska Native organizations, and those who serve in and care for American Indian/Alaska Native communities to discuss different topics. Not only did they discuss SIDS and health issues, but also approaches and activities that could improve the effectiveness of outreach within these communities. These very productive meetings highlighted the communities' needs and the importance of collaboration to address those needs.

The meetings led the NICHD to create a special, smaller workgroup, which included representatives from the Northern Tier areas, Indian Health Service (IHS), and various Tribal and Native-serving organizations, with the goals of:

  • Developing methods for collecting consistent health data from 10 sites within the Northern Tier areas;
  • Conducting interviews and discussions with primary audiences in those areas to address SIDS risk factors and outreach approaches; and
  • Creating culturally tailored materials and approaches for SIDS risk-reduction outreach in the Northern Tier areas.

Using the information and data gathered during these activities, the NICHD and the workgroup members created the Healthy Native Babies Project—a collaborative effort to work with, and in, Native communities to sharing infant health information, including information about SIDS and SIDS risk reduction.

A Project Like No Other

The Healthy Native Babies Project is truly unique because the workgroup and the NICHD collaborated to create and evaluate the messages and concepts used in Project materials, to design approaches that are effective in reaching American Indians/Alaska Natives, and to sharing the materials and messages across Native communities.

The release of the first major outreach tool from the Project—the Healthy Native Babies Project Workbook Packet—marks an important milestone in this collaboration. The Packet includes the following items:

  • A workbook that describes:
    • The science of SIDS and SIDS risk reduction
    • SIDS risk factors that are more common in American Indian/Alaska Native communities and possible ways to change those risk factors
    • General approaches for conducting health outreach in any community
    • Specific ideas and resources for conducting health outreach in American Indian/Alaska Native communities
  • Healthy Actions for Native Babies handout, which relies on images to help explain SIDS risk factors and SIDS risk reduction
  • A Toolkit that enables individuals to create and print outreach materials customized for different Tribes and different Native areas. The Toolkit includes:
    • Templates for making brochures, flyers, postcards, and posters
    • Phrases translated into Native languages
    • Photos taken in the homes of members of various American Indian/Alaska Native communities
    • Colors and graphic elements specific to Tribes and communities in the U.S. Northern Tier

The Workbook Packet is aligned with the expanded safe sleep recommendations recently released by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It teaches users about SIDS and SIDS risk reduction, while also giving them the tools needed to share that information within their communities in connected and thoughtful ways.

"That connection makes this outreach unique," said Shavon Artis, M.P.H., who leads Back to Sleep campaign activities for the NICHD. "Through this Project, we've been able to connect with American Indian/Alaska Native communities and with individuals in those communities in a very personal way. The connectedness has a big impact—a positive impact—on the effectiveness of tailored outreach and of the overall Project."

In 2006, 2007, and 2010, the NICHD also held train-the-trainer workshops as part of the field testing of the Healthy Native Babies Project Workbook. These 24 two-day sessions included about 350 diverse attendees, including Tribal members, community health workers, health care providers, and Healthy Native Babies Project workgroup members.

To support workshop participants in putting the outreach approaches into action in their communities, the Institute created a mini-grant program. The mini grants provided 36 grantees across the five IHS areas with support to develop and print SIDS risk-reduction materials—such as brochures, posters, and "welcome home bags" filled with baby necessities and information on SIDS—to deliver to new moms in the areas.

Just the Beginning

The Workbook Packet is the first of several items and activities related to the Healthy Native Babies Project.

After receiving positive feedback from the train-the-trainer sessions and hearing from communities about the desire for more workshops and resources, the NICHD and the Project partners began working on resources that would enable community members to conduct their own training workshops. 

The Healthy Native Babies Project Facilitator's Packet, which will be available in 2012, includes training guides, presentations, and group activities for both full-day and 2-hour training sessions. The training sessions incorporate hands-on activities, including making risk-reduction decisions in complex scenarios, practicing message delivery through role playing, and creating safe sleep environments.

An online self-study module, which will also be available in 2012, will help to get safe sleep concepts and practices deeper into Native communities by allowing "anytime/anyplace" access to learning about safe sleep concepts and risk-reduction information. 

The NICHD and the Healthy Native Babies Project partners will also be attending national, regional, and local events in Northern Tier areas to raise awareness about the Project and its resources.

The NICHD plans to use the Healthy Native Babies Project framework and lessons learned to build strong collaborative relationships with other communities to help make safe sleep education and outreach more personal and effective.

For more information, select one of the links below:


Originally posted: November 8, 2011

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Last Updated Date: 11/08/2011
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