Best Babies Zone: A holistic, neighborhood-based approach to improving birth outcomes

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An East Oakland father and son visit BBZ Castlemont’s booth at a neighborhood event to learn about the initiative and local resources.
An East Oakland resident at a neighborhood event holds up her response to BBZ Castlemont’s question: What does a healthy community look like?
Youth who participated in a Father’s Day 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament, co-sponsored by BBZ Hollygrove, pose with the regional manager of the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission (wearing hat).
A member of the New Orleans Health Department (in blue shirt), shares knowledge with moms about emergency preparedness at a March of Dimes Healthy Baby Shower, co-sponsored by BBZ Hollygrove.
BBZ Price Hill liaison Tiffany Dorsey and her daughter Dakota take a lunch break with Price Hill community manager Anita Brentley during the zone’s kick-off meeting in Cincinnati.
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In the neighborhoods of Castlemont in Oakland, California, Hollygrove in New Orleans and Price Hill in Cincinnati, something unprecedented is happening. Health care professionals are meeting with the bureau of economic development to discuss equal opportunities for employment. Residents are holding “community cafés” to discuss neighborhood priorities. Moms’ support groups are partnering with local providers of prenatal care. Teams of representatives from health, education, economic development and community services sectors are going door-to-door to connect with moms and families.

Working across sectors to transform communities
The glue that binds these neighborhood-led partnerships and multi-sector efforts is the Best Babies Zone (BBZ), a bold, national initiative to improve birth outcomes. Based at University of California, Berkeley and funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, BBZ seeks to reduce the significant racial disparities in premature births, infant mortality and low birth weight that affect low-income communities of color in cities across the country.

“When it comes to reducing infant mortality,” says Cheri Pies, BBZ’s principal investigator, “we believe that health means more than health care.” Pies acknowledges that medical interventions and increased access to health services, by themselves, are not enough to improve birth outcomes. In light of this, she and her team have developed a collaborative, place-based effort to bring together four sectors – health care, early care and education, economic development and community services – to comprehensively address the social determinants that affect health.

Key to BBZ’s approach is to concentrate efforts in a small neighborhood zone, as few as seven by 12 blocks. The three initial zones ¬–¬ Castlemont, Hollygrove and Price Hill – were chosen because each has the resources and the community will to create change and generate measurable impact. Pies and her team believe that real and lasting change requires the participation and input of the people who call the neighborhood “home.” BBZ’s role is to serve as a catalyst, helping residents, community partners and local groups build on existing strengths and assets to achieve community transformation.

Reflecting the local conditions of each neighborhood zone
BBZ adapts its approach to the conditions in each neighborhood and to the specific needs of the community, so the work looks different in each of the three pilot zones.

In Oakland, BBZ Castlemont and its community partners offer a Boot Camp for New Dads and are planning a Club Mom. They’re providing mini-grants to community organizations and residents to develop projects that address neighborhood issues. And they’ve established a vibrant and growing Castlemont Community Market, where residents come together to buy and sell local goods and services.

In Cincinnati, BBZ Price Hill has hired a neighborhood liaison and two block captains who are encouraging residents to get involved with the initiative. With its community partners, it is launching a mini-grant program, drawing on the experience of BBZ Castlemont. Its first moms’ group has been a huge success, with monthly meetings attracting 45 families, and its Hispanic moms’ group is underway with 25 families.

In New Orleans, BBZ Hollygrove and its community partners have held a neighborhood-wide healthy baby shower and ongoing Well Woman Days. The push now is to leverage existing resources to address housing affordability. Much of the effort has been devoted to weekly door-to-door visits aimed at meeting residents where they are, hearing directly from them and encouraging participation – steady outreach that has engaged more than 300 families so far.

Cultivating a national model to help babies thrive
Since its inception, BBZ has worked with its national partners ¬– Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs, CityMatCH and National Healthy Start Association – and a number of leading experts, including Mario Drummonds, whose Northern Manhattan Perinatal Partnership has pioneered a community-based approach to reducing infant mortality in Central Harlem.

The partners and experts assist Pies and the BBZ team in developing strategies, evaluating efforts in the pilot zones and planning for future growth. Once the BBZ model has shown measurable results, Pies and her team hope to build more Best Babies Zones in communities across the country. 

“By addressing the complex socioeconomic factors and environmental stressors that contribute to poor birth outcomes,” says Wendy Hussey, BBZ’s program manager, “we’re not only helping more babies thrive, we are creating healthier families and communities.” The idea is that, over time, healthier families and communities will lead to healthy babies. “It’s a virtuous cycle,” Hussey says.


Grant Detail

Regents of the University of California-Berkeley

Berkeley, California, United States

Give every baby born in a Best Babies Zone the best chance in life by integrating and improving the health, education, economic and community systems

Healthy Kids
March 1, 2012 - Feb. 28, 2015
$2,750,000

Ohio, Louisiana, California

Related Topics

Healthy Kids, Maternal & Child Health

Putting Children First

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“Empleen el dinero del modo en que crean conveniente, siempre y cuando promueva la salud, la felicidad y el bienestar de los niños.” - Will Keith Kellogg

“Sèvi ak lajan an jan w vle depi se sante timoun, byennèt timoun ak kè kontan pou timoun w ap ankouraje.” - W.K. Kelòg