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Chicago midwife hopes South Side birth center will help close maternal health gap

Jeanine Valrie-Logan (Chris Bentley/Here & Now)

This article was written by Chris Bentley was published in WBUR on July 14, 2022.

Jeanine Valrie-Logan had 12 clients scheduled during a recent evening shift at The Birth Center at PCC in Berwyn, a Chicago suburb.

The first client is a woman nearing her due date, and her baby girl has been kicking a lot. Later it’s a young couple who say they’re feeling tired and stressed caring for their newborn daughter. And then a pregnant woman with questions about treating her gestational diabetes.

Valrie-Logan says she always spends as much time with her clients as they need, even when her schedule is packed. She discusses strategies for getting better sleep, nutrition and other aspects of maternal care for up to a year after birth with them. She says it’s part of a holistic approach to pregnancy that’s typical of birth centers, but not so much in hospitals.

“You’re left to your own devices to find a pediatrician or to do your follow-up at six weeks, where community birth looks like, ‘I’m gonna see you in 24 hours, and then I’m going to see you in three days, two weeks, six weeks,” she says. “It’s more love and hand-holding to make sure everyone is safe and cared for.”

Valrie-Logan is a certified nurse midwife, but not a doctor, so she has to refer people to an affiliated hospital nearby if there are complications. But for low-risk pregnancies, birth centers like PCC are designed to give people an option in between going to a hospital and giving birth at home. They’re usually more affordable than a hospital, too.

Pregnant people in America are more likely to die during or soon after pregnancy than anywhere else in the developed world, and the maternal death rate is nearly three times higher for Black women than white women. Some maternal health care experts say birth centers could help close the racial health equity gap.

In one of PCC’s birthing rooms, the lights are low, there’s a queen size bed, a birthing tub and a private bathroom. Valrie-Logan gave birth to her first two children – Satya and Ahimsa – at home, but she chose to have her third, Nyabingi, at the birth center. She says the atmosphere was relaxed, with her daughter sleeping by her side while Valrie-Logan went into labor.

“My other daughter was here, my husband was here and my sister-in-law was over there taking pictures, and it was just like we were hanging out on a Friday evening,” she says. “And then we went home the next morning.”

Valrie-Logan wants patients to have that kind of experience at the center she’s trying to build in Chicago.

“Oh my god,” she says, smiling. “I get so dreamy thinking about the South Side Birth Center.”

Endia Williams is dreamy, too. She’s making the hour-long drive to PCC to have her first child at the suburban birth center later this year. But she would rather stay on the South Side.

“That’s really the reason that a birth center on the South Side is so important because a lot of people don’t have a middle-ground option,” Williams says. “People are going to go to [the South Side Birth Center] because they see themselves in who works there. People want to have someone that understands them.”

A freestanding birth center opened last year on Chicago’s North Side. Williams says it’s a welcome addition to the city, but even farther from some parts of the South Side than suburban Berwyn.

“They do make it a point to be welcoming to as many people as they can because they do want to effect that change,” she says. “But it’s on the North Side and it’s kinda hard to do that when it’s on the North Side.”

The number of hospitals providing obstetrics in the area has declined in recent years, while the national maternal mortality rate has gone up. Valrie-Logan’s would be the first freestanding birth center on the city’s largely Black South Side.

Meanwhile more people are choosing to give birth outside of a hospital, according to The National Partnership for Women & Families, with the sharpest increases in Black, Indigenous and Hispanic communities.

Rachel Hardeman knows at least one reason why. She teaches reproductive health equity at the University of Minnesota and works with the Roots Community Birth Center in Minneapolis. She says workers there saw firsthand how racial trauma impacts maternal health after a police officer shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop in the Twin Cities area in 2016.

“We were seeing pregnant people come in stressed out and not wanting to find out the sex of the baby that they were carrying, because they were terrified to know that they were having a boy, given what was happening in our community,” Hardeman says.

Workers at the birth center took those concerns seriously, she says, and offered support.

Hardeman, who is on the board of the regional wing of Planned Parenthood, says the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade will exacerbate the maternal challenges faced by Black people across the country. Illinois enshrined abortion rights in state law in 2019, and Minnesota is moving to protect abortion rights, too. But Hardeman says abortion bans in nearby states will disproportionately impact people of color.

“We are going to have more people who are forced into pregnancy and therefore more people who are in the risk pool for experiencing an adverse outcome,” she says. “So we are going to see undoubtedly that our mortality rate is going to continue to rise.”

Maternal and infant mortality rates are highest up to a year after birth, and 20 states including Illinois recently extended postpartum coverage under Medicaid from two months to one year. Most of PCC’s clients are on Medicaid, and Valrie-Logan expects many of hers at the South Side Birth Center will be, too. Medicaid reimbursements often aren’t enough to support birth centers and other health clinics in low-income areas, so Valrie-Logan plans to operate her center as a nonprofit and pursue grant money.

In June the Biden Administration put out what it called a “blueprint for addressing the maternal health crisis.” It called on Congress to make more available to people who want to give birth outside of a hospital. Democrats in the House and Senate have sponsored bills to increase funding for maternal health care. If passed, they could give a boost to birth centers like Valrie-Logan’s.

Valrie-Logan is fundraising with the help of another local nonprofit, Chicago Beyond, and hopes to open her birth center late in 2023.

“There’s certain things that aren’t billable,” Valrie-Logan says. “Like the time and the energy and the love that goes into caring for people in community.”

A Conversation on Abundance: Moving Beyond Pledges to Action

How would our world look if we truly loved Black people? Just as COVID-19 brought anti-Blackness into view for many across healthcare, education, finance, and so too in philanthropy. As many grassroots groups have pointed out over decades, philanthropy, as an institution, is complicit in anti-Blackness. Seeing anti-Blackness as a defining element of institutional philanthropic culture brought us to wonder: What would it look like if philanthropy celebrated Black Abundance instead? What would it look like to celebrate the richness of existing, Black-led efforts and support those efforts in a way that leads to freedom and joy for all?

We, as funders, can begin to remedy philanthropy’s unjust practices, policies and outcomes through our explicit and intentional actions. Abundance is a movement in philanthropy to change practice, policy, mindsets, and ways of being to support Black people and communities. Stepping into Abundance in this time is an opportunity to acknowledge and learn. It is an opportunity for collaborative efforts, board engagement, reimagined funder practices—leading to impact for Black people and communities and structural shifts that are generative, generational, and far greater than the sum of their parts. Join the session to hear how funders are taking action towards Abundance, and learn how you can be a part of the movement.

https://www.abundancemovement.org/

Speakers:

-Sharon Bush, President, Grand Victoria Foundation

-Liz Dozier, Founder & CEO, Chicago Beyond

– John Palfrey, President, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Moderator: -Marcus Walton, President & CEO, GEO

Chicago Beyond Partners with TasselTurn to Increase Education Equity for Foster-Involved Youth

Chicago Beyond, an impact investor that works to ensure all young people have the opportunity to live a free and full life, today announced its partnership with TasselTurn. TasselTurn is an edtech nonprofit providing foster-involved and housing insecure youth with tailored plans, developed in consultation with high school and undergraduate school programs, to graduate from high school and attend college. Their virtual platform aims to fill in gaps for foster-involved youth, with a particular focus on long-term planning, cognitive and non-cognitive skills-building, and social-emotional support – areas not typically addressed through standard foster case management.

In 2018, one-third of all children entering foster care were young people of color, with 23 percent identifying as Black – almost twice the percentage of Black children in the total US population, according to data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Today, there are nearly 440,000 children in the foster care system nationwide, a disproportionate number of whom are children of color.

“There is a gap between the aspirations of young people and the support that is accessible to them. Today’s foster-care system is overburdened and falls short of sufficiently preparing our young people to thrive in college, career, and life,” said Liz Dozier, Founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond. “It is important to invest in ways that support our young people and fills those gaps.”  

This is the first investment Chicago Beyond has made in nonprofit-tech. Within tech spaces, accessing support from funders has been historically difficult. According to Crunchbase data, about 1.3 percent of U.S. venture capital dollars went to Black-founded businesses in 2021. Chicago Beyond’s investment in TasselTurn signals the importance of investing in organizations with deep proximity to human experiences and in products that are designed by, for, and with the communities most impacted by them.

Highlights of the partnership include:

  • $400K in unrestricted financial support for staffing, coaches and tutor stipends, and data certification; and

  • Strategic thought partnership in model iteration and impact assessment.

“Historically, interventions to support foster-involved youth have been delivered through traditional practices: residential programming and care packages to aid infrequent home placements. While no intervention is too small, it is time for innovation and intentionality in the foster care system.” said Shanté Elliott, Founder and CEO of TasselTurn. “Education remains the greatest weapon to avoid social ills like poverty, homelessness, and incarceration in America, which is why our focus on education attainment is intentional. This investment from Chicago Beyond affirms the need for our work to be delivered at scale. We look forward to providing youth experiencing housing insecurity and foster care an opportunity to create a better life for themselves and their families.”

Elliott, whose story intersects with foster care, was inspired on her journey to healing and launched TasselTurn to support other youth in care to realize their potential. TasselTurn started as an in-person educational support program for foster-involved youth in grades 9-12 at Curie High School on Chicago’s Southside. But, TasselTurn learned that due to the instability of the foster care system, young people’s housing and school locations could change, requiring them to leave the network of support. To address these issues, TasselTurn changed its approach so students could access the program and connect with a trusted adult wherever students were by launching an online version of their platform.

Since its founding, TasselTurn has expanded from meeting with 10 young people weekly in a school cafeteria to having 27 students in their first online cohort to supporting 245 users enrolled over the past two years. Today, TasselTurn works with youth in three states – Illinois, North Carolina, and Michigan. 163 students are located in Illinois.

TasselTurn works by building the ecosystems of support each young person needs.  Here’s how educational institutions, policymakers, foster care parents and funders can help:

  • High school counselors: Help connect foster-involved young people and their families with TasselTurn;

  • College admissions counselors: Connect with housing insecure and foster-involved youth who have college aspirations, early in the journey;

  • Elected officials and policymakers: Recognize the potential in foster-involved youth and make it easier for caseworkers to sign young people up;

  • Foster care parents: Get support, tools and answers to your most pressing questions through the new TasselTurn parent portal; and

  • Individuals and Institutional Funders: Invest in TasselTurn.

“We are proud to help Shanté grow a strong and sustainable team behind her vision and ultimately provide consistent support for all foster-involved and housing insecure youth to achieve their college and life aspirations,” said Dozier. “We look forward to making more partnerships like this in the future so that all young people have the tools to learn, grow, and thrive not only at the community level but across all systems.” 

To learn more about TasselTurn and to support housing insecure and foster-involved youth achieve their aspirations, click here.

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About TasselTurn

TasselTurn is an edtech nonprofit working to provide foster-involved and housing insecure youth with tailored plans for a collective bright future. We create personalized and accessible post-secondary educational opportunities powered by 1:1 coaching and technology to ensure that the hand foster-involved youths are dealt with as children do not decide the future they get to create as adults.



Former Cook County Jail Warden Advocates for More Holistic Criminal Justice System – WTTW

Our Managing Director of Justice Initiatives Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia spoke with Paris Schutz on WTTW Chicago Tonight on May 19, 2022.

Do inmates in Illinois prisons and jails have a right to safety?

That’s the central question raised in a new publication written by former Cook County Department of Corrections Warden Nneka Jones Tapia.

In it, Jones Tapia makes the case for a more holistic health and safety vision for those in custody. The work comes after COVID ravaged through corrections facilities across the country.

Chicago Beyond released the “Do I Have the Right to Feel Safe” to provide guidance to criminal justice system stakeholders. Read the full report.

Answers have been edited for length. 

How did your experience as a clinical psychologist and warden at Cook County Jail inform your vision of what a holistic criminal justice system could look like?

Nneka Jones Tapia: I think when I started in corrections and through my 10 years as warden, I really realized and saw firsthand the impact that the system had on people who were incarcerated, their families, as well as the staff. I mean I think I saw the overwhelming negative and damaging impact that the system had in the reverberating impact throughout the community.

America incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. It seems to be a system that’s premised more on punishment than the possibility of rehabilitation. Do you think it’s fair to say that at this point, that approach has failed?         

Jones Tapia: I think we’re long overdue to say that this approach to crime has failed. I think if we want to ensure the safety of everyone, we have to focus on creating the conditions that are going to actually produce positive behavior — and that’s not punishment and control.

What kind of toll does the current mass incarceration approach to crime take on both the incarcerated and those who work in correctional facilities? Particularly those inmates who may wait years simply to get to trial?              

Jones Tapia: I would say that really the toll begins from the moment a person enters into the facility. There is a darkness that exists in correctional facilities and you feel that darkness as soon as you walk in, whether you’re a person incarcerated or a staff member. And so the longer that you are required to sit in that darkness, the more negative impact that it has.

What I saw during my tenure at Cook County was the longer that people awaited trial, the more likely they were to engage in negative behavior, again as an impact of sitting in this darkness. It’s not because they were a bad person, but because we had them in a horrendous environment and that’s not unique to the Cook County Jail. I don’t want to paint Cook County as being the only institution that holds people for a longer period of time or that is wrought with darkness — that’s every correctional institution. And because people sitting in there for longer periods of time are more likely to act out that impacts the staff.

We know that the American criminal justice system treats Black and white defendants differently. Talk to me a little bit about the racial aspect of this?           

Jones Tapia: I think that what we see happening in jails and prisons is a reflection of how we in America have historically engaged with race. America tends to fear Black and Brown people and we have responded to that fear by trying to control Black and Brown bodies and trying to punish Black and Brown bodies.

We don’t have a Black criminality problem, (we have) a black exclusion problem. Black and Brown people have been excluded from the very resources and supports that we all know everyone needs in order to thrive. Employment, education, housing opportunities, mental health and physical health services. And so we have to think about our answer to this exclusion problem is not a system that will further exclude people, which is what jails and prisons do, but to think about how we can really nurture the innate positive attributes that exist within people. And we can only do that through connecting them with positive supports, through realizing and investing in the inherent strengths and the humanity that exists in all of us.                

At this moment in time, do you think there is an appetite to change what the American correctional system looks like? Do you think there’s the appetite at this point to actually make fundamental change?                 

Jones Tapia: I think there is an appetite for change for the people who work in, and are confined by, these systems. I believe that the voices of those two groups in particular have to be put on a broader platform because there is also the

voices of people who believe that we should be tougher on crime. And they believe that jails and prisons are the antidote to the rise in crime that we see happening across the country. And so what Chicago Beyond has tried to do is just amplify the voices of people who are impacted by the system to say that while some people think that these systems work to create safety, they actually erode safety.

Give me a sense of how folks who actually work within the correctional system feel about the possibility of reform? 

Jones Tapia: Almost everyone who works in the system has been exposed directly and indirectly to trauma and that trauma sits with them. It doesn’t come off when they take off their uniform when they get home to their families. They interact with people differently, their families, community members. And I think many people working in the system see that. One study found that almost a third of correctional officers have some PTSD and meet criteria for depression. Whereas in the general population, about 3-6% of people meet criteria for those diagnoses. And so the impact is real. You know, and I think the more that we give people who work in the system, the platform to really talk about the impact … the more that they want to be a part of that change. People who work in corrections have a life expectancy that’s 20 years lower than the general population. So they are literally dying because they work in these systems. And so they know that something has to change.

Tell me a little bit about the impact you see on the families of both those incarcerated and those working in correctional facilities?               

Jones Tapia: I experienced it.  I experienced that impact as a young girl visiting my father in the prison. It was something that without the appropriate support from my family and my community could have caused long-lasting negative impact. I saw it as an employee working in this system where families of people incarcerated would call me concerned about the welfare of their loved ones.

That anxiety that families experience when their loved one has been incarcerated impacts them in every area of life. The impact of these institutions, it doesn’t just occur for people who walk into those institutions or who sit in those institutions. One study recently found that close to 113 million Americans have an immediate family member or have had an immediate family member who has been incarcerated. I mean, you think about the impact of that in the grocery stores in our churches and our schools and our communities. People are sitting with that anxiety and have little space to talk about or to be a part of changing system that’s causing that anxiety.                

What does a re-envisioned American justice system and correctional system look like?                 

Jones Tapia: It looks like empowerment of people who have been most impacted by the system. That’s the staff, that’s the people who are and have been incarcerated. That’s the families of these groups, that’s survivors of crime, that’s community organizations that are most impacted by incarceration. And it doesn’t look like control and punishment, instead it looks like centering the conditions that are going to help people to thrive. And leaving space for continuous iterations of what that could be. It’s not a check the box exercise. It is something that we have to continuously work towards.                

What kind of response have you had to your new holistic vision for the correctional system from people who work within it?                 

Jones Tapia: We created this vision in partnership with people who work in the system, people who have been incarcerated in the system, as well as survivors of crime and current and former correctional administrators. Almost 100 people have lent their voice to this vision. And while we have divergent pathways of how we have gotten here, we all agree that what we are doing through mass incarceration and through divestment in communities is not working and that we collectively have to think about universal healing and supports for our whole communities. If we truly want to experience safety, we have to invest in the people and the communities that they come from.