Initiative on fatherhood raises hopes for lowering high infant-mortality rate

Study after study on father- hood reinforces the myriad benefits children derive from dads who play active roles in their development. Close fatherly involvement is directly linked to strong emotional, academic, social, and behavioral outcomes for children of all ethnic groups and among all socioeconomic strata.

The rewards that accrue to youngsters from a strong paternal presence also extend to the most critical first year of life.

Given such insights, it is encouraging to see a new movement afoot in Mahoning County designed to increase child-father engagement as one additional means to help decrease the county’s unacceptably high infant-mortality rates, particularly among black families.

Earlier this week, the Greater Youngs-town Community Dialogue on Racism and the Mahoning Youngstown Infant Mortality Coalition sponsored a community forum in Youngstown on fatherhood, highlighted by a locally produced video titled “Dads Do Matter,” a catchy title that pretty much says it all.

We commend the group’s efforts at raising awareness levels of the role strong fathers play in the lives of their children – from infancy to young adulthood. The campaign’s focus on young black men raises hopes that the rate at which children die within the first year of their lives in Youngstown and Mahoning County can be lessened.

That rate among African-American infants ranks among the highest in the state and nation. The black IMR in Mahoning County was 17.7 in 2015 and 10.2 in 2014. This compares with white babies’ IMR of 5.2 in 2015 and 6.4 in 2014, according to the Youngstown Office on Minority Health.


Research has shown a direct link between involved fathers and lower infant-mortality rates. For example, a study of 1.39 million infants in Florida conducted by the University of South Florida and published in the Journal of Community Health made these eye-opening conclusions:

Infants with absent fathers were more likely to be born with lower birth weights, to be preterm and small for gestational age. These abnormalities make infants much more prone to death within their first year of life.

Regardless of race or ethnicity, the neonatal death rate of father-absent infants was nearly four times that of their counterparts with involved fathers.

The risk of poor birth outcomes was highest for infants born to black women whose babies’ fathers were absent during their pregnancies. Even after adjusting for socioeconomic differences, these babies were seven times more likely to die in infancy than babies born to Hispanic and white women in the same situation.

We would hope the coalition continues to drive home these points through community education programs. It should also seek any and all assistance in that process through such vehicles as the Ohio Fatherhood Initiative, an agency of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. It offers a variety of assistance and grant programs to help fund and expand such initiatives in communities throughout the state.

Kimberly Dent, executive director of the fatherhood commission, emphasizes that promoting responsible fatherhood is much less costly than paying for the consequences of absent dads.

“When fathers acquire the skills they need to be responsible fathers, children are better off and better positioned to build their own strong families; families are better off because of fathers’ love, care and emotional and financial support; and taxpayer dollars are saved as families are more likely to be well- functioning and self-sufficient,” she said.

Along with other education and awareness programs focusing on healthy behaviors and lifestyles for expectant mothers, the fatherhood initiative could reap long-term dividends.

The importance of devoted dads can never be overstated. The local initiative can take inspiration from former President Barack Obama, a staunch advocate for strong paternal engagement:

“Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it.”

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