Shifting Paradigms with the MCH Life Course Toolkit

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By Jill

In the summer of 2008, twenty-five national MCH experts were invited to Oakland, California, to participate in a two-day dialogue funded by The California Endowment on how to apply the Life Course Perspective to the field of maternal and child health.

Two years later, the online MCH Life Course Toolkit was launched.

Contra Costa Health Services worked with funds from The California Endowment for the initial meeting in 2008 and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the creation of the online toolkit. According to Padmini Parthasarathy, the Life Course Initiative Coordinator of Contra Costa Health Services’ Family, Maternal and Child Health Programs, the site is designed for use by MCH researchers, academics, practitioners, policy advocates, and others in the field who wish to share information and strategies to integrate the Life Course Perspective into MCH work at the local, state, and national levels.

The Life Course Perspective offers a view of health as an integrated continuum, not disconnected stages in life. Drawing from recent social science and public health literature, the perspective postulates that each stage of life influences the next and that a variety of environments, including ones physical, economic and social environments, affect both individual and community health. This theory is not new.

“Many of us have known for a long time that despite a lot of resources being infused into prenatal care and improving rates of women getting into prenatal care early, preterm births and low birthweight are increasing and substantial inequities remain between racial/ethnic groups in all birth outcomes,” said Parthasarathy.

“We knew that we needed to do things differently. This model has given us the evidence base for changing how we do research, practice and policy.”

Contra Costa Health Services works directly with physicians on incorporating the life course perspective into their practice, and the general reaction in the maternal and child health community has been positive. However, care providers frequently express concern over what they can actually accomplish in a ten minute office visit. Contra Costa’s recommendation is that they can work toward being sensitive to the life experiences and challenges that their patients face and inform patients that there are many life course and social factors out of their control that impact their health while emphasizing that prenatal or medical care is still crucial.

CityMatCH, a freestanding national membership organization of city and county health departments’ maternal and child health programs founded in 1988, hosts the MCH Life Course Toolkit.

Recommended reading:

Life Course Theory and Research

Life Course Bibliography

Other resources:

MCH Life Course Game