MCH Center of Excellence Offers New Training, Research, and Practice Opportunities

Original article by Jillian McKoy on June 26th 2020 - BUSPH "MCH Center of Excellence Offers New Training, Research, and Practice Opportunities"

The School of Public Health’s Center of Excellence in MCH Education, Science, and Practice (MCH CoE), one of only 13 such centers nationwide, has received its sixth round of funding through 2025 from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources & Services Research Administration. The MCH CoE also received an MCH Epidemiology Doctoral Training Award, which will support the dissertation work of SPH doctoral students studying maternal and child health and epidemiology.

Founded in 1995, the MCH CoE provides educational, practice, research, and leadership programs that prepare students to become leaders in the MCH field, with an emphasis on advancing and promoting health equity as well as racial, social, and economic justice for women, children, and families. The renewed funding will enable the center to continue a myriad of programs and expand its training initiatives to students, faculty, and staff across SPH and Boston University, and grow its partnerships with local and state agencies and community-based organizations.

“We’ve shifted from being a center that devotes all of its resources to students seeking MCH concentrations or certificates, to one that includes students across the school who have MCH interests and goals,” says Lois McCloskey, who has directed the center since 2008, serves as codirector of the MCH certificate, and is an associate professor of community health sciences. “It’s very gratifying to have the extra resources to build on our core academic program, and enhance the field experiences and leadership training of students who share MCH goals,” she says.

School-wide MCH Research and Practice Fellowships are key offerings of the CoE. McCloskey and Trish Elliott, clinical assistant professor of community health sciences, codirect the research and practice fellowships, respectively. Research fellows work on SPH faculty members’ research teams for 10-12 months, while Practice fellows are matched with a preceptor at a community or public agency for the same time period. Both groups work on professional products and present their work at the annual MCH Forum and, in some cases, at national or regional public health conferences. This academic year, fellows will participate in research and practice opportunities related to reproductive and maternal health, environmental justice, Medicaid policy reform, and COVID-19.

“The practice fellowships are set up in an apprentice-style model where students are embedded within the organization and work on projects through multiple stages to contribute meaningfully over time,” says Elliott, who is also the director of the DrPH program. “They are also building their connections with their site supervisors who serve in a mentorship capacity, which has been invaluable—oftentimes, the fellows are hired by those organizations later on because they’ve had such good experiences with them. It’s a really wonderful program.”

Shelby Ingerick, a second-year MPH student completing the CAPDIE certificate (Community Assessment, Program Design, Implementation, and Evaluation) is currently completing a practice fellowship with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), developing quality improvement guidelines within the Division of Pregnancy, Infancy, and Early Childhood to help home visiting programs implement culturally and linguistically appropriate services.

“The fellowship has provided me with many practical skills, complemented the courses I am taking, and has helped give me a better focus towards how I want to pursue my postgraduate career,” says Ingerick. “I’m taking every opportunity I have to learn more about DPH, attend virtual trainings, and assist with the current COVID-19 response.”

Elliott will also lead a new professional development co-learning initiative that fosters academic-community partnerships with Population Health Exchange and three state partners (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Tennessee) to disseminate online MCH modules for both students and practitioners.

A distinctive flagship program of the MCH CoE is its Diversity Scholars Leadership Program (DSLP). Founded 10 years ago by then-faculty member Joanna Rorie, the DSLP supports a cohort of four MCH students from under-represented minority communities each year, many of them first-generation students, and all of them committed to growing as leaders in the movement for racial justice in health. Flourishing in a primarily white academic institution presents unique challenges to Black and Brown students, says McCloskey, and the DSLP offers financial, mentoring, and community-building resources to support their experience and professional development at SPH. A cadre of about 15 alums of color who are health leaders in Boston serve as community mentors. Jasmine Abrams, assistant professor of community health sciences, directs the program with McCloskey and serves as faculty mentor. In 2022, the DSLP will extend to a cohort of LGBTQIA students.

“Programs like the DSLP offer an opportunity to acknowledge and intervene on systemic, institutional, interpersonal, and individual-level factors that impact matriculation and postgraduate success among underrepresented minority students,” says Abrams. “This type of program provides critical tangible and intangible support for students who will undoubtedly contribute to a better public health workforce.”

She says she enjoys building community among the students, who appreciate being able to come together in a safe space to discuss joys and common challenges, and collectively brainstorm solutions for overcoming challenges.

“I would be remiss if I neglected to mention how much good it does for me to build and be part of this community alongside them,” says Abrams. “As a professor, students are my academic life blood—seeing them work through difficulties, learn, and thrive, gives me life, and it motivates me to do and be better.”  

Further expanding its reach, the CoE will launch a new Interprofessional Education Initiative, partnering with the Schools of Law, Social Work, Medicine, Dental Medicine, and Wheelock to create field opportunities that engage student on inter-professional research and practice teams. The center will also launch a university-wide Life Course Research Network to facilitate exchanges and collaborations on MCH-related research that shares a common aim of applying the life course perspective to to advance racial and social justice across generations and individual life spans.

The MCH Epidemiology Doctoral Training Award will provide financial support to one DrPH or epidemiology PhD student each year through a predoctoral fellowship for which they will conduct a local or state analysis on a public health topic for their dissertation. Elliott and Martha Werler, chair and professor of epidemiology, serve as co-principal investigators of this award to support fellows’ projects.

“We are looking forward to collaborating and supporting students in both programs to help them do the dissertations that they want to do, so that we have a really well-trained maternal and child health workforce,” says Elliott.

Jillian McKoy

Youth Mental Health Access during COVID-19

Original Article by Michelle Samuels, July 15th 2020 - BUSPH "Youth Mental Health Access during COVID-19"

The coronavirus closed schools, contracted the economy, and is disproportionally devastating communities of color. In this pandemic and its aftermath, helping youths with mental health issues navigate decentralized services and stay out of the juvenile justice system may be more critical than ever, according to a new whitepaper co-authored by a School of Public Health researcher.

The paper outlines the work of the Health Law Advocates’ Mental Health Advocacy Program for Kids (MHAP for Kids) before and during COVID-19, and was highlighted at the Spring Meeting of the American Bar Association Commission on Homelessness and Poverty on June 6 as a model for best practice locally and nationally.

“Youth with unmet mental health needs including depression, anxiety, and trauma disproportionally end up in the court system, and MHAP for Kids has great potential to divert youth from court and help them get needed mental health services,” says Patricia Elliott, clinical assistant professor of community health sciences and the paper’s co-author with MHAP for Kids director Marisol Garcia.

“This is even more important now as the pandemic exacerbates existing conditions and introduces new stressors for families,” Elliott says.

In the paper, Elliott and Garcia outline the work of the program and how it has adapted for the new challenges of the COVID (and post-COVID) era.

“A fundamental reason why youth mental health services are difficult to access for families is that numerous different systems are supposed to provide such services. These systems include schools, clinicians, health insurance, state agencies, and the juvenile justice system,” they write.

MHAP for Kids provides free legal services and other help navigating and accessing these services for youth in income-eligible households in seven Massachusetts counties: Bristol, Essex, Hampden, Middlesex, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Worcester.

Elliott has been leading an independent evaluation of the program since it launched in two juvenile courts in 2015. In a paper published in 2017, Elliott and Emily Feinberg, associate professor of community health sciences, found that, out of 49 cases of youth court involvement for delinquency charges, the program avoided or shortened pre-trial detention for 16 youths, avoided adjudication due to competency concerns for 5, reduced sentences for 3, got treatment instead of detention for 1, and avoided Care and Protection cases for 12 youths by securing needed services. Elliott and Feinberg also recorded numerous other positive effects of the program, including reductions in conflict between youths and parents, less use of emergency mental health services, fewer inpatient hospitalizations or stays in emergency hospitals, increases in school attendance, and improved (parent-rated) mental health of youths and parents.

But in that 2017 evaluation, Elliott and Feinberg also found that 94 percent of the families served by MHAP for Kids reported experiencing challenges accessing mental health services for their children.

Now, COVID-19 is creating “new and more intensive barriers,” Elliott and Garcia write in the new paper.

These include school closures, which have interrupted specialized instruction and school-based counseling, while limited internet access and language barriers have made remote learning difficult for many families served by MHAP. All of these factors likely contribute to the worsening mental health of youths working with MHAP attorneys, and could have lifelong repercussions as these youths fall behind in education, Elliott and Garcia write.

To take on these issues, MHAP for Kids staff attorneys created a toolkit for other attorneys working with youth to advocate for their mental health needs during COVID, including sample letters and English- and Spanish-language forms for families to record issues. The American Bar Association Children’s Rights Committee has published the toolkit, available here.

Graph showing increase in youth of color served by the MHAP for Kids program compared to the pilot. Hispanic/Latinx youth make up the largest group of youths of color served, at 30%.
From “Advocating for Youth Access to Mental Health Services During a Pandemic” by Marisol Garcia and Patricia Elliott, presented at the American Bar Association Commission on Homelessness and Poverty Spring Meeting, June 6, 2020.

Elliott and Garcia also outline how MHAP for Kids has adapted to better take on issues related to youths spending more time at home, economic challenges, and widening racial disparities during the pandemic. Much of this work was already underway before COVID, including efforts to help more youths of color—who are at particular risk for the “cradle to prison pipeline,” they write—and to place MHAP for Kids attorneys in counties with more low-income families. “Not by coincidence, the communities prioritized for assistance by MHAP for Kids using this approach have also been among the hardest hit by the pandemic,” the authors write.

“Having the program selected by the American Bar Association was a big honor,” Elliott says. “The results of the pilot evaluation were influential to the expansion of the program from two to seven counties within Massachusetts, and now we look forward to sharing the results of our current round of evaluation as more communities across the commonwealth and the country consider replication of the model to support youth and families.”

—Michelle Samuels

Intrapartum Care and Experiences of Women with Midwives Versus Obstetricians in the Listening to Mothers in California Survey

MCH Faculty Eugene R. Declercq PhD, Candice Belanoff ScD, MPH, and Carol Sakala PhD, MSPH publish "Intrapartum Care and Experiences of Women with Midwives Versus Obstetricians in the Listening to Mothers in California Survey" in the Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health.

"Following the initial reporting of the Listening to Mothers in California survey in 2018, Drs. Declercq and Belanoff and I are involved in publishing several secondary analyses from this dataset." - Carol Sakala

  • Significant socioeconomic differences by type of intrapartum care provider, with women in California attended by midwives more likely to be well educated and privately insured than women attended by obstetricians.
  • Women with midwife birth attendants were less likely to report experiencing various intrapartum medical interventions, less likely to experience pressure to have epidural analgesia, and more likely to report that staff encouraged the woman’s decision making.
  • Adjusted odds ratios found that women with midwives were less likely to experience medical interventions, including attempted labor induction; labor augmentation; and use of pain medications, epidural analgesia, and intravenous fluids; and less likely to report pressure to have labor induction or epidural analgesia.
  • Women cared for by midwives were more likely to experience any non pharmacologic pain relief measures and nitrous oxide and to agree that hospital staff encouraged their decision making.
READ: Intrapartum Care and Experiences of Women with Midwives Versus Obstetricians in the Listening to Mothers in California Survey