Community Health Center providing ‘baby boxes’ to teenage mothers

Baby boxes provide tools to give newborns a good start

PITTSBURG, Kan. – Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas (CHC/SEK) receives a grant from Rita J. Bicknell Women’s Giving Circle to buy 80 baby boxes for teenage mothers in Crawford, Cherokee, Bourbon and Labette counties. Each box contains clothes, sheets and toys with a mattress in the bottom so the box becomes a baby’s first bed.

Baby Box

CHC/SEK Family Resource Specialists, from left, Lauren Stiles, Colette Lee, Julie Laverack, Leah Anderson, Keele Allen stand next to a Baby Box, also known as a Finn Box, while holding a grant certificate from the Community Foundation of Southeast Kansas.

CHC/SEK pregnancy case workers are filling the boxes for distribution to mothers under the age of 19 who often lack stable housing and resources to care for a newborn. In 2019, 158 teenagers gave birth in these four Southeast Kansas counties – most of them patients of CHC/SEK or Labette Health.

It draws from a Finnish tradition dating back to the 1930s. It was a national initiative to to give expectant mothers the tools they need to raise a healthy baby. Some credit the concept with helping Finland achieve one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates by pairing education with medical support through a box full of newborn necessities that doubles as the child’s first safe sleep space up to the age of six months.

“Babies used to sleep in the same bed as their parents and it was recommended that they stop,” according to University of Helsinki Professor Panu Pulmain. “Including the box as a bed meant people started to let their babies sleep separately from them.”

Since then, the concept has been incorporated into Sleep Awareness programs in the U.S. to reduce bedsharing, the leading cause of infant mortality in the first eight days of life. The boxes include a waterproof sleeping mattress, sheets, diapers, wipes, clothing, thermometer, a parenting book and other baby basics, including a HALO SleepSack. This program is the first of its kind in Kansas and is part of a maternal/child health initiative which pairs CHC/SEK case managers with young women during their prenatal care and for a year following delivery.

“The health care system is a hard enough place to

navigate, and having an advocate to help you get through and a bridge to help you connect all of the resources together are proven to make families healthier,” said Patient Education and Support Manager Julie Laverack.