Mom holding baby

Examining Illinois’ Universal Newborn Supports Infrastructure

In this blog post, Rowan Atwood, policy analyst, shares reflections on the potential for expansion of UNSS programs in Illinois and context for a recent project examining UNSS readiness across the state.

Rowan Atwood January 24, 2024
  • Policy and Systems
  • Blog

Expecting parents in nearly 60% of counties in Illinois live in maternity care deserts, and after bringing home a newborn, essential services can sometimes be even more difficult to access. Regardless of zip code or family income, when welcoming a new baby, all parents and families could benefit from additional encouragement and support. That is why Illinois is working to build the necessary public infrastructure and funding systems to scale Universal Newborn Support Systems (UNSS) that provide free, voluntary, short-term home visiting and referral services to every family in the state at the birth of a new baby, to make connections to the supportive services and resources they may need and want. 

While the ultimate goal of UNSS is to be universally available within every community, scaling UNSS programs is not likely to happen everywhere at once. Further, for a UNSS program to be successful, a community must already have resources available to which UNSS providers can refer parents. With this in mind, it becomes essential to understand where resources are available within the state, not only to determine where UNSS programs might be most effectively launched first, but also to pinpoint where additional resources and capacity-building work is needed. Our latest report, Universal Newborn Support Systems: A Review of Readiness, is a first step to understanding those questions. 

Using county-level data, this report examines areas of “risk”—particularly focused on birth-related and perinatal risk factors, which UNSS programs are designed to address—as well as community resources and services. Using simple statistical analysis, communities that deviate farthest from the mean are highlighted. This report is intended to serve as a way to start the conversation and begin to frame the question of where Illinois’ UNSS efforts should be focused. However, it is not without limitations and should not be used as a determining factor in these decisions.  

Read the Full Report

Universal Newborn Support Systems: A Review of Readiness

A report exploring and mapping the availability of prenatal-to-three resources in Illinois

Learn More

While reading, there are several things to consider, which include: 

  • What metrics are most useful and relevant to this topic? While the authors of this report chose specific metrics that they viewed as relevant to UNSS, there are many other data points that were not or could not be included. Additional exploration to understand which resources are most essential for new families, and an analysis weighing these resources accordingly, could lead to greater insights on this topic.  

  • What data is missing? Separate from the first point is the issue of data that is unavailable. Some highly relevant data points—such as the maternal mortality rate—cannot be reliably disaggregated for communities with small populations without threatening the quality of the data, and there is little that can be done in such cases.  In other cases, relevant data simply does not exist, or does not exist in a high-quality and reliable format on community or even county levels. For example, maternal morbidity rates are higher than those for maternal mortality and therefore may have fewer challenges to reliability in smaller populations. The Illinois Maternal Health Task Force has significantly improved the state’s understanding of maternal morbidity and mortality in recent years, but finding community-level data is still difficult. Other data points, such as the distribution of midwives or doulas, are also lacking on a smaller scale. Data on infant and toddler programs and services is frequently less readily available than data relating to older children, and addressing this gap would serve not only to support this endeavor, but also to pave the way for future research and programs for the state’s youngest learners.  
  • What is the role of community leaders? Apart from improving data on a state-wide level, there is a significant portion of information that cannot be collected by the state, and must be shared by leaders within their communities. This information includes informal and/or temporary resources—such as educational programs, support groups, parenting classes, and other local services—that are essential to new parents and the success of UNSS programs, but which cannot be mapped on a statewide level. Collecting high-level data is not and cannot be a replacement for collaborating with leaders within communities. Furthermore, communities must be involved in conversations about scaling new resources and programs such as UNSS, as local engagement and partnership is essential to building sustainable services. 

This report is shared with the hope that it will serve as a catalyst for additional conversations, not just about UNSS within Illinois, but about the resources available to new and expecting families across the country. 

About the Author

Naomi Black wears a red jacket standing in front of a brick wall

Rowan Atwood

Policy Specialist, Illinois Policy

Rowan Atwood, MSW, is a Policy Specialist on the Illinois Policy Team, where they focus on combining administrative advocacy and data analysis to support policy change.

More About Rowan

More Like This