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Special Edition: Title V Technical Assistance MeetingExpand Special Edition: Title V Technical Assistance Meeting
Title V Technical Assistance Meeting

 MCH Needs a Perpetual Needs Assessment

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Session: General Session, Panel on Maternal Health Core Functions, Oct. 17
Presentation Title: Assessment in Maternal & Child Health: More Than an Every 5-year MCH Function
Presenter: William Sappenfield, Professor, University of South Florida College of Public Health

The needs assessment that Title V grantees must conduct every five years is a good thing, right? Bill Sappenfield says yes, but state MCH programs need more of that good thing.

They should conduct thorough assessments on an ongoing basis, he told a packed plenary session, so they can always answer the questions, "What are we doing and why?"

Sappenfield noted that the MCH needs assessment aligns with the core functions of public health, which are framed within a continuous cycle of assessment, policy development, and assurance. He stressed that that cycle should continue in Title V agencies independent of the five-year requirement by the U.S. Maternal and Child Health Bureau and regardless of tough financial times.

"When money is cut, one of the first things states cut back on is assessment," he said. "We lose long-range perspective" on MCH needs and the impact of MCH policies and practices, which also means losing the ability to educate others about the needs of the MCH population.

Sappenfield urged Title V agencies to pursue six steps:

1. Monitor and further investigate their selected MCH Needs Assessment priorities. Be sure you know about your MCH priorities in depth to assure you are on track and your strategies are appropriately focused. This includes assessing new and emerging priorities. In addition, bring assessment and monitoring from the state to the community level where strategies often must be implemented to be effective. The challenge is that there is often a dearth of local data on many MCH priorities.

2. Assess and monitor other MCH priorities, aside from those the state chose to focus on the most.

3. Prepare for new or emerging priorities for the upcoming needs assessment. Sappenfield noted that as Title V priorities are re-assessed, some new ones are added but some favorite MCH priorities get "voted off the island" because of a lack of adequate information and understanding about the issue and potential opportunities to address it.

4. Develop new needs assessment and monitoring tools and measures. For example, he said the field needs to improve monitoring and measuring in the areas of social determinants of health, positive life course factors and experiences, and health equity.

5. Make sure to include families, providers, and partners in your ongoing assessment and monitoring activities.

6. Better communicate progress to staff, leadership, partners, and the public about your MCH priorities and progress, such as through the development of an MCH scorecard.