Children’s Optimal Health (COH), a 501(c)(3) based in Austin, TX, is a collective leadership initiative that unites the efforts of Central Texas organizations in promoting community change to help our children reach a brighter future. COH strives to give agencies and communities access to proprietary data by using GIS mapping to illuminate issues involving Central Texas children. By layering data from multiple sources, COH can help communities visualize the health of their neighborhoods, identify assets and needs, and unearth opportunities for collaborative change.
The COH Story
COH began as an informal collaborative looking to improve the health and well-being of children in central Texas by working across organizational institutions. Eighty-four agencies came together and identified four areas of focus: linking and leveraging our existing resources; coordinating community messaging and education; using technology; and research and best practices to solve community problems.
In early 2008, thirteen lead community agencies and institutions organized as the Charter Members of Children‘s Optimal Health (COH) and formed a Texas Unincorporated Non-Profit Association (TUNA) Five of the Charter Member organizations committed to the initial funding of COH, while others committed data, time, and their knowledge surrounding the central Texas community. By May 2008, COH had formed a Governing Board and filed for 501(c)3 status. These Board members reflected the diverse organizations that impact a child‘s life; healthcare, housing, education, economic development, and agencies addressing social and emotional development. This variety in Board representation continues to allow COH to look at a broader definition of health that includes educational factors as well as the social determinants that play a valuable role in shaping outcomes for children.
Over the last ten years, COH has informed the Central Texas Area through GIS mapping and analyses successfully fulfilling its role in:
- Improving operations,
- Impacting policy,
- Encouraging research, and
- Mobilizing the Community.
Our Proven Concept: A Selection of Stories that Illustrate COH’s Work and Partnership
78758 is a diverse zip code. It contains warehousing, industrial and retail sites in addition to residential areas. Any Baby Can and other social service providers suspected the existence of a neighborhood of need for newborns and their mothers based on anecdotal information. The exact location of social, as well as health risks was not apparent; the reason being that when data is spread over large geographies such as zip codes, diffusion of the numbers causes exact locations (hot spots) to disappear. When 78758 was mapped considering births, poverty, access to care and other contributors based on residence data, a hot spot appeared. Not only was it very concentrated, it bled into two other adjacent zip codes. This area of acute need would never have been illuminated on any map utilizing geo-political boundaries.
Awareness of the individual and societal cost of high absenteeism was critical to this project entered into in partnership with E3 Alliance. COH joined in a project to identify potential solutions to decrease the high rates of students missing school by better understanding the reason students missed school. COH created multiple maps for several school districts. The project took into account the parents’ reports of reasons for absences. Nearly half of all absences were due to acute illness; flu being identified as a leading, preventable illness. Mapping proved to be useful in that geographical location of hotspots vary with acute illness outbreaks. The discoveries led to an intervention in which flu immunizations were provided to schools in several districts in the Central Texas area. In the first year (2014), an immunization program was instituted in 56 elementary schools at no cost to the patient, family, or school districts.
COH partnered with Dell Children’s Medical Center to understand spatial patterns of Child Maltreatment. The project illuminated the widening over several years of the Eastern Crescent that so often shows concentrations of need on many levels. This finding is consistent with eastward and outward migration away from the support resources found closer to the denser urban areas that is being seen as Austin grows and displaces many of the neediest of families. Also noted was the appearance of areas of some concern across the county. These maps and the analyses resulted in a publication called “Thinking Upstream” and have been presented at numerous meetings and conferences. This project will inform planning for prevention and intervention projects and will be the basis for future studies and research.
Behavioral Health/Substance Abuse
As a result of our partnership with AISD. we were able to access data related to various Behavioral Health issues including substance abuse. Upon completing an extensive mapping project, we identified a need for a more collaborative and integrated system of interventions. The Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition (YSAP) was formed. A summit was held to increase interest and to underscore the need for supportive policy changes to address the needs of affected students. Recovering students presented powerful videos they had created.
Transportation Child Injury
During the spatial analysis of Phase 1 of this project, the question arose as to whether a concentration existed where children resided who were identified as un- or under- restrained in car seats at the time of injury due to a car accident. One area in north Austin popped. Car seat distribution locations were overlaid in a drill down of the neighborhood of concern, as was access to those centers, socio-economic status, and other social determinants that were barriers to acquisition of proper restraint and child safety education. It was determined that resources were desperately needed for these children. Dell Children’s Medical Center immediately reallocated resources to that area.