Ever since my sophomore year of my undergraduate studies when I took a Child Psychology class with Dr. Rebecca Shlafer, I knew I wanted to work with children and families affected by the criminal justice system. Shortly after graduating, I reconnected with Dr. Shlafer, who informed me about the School of Public Health’s Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Program, which I quickly applied to. During my time in the program, I have learned so much about the health and well-being of children, families, and other vulnerable populations, and have had many fantastic learning experiences. The MCH Program coursework and the experiences that I’ve been fortunate to have made me even more passionate about mass incarceration and public health and helping individuals, children, and families affected by it. Mass incarceration is a public health issue, especially an MCH issue, which is why I am excited to use my education and experiences to continue helping this vulnerable population.
Finding my Field Experience
While searching for a field experience that works with children and families affected by incarceration, I connected with Katie Linde, who is the Women and the Women and Infant Health Unit Supervisor at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), as well as a member of the Legislative Advisory Committee on the Care of Pregnant Incarcerated Women. I was extremely excited to meet with someone who is also passionate about the health of those affected by incarceration. Although MDH was not currently working on anything related to incarceration, there were many other projects that interested me that I believed would teach me new skills and expand my knowledge, which is why I chose to do fulfill my field experience with MDH. I partnered with the Center for Leadership Education in MCH to create a deployment, in which I worked on a few projects in MDH that all with different program goals and target populations, but I spent a majority of my time working on the Minnesota Expectant and Parenting Student Program (MEPSP). The MEPSP was implemented in three Minnesota communities where significant disparities in health, education, social, and economic indicators of well-being were present among expectant and parenting teens. The main goal of the MEPSP is to mobilize these communities with health inequalities in the expectant and parenting teen and young adult student population and to improve access to quality resources, programs and five core services domains through sustainable expansion, alignment, and integration of institutions and systems. At the time of my deployment, the MEPSP had just wrapped up its first year and MDH was working on compiling evaluation data. Although I worked on multiple projects and helped with various tasks, my main project was to compile an evaluation report on the qualitative data from the Student Parent Experience Survey (SPES), one of the four main data collection tools used by the MEPSP. The SPES was distributed twice in the program’s first year, and measured participant’s satisfaction, attitudes and beliefs of the program.
The Minnesota Expectant and Parenting Student Program uses an evidence-based, case management approach to assess program participants’ needs and refer them to health and social services. Barriers to educational achievement are also addressed through a network of local providers who assist MDH staff in evaluating how effective the MEPSP is in improving educational and health outcomes of expectant and parenting teens -Help MDH improve outcomes of expectant and parenting teens through assessing community needs and organizing continuous quality improvement (CQI) projects
Mass Incarceration and Public Health Class
As the summer and my deployment at the MDH was coming to an end, I was presented with an exciting opportunity to take a course about incarceration and public health, taught by Dr. Rebecca Shlafer. Although this course was developed for undergraduate students, Dr. Shlafer allowed me and six other School of Public Health Master’s level students to enroll in the course for independent study credits. Over the course of the semester, our class had the opportunity to tour several local correctional facilities, learn from multiple different professionals in the field, and hear from individuals directly affected by incarceration. As graduate students, we were also expected to lead different parts of the course, facilitate class discussion, and develop a 12-week health literacy curriculum, which we will be teaching this spring to the women at Minnesota’s Women Correctional Facility in Shakopee. Taking this course not only expanded my knowledge about incarceration and health, but it gave me the opportunity to interact with and learn from those affected by incarceration and allowed me to put my passion into action through developing curriculums and teaching others.
Connecting Field Experience and Health Curriculum
I have been extremely fortunate when it comes to the various opportunities and experiences I’ve had during my time in the MCH Program. While working at the MDH, I learned a lot about program implementation and evaluation, which has proven to be extremely valuable to have as we worked to develop the health literacy curriculum and as I prepare to lead classes this spring. I’m also grateful that I was given the opportunity to work on multiple programs at the MDH and learn about various MCH populations. Having the exposure to different projects and populations within the MCH community has made me more confident in my ability to advocate for MCH populations.
Every experience and opportunity I’ve had has made me extremely hopeful for what the future may bring for those affected by incarceration. Whether it’s professionals at the MDH, members of a task force group, undergraduate students at the University of Minnesota, or my fellow School of Public Health graduate students working to educate women who are incarcerated, there are so many individuals who are just as passionate about helping those impacted by incarceration.
Bri recently graduated from the School of Public Health, Maternal and Child Health program. Most of her coursework focused on the criminal justice system, with an emphasis on strategies that promote health equity among populations at-risk of incarceration, disparities among incarceration rates, policy-level changes that impact incarceration, and effective programs, services, and resources that help those impacted by the criminal justice system. In addition to teaching the women’s health course at MCF-Shakopee, she also works as a graduate research assistant for the Chicago Longitudinal Study at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development and has recently started looking for a full-time job.