Marillac St. Vincent Family Services is proud to be part of a new pilot program bringing doula birthing assistance to pregnant women in the Cook County Jail System. The program, championed by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, is led by The Ounce of Prevention. In addition to partnering with MSV, organizations including New Moms, Catholic Charities, Family Focus, and YWCA have formed a coalition to develop this new initiative.
In April of 2019, MSV was approached by The Ounce about the opportunity to help pregnant women in jail. In May of this year, staff from both organizations toured the Cook County Jail and gathered input from current inmates on the need for birthing assistance in the detention center. “They were really interested in the doula program and thought it would be helpful,” Chief Operating Officer, Maureen Hallagan, said of the women's responses.
MSV was chosen as an early partner because of our current doula and parent education program Project Hope. “It’s coming full circle. We were one of the first pilot doula programs in the city, so this new avenue is adding another dimension to that.” Mauren said. Project Hope focuses on teen populations and women in their early 20s, however the pilot program will be open to expecting mothers of all ages. MSV is currently hiring another doula to manage some of the Project Hope caseload while long-time Doula and Parent Educator Lanise Washington will visit clients of the new program.
While much is still unknown about how the program will operate, MSV hopes to focus on making sure the birth experience, which will take place at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital, is as positive as possible. “We are there to nurture these women and make sure the baby has a healthy birth. There’s a lot of reassurance a doula can give to the mother in this stressful time,” Maureen said.
Doulas involved with the program will have monthly meetings with a mental health professional in order to process the potential emotional toll of these jail visits. Eventually, The Ounce hopes to bring in more of their community partners and expand the pilot program to serve more women.
The program is in the early development stages, so stay tuned for opportunities to get involved and support this critical and innovative initiative. In the meantime, sign up to volunteer or donate to MSV to support our new and ongoing programs.