Seventeen Years of Expert Testimony

December 16, 2013 – Decision-makers gathered last week, representing the Governor’s Office, a bi-partisan group of 17 members of the Michigan Legislature, the State Board of Education, the Departments of Community Health and Human Services, philanthropy, municipalities, law enforcement, education associations, after-school, school health, researchers, and other youth advocates to listen to some Michigan experts.  Young people from a dozen communities around the state came to the Capitol to share their challenges, successes and recommendations for improving program and policy.   Programs that serve some of the most challenged young people in the state braved the snow and cold weather to bring these articulate young people before our listeners.

One young man brought out his specific concerns about the family he was planning to have – concerns that he would be successful enough to support them and that the education and other systems would be able to serve them better than they had served him.  He is a young adult now, part of an amazing program that gets young people back on track to a high school credential and onto a post-secondary path.  Reflecting that he had been out of school for several years, realizing that his future was compromised, there was a program that re-engaged him.  Instead of a path of unemployment and potentially criminal justice, he is now on a path to personal success and building success for the next generation.

This same experience was repeated over and over – young people who had been failed by and often pushed out of those systems that are charged with moving them toward adult success, often with personal consequences that were difficult for our listeners to hear.  Also repeated was the experience of these young people, who our public and private sector dollars had failed, finding a path to success.  These programs blend together different funding sources and share a commitment to providing many paths to success and many chances for moving down those paths.  What they also share is a space to make up for the failures of other systems.

As we move into the next budget year in Michigan, and try to keep up with federal budget decision-making, the testimony of the sixteen young people can provide some guidance:

  1. 2nd and 3rd chance programs for successful movement toward high school completion/post-secondary paths are not consistently available across this state, nor are they consistently accessible for all young people who need them.  As Michigan’s Children says all the time, resources need to be devoted to alternative, adult and community education to provide these chances to everyone.  This requires innovative strategies to utilize resources from a variety of sectors.  We can learn much from current programs who successfully serve our most challenged young people, families and communities.
  2. While we are making strides in how we serve the young people under our guardianship – those who the state removed from their challenged families and often their communities as well because of abuse, neglect and delinquency – we are still not successful enough.  These kids deserved better from us, and their stories continue to shock and dismay us.  This also requires multiple sectors working together to make sure that under our care, they are better able to rebuild what has been lost and move successfully toward supporting themselves and their own families now and in the future.
  3. Both of those intervention strategies scream for more investment in the prevention of poor outcomes in the first place.  This includes focusing resources on fragile families early on, and taking steps early and often to ensure young people can make it through high school successfully the first time.

If we take nothing from KidSpeak, we must take that we must do better.  I heard a great quote yesterday that fits perfectly here.  “Better is possible.  It doesn’t take genius.  It takes diligence.  It takes moral clarity.  It takes ingenuity.  And above all, it takes a willingness to try.”  Atul Gawande

We look forward to working with our experts, our listeners and others in the new year to invest in strategies that can change the trajectory of more young people, their families and their communities in 2014 and beyond.

– Michele Corey