Information for Action

December 17, 2013 – It is that time of year again.  No, I’m not talking about snow, ice or family gatherings.  I’m talking about comprehensive county-level information about children and their families through the 2013 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book released today.  Every year for the last 20 or so, the Michigan League for Public Policy has compiled easy to understand information about Michigan counties across systems and age groups.

For nearly that long, Michigan’s Children and other advocacy partners across the state have been using the information with decision makers to guide policy and program investment priorities, as well as policy and practice improvements in this state.  Over those years we’ve seen improvements and unfortunately some outcomes where we just haven’t been able to move the dial.

One of the serious challenges again highlighted in this year’s Data Book is the continued increase in child poverty across the state.  Michigan’s consistently poor outcomes on this indicator point to the need for different policy and program decisions that actually improve the economic situation of families.  Unfortunately, many decisions made over the last several years have served to further disadvantage families economically.  Cutting supports for low wage workers like the Earned Income Tax Credit are counter-productive.  Michigan’s subsidized child care system needs major changes in order to be a real work support for families in the state.  Workforce development resources need to be much better targeted toward the most challenged families and need to include better supports for education and training.  Beyond workforce supports, programs that improve the educational success of the most challenged young people and adults need to be prioritized.

Another area of grave concern is the continued increase in child abuse and neglect.  The Data Book again indicates disturbing trends in the share of children who have been identified and those confirmed as victims of child maltreatment.  Several things contribute to this distressing information.

  1. Poverty, as mentioned.  Increases in economic stressors for families impact their stability.
  2. At least a decade of disinvestment in programs with proven effectiveness in preventing child abuse and neglect.  We know so much about the risks that lead families into the system, and we need to actually invest in preventing those risks – maybe even state resources, rather than relying entirely on the whims of the federal investment.  Better investments in domestic violence prevention and treatment; in behavioral health assessment and intervention, mental health and substance use/abuse, are required.  And, perhaps most importantly, better supports for parents of the very youngest children are necessary.  Infants are the largest share of any other age group as confirmed victims of abuse and neglect.

As always, the Data Book helps us better define what work needs to be done.  And, as always, it is our responsibility to help our elected officials use that information to make better decisions in the coming year.  So, use Kids Count as a conversation starter.  Even if you haven’t talked with your elected officials before, your county Kids Count data can provide a topic of conversation.  Ask your policy makers what they think about the data, and what plans they have to help address some of the issues of concern.  Help your policy makers understand the context behind some of the numbers.  If you’ve seen improvements in an area, have there been community efforts that have impacted the situation?  Or have there been cuts in programs and services that have resulted in worsening data in an area?  You can access your county information and other resources to assist with your advocacy at the Michigan League for Public Policy’s website.

We are here to help you, and here to remind policymakers that there is a lot they should be doing to make Michigan better for children, youth and families.

-Michele Corey