Yearly Archives 2013

A Huge Win for Michigan’s Preschoolers

Earlier this week, the Legislature approved an historic expansion of the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) – the state’s preschool program for four-year-olds at-risk of being underprepared for kindergarten.  This $65 million increase – a 60 percent expansion of the program – will provide an additional 16,000 half-day slots, which is much needed considering the 29,000 eligible but unenrolled four-year-olds currently living in Michigan.

This year’s success was the result of the collective impact of many individuals and organizations who have entered into the early childhood education advocacy arena over the past several decades.

First off, this expansion wouldn’t have been possible without the leadership of Michigan’s elected officials.  Broad support for preschool across both chambers, both parties, and the Governor’s office was expressed early on in the budget process, with some elected officials championing early childhood issues since they first took office well before the fiscal year 2014 budget process began.  These important leaders played critical roles in ensuring that the final budget bill included this significant expansion.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the leadership of the Center for Michigan – to not only uncover the unmet need of GSRP across the state through Bridge Magazine’s excellent journalism but to also provide support to the Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan (CLCM).  The CLCM, co-chaired by Doug Luciani of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and Michigan’s Children’s own board member Debbie Dingell of d2 Strategies, corralled the business community in support of high quality early learning opportunities and did an effective job of communicating the research and the business argument for expanding access to GSRP.

Another significant player in this year’s efforts was the High Scope Educational Research Foundation, who has been evaluating GSRP since 1995.  Their most recent evaluation was released in March of 2012 and demonstrated the long-term benefits of young children participating in GSRP including fewer students being retained in K-12 and more students graduating on time from high school – both which save taxpayer dollars.  And of course, evaluation efforts like these have helped economists like Michigan’s own Tim Bartik and others across the country make the case for the high return on investment that quality early learning programs provide.

Finally, expansion of early childhood programming has been on the forefront of early childhood advocates’, parents’, and providers’ agendas for the past several decades.  This is evidenced by GSRP’s inception in fiscal year 1986 and its fairly steady growth since then.  At the same time, advocates have been working tirelessly to build an early childhood system that includes high quality child care, evidence-based home visiting, targeted early intervention services, and other family supports to ensure that all Michigan children get a great start in life.  While there is still much work to be done to continue to build a comprehensive early childhood system, we must take a moment to applaud our successes and thank those who have made it possible for more of Michigan’s most challenged four-year-olds to access a high quality preschool program.  Thank you from Michigan’s Children.

-Mina Hong

Voice for Children, Youth and Families: Then, Now and Into the Future

As a lot of you know, Michigan’s Children has been around since 1993 – 20 years of work to move public policy in the best interest of children from cradle to career and their families.  Lots of victories over that time, including pioneering youth voice and youth engagement in public policy and working tirelessly for two decades to help build the collaborative early childhood successes we see today.  Unfortunately, we’ve seen a few setbacks as well including the organizational challenges over the past year that led us to assess our purpose, unique value and support from partners and funders.

Capacity for the assessment has been supported by funders, and the heavy lifting has been done through the expert guidance of some of the best thinkers around the state. During several months of research, analysis and discussion, we found that Michigan’s Children is unique and needed within Michigan’s policy advocacy landscape. So, instead of packing up, we are reorganizing and refocusing our work so that we are giving our supporters the best investment we can in policy advocacy activities.

Things are changing though.  We are, in fact, packing up but only to move our offices to shared space with Michigan Association of United Ways, our long-term and valued state-level advocacy partner – continuing to strengthen all of our work. And, of course, we’ll continue to build and strengthen partnerships with other great advocacy work going on in our state.

So, what’s next?  As you know, there is no shortage of urgent policy work in Michigan.  Our staff is small but smart, and we have continued to advocate for better public policy for kids and families through this time of reflection and restructuring.  Our mission to be a trusted, independent voice working to reduce equity gaps in child outcomes from cradle to career through policy change remains as consistent as our commitment to being an independent voice for children present in policy decision-making.

We know that this is no time for Michigan’s Children to slow down or to turn our backs on the issues facing our state’s children, youth and families – the challenges are still too great.

I have been honored to help shepherd the organization through the last year, and will be intimately involved as we move into our next 20 years.  As we all know, the well-being of our children, youth and families is critical to the well-being of Michigan.  I look forward to working with you!

-Michele Corey

Our Work Doesn’t Stop After Star Power

Earlier this week, nearly 2,000 adults and children gathered in the Capitol lawn in Lansing to promote early childhood education.  There were just as many little ones as there were adults engaging in the festivities –getting their faces painted, doing the chicken dance, and meeting with legislators.  The hundreds of red t-shirts on adults and kids alike was a great visual reminder to legislators who stopped by the event or just walked in and out of the Capitol that lots of people care about early childhood issues in Michigan.  It was a great display of the momentum behind early childhood that has been building in this state over the past several decades.  And clearly, policymakers are getting the message with an historic increase in funding for the Great Start Readiness Preschool Program anticipated in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

Star Power represented different steps of our collective advocacy strategy to strengthen public policies on behalf of Michigan’s youngest residents.  For folks who were entering into the advocacy arena for the first time, it’s a perfect first step.  Being with fellow parents, children, providers, and early childhood advocates takes a bit of the pressure off from meeting legislators for the first time.  And the first and best step towards becoming a strong advocate is to build a relationship with those who represent you.

For some attendees, it provided a chance to reconnect with legislators who they already had long-standing relationships with.  Continuing to maintain that strong relationship is just as important as building it in the first place.  And for those who already had long-standing relationships with legislators, they used the opportunity to get insight on what’s at play in current budget negotiations and strategies to use with key legislators.

There are many more steps to be taken.  While the informal nature of Star Power made it challenging for folks to make those difficult asks to key decision-makers, it provided a great opportunity to connect with legislators and to engage in policy advocacy.  However, the work doesn’t stop after Star Power.  While the budget process feels like a short several months, budget-making and policy advocacy happens year-round (learn more about this in our Budget Basics fact sheet on the budget process.) Building a relationship with the elected officials who represent you and educating them on the issues that matter to you, your children, and your community by inviting them to visit local programs in their district; having children and families benefiting from those programs speak to legislators in their districts (like at legislators’ coffee hours); continuing to reinforce the importance of these programs, policies, and public funding all year long; and thanking them for their successes are also part of the advocacy process.  Our jobs don’t stop when we get back on the bus to head home after Star Power.

If you participated in Star Power, I thank you for your participation.  And, I hope that you’ll follow-up with your legislators about the importance of specific budget issues that still need to be decided.  Learn more about what’s still at play in the fiscal year 2014 budget in our latest Budget Basics publication.

-Mina Hong

Is Equity Still on the Table?

At the beginning of the current budget process, we laid out some of our expectations for the Governor and Legislators to help guide their deliberations.  We’ve shared those expectations through the last four months of conversation.  Now, here we are at the homestretch and the part of the budget process that is often most frustrating.

We adjust our understanding of how much money we have to spend.  Revenue estimating happened this week, and the news is good – nearly ½ a billion dollars more in the state’s coffers are predicted for the state’s fiscal year beginning this October.

Some priorities have already been decided – agreed on by members of the Michigan House and Senate.  The Governor is the only remaining player for those decisions, since he is still able to cut anything from the budget that he’d like at this point (though he can’t ADD anything that he’d like), with very little chance of enough Legislators banning together (they need a full 2/3 of the group) to over-ride his veto.

Some of the decisions already made will negatively impact equity.  There was again no acknowledgement of the need for stronger programs that support the very poorest families and children in our state to offset a decade of cuts and a decade of economic difficulty.  Specifically, we’ve retained the devastating cut to the state Earned Income Tax Credit; and despite evidence of their current inadequacy to serve everyone who needs them at a level that assists, failed to increase the state’s subsidy or quality in the child care program and removed further infrastructure from the Family Independence Program.

A small (VERY small) group of people get to hash out the state’s remaining priorities – those where there is still some disagreement about funding levels and program content.  There is quite a bit left to decide that impacts equity, including:

  1. Health promotion programs.  There is some disagreement about expanding support for several initiatives designed to prevent further problems and costs for the state’s children, youth and families, including:  infant mortality reduction, lead abatement programs, the Healthy Kids Dental Program, Mental Health Innovations, and many public health programs designed to improve health outcomes through the Health and Wellness Initiative.
  2. Pre-school expansion.  The good news=everybody wants to expand the Great Start Readiness Program – Michigan’s 4 year-old preschool program.  The devil is in the details, and several of those details have yet to be worked out.  Do we change the group who is eligible to this program in ways that serve the most challenged families?  Do we increase the amount that we pay providers for the program or require a higher level of quality so that they can continue to build the best classrooms for young children?
  3. Support for the most struggling learners.  With so much discussion about education reform, there is little in this budget to support proven strategies promoting educational equity.  But, there are a few.  The Senate included a very small pilot program serving foster kids over age 18 in the city of Detroit to help them reach a high school credential; and they included what they call a “placeholder” – no $$, but ensuring some conversation about possible support to build and strengthen school-community partnerships, a proven equity strategy.  The Governor and the House maintained some funding and language around what they term “best practice grants” for schools.  Some of these practices can improve the outcomes for the most challenged young people – dual enrollment and online or blended learning opportunities, and expanded physical and health education.  Districts around the state should be encouraged (and funded) to utilize them to build equity in their outcomes.

In a bit of a category by itself is health access expansion.  The Governor’s suggestion that we take advantage of new federal resources to expand Medicaid coverage to extremely poor adults, including parents and young people who are or will soon be parents, has not been supported by the Legislature so far.   There are a couple of avenues still open for that conversation, but it is definitely not a sure thing at this point.

It is still important to talk to your legislators and have them talk to their colleagues about these and other critical issues.  Improved revenue projections should translate into investment decisions that improve equity in our state.  And there is no time like the present to talk with them about the priorities that you expect for the next budget year.  No rest for the advocate!

Check out our latest Budget Basics publication on how the different budget proposals will impact equity.

-Michele Corey

Secretary Duncan, You Missed An Awesome Opportunity

Monday afternoon, early childhood advocates and fans filled a room at the Perry Preschool in Ypsilanti to hear from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan discuss President Obama’s Early Learning Proposal, Governor Rick Snyder on his efforts to expand preschool, and other experts on the value of early childhood education.  While Washtenaw County residents made-up a significant portion of the folks in the room, early childhood advocates from Detroit, Lansing and other communities also were in attendance to learn more about what Secretary Duncan had to say about the President’s historic effort to expand early learning opportunities across the prenatal through age five spectrum.

While the excitement around preschool is much deserved and grounded in solid research, I can’t help but feel that Secretary Duncan missed an opportunity to promote the comprehensive nature of the President’s Early Learning Plan.  For starters, the President’s plan doesn’t focus purely on four-year-old preschool, but rather encompasses the entire early learning experiences that are needed prenatally through age five.  Specifically, Obama’s plan calls for investments to expand evidence-based voluntary home visiting programs that support pregnant women and families with infants and toddlers, investments in high quality Early Head Start – Child Care partnerships that serve young children from birth through age three, high quality preschool for four-year-olds, and full-day kindergarten for five-year-olds.  This is what a comprehensive early learning plan looks like.  Unfortunately, much of the conversation yesterday revolved around preschool with only one mention to home visiting.

When Secretary Duncan was sitting next to Governor Snyder, I wish he had emphasized these other critical components to the early learning plan.  Preschool is a critical component and one that we know helps reduce disparities in school readiness.  We also know that for the children and families who are struggling the most in Michigan, more comprehensive services beginning prenatally that connect to a high quality preschool program ensures that more children will be better prepared for kindergarten.

And while we’re at it, there was quite a bit of discussion about universal preschool, with talk by Washtenaw residents who volunteered to pilot a universal preschool model in their county.  I would argue that this is antithetical to the early childhood system, which was created to serve the most challenged children and families.  In fact, all of the research supporting the return on investment for high quality early learning experiences is based on programs that serve very low-income children whose families often faced multiple challenges.  Rather than jumping to four-year-old preschool for all children, Michigan should first build a comprehensive early childhood system similar to the President’s proposal so that more kids are ready to succeed at kindergarten and beyond.  In Michigan, we need to expand access to voluntary home visiting and other services prenatally through age three, bolster our child care system (which is one of the worst in the nation), at the same time that we expand access to preschool for low-income children.   This is how we prevent the school readiness gap, prevent the achievement gap that we see in K-12, and ensure that we get the greatest return on our taxpayers’ investment – not by providing preschool for all children.

As Secretary Duncan continues to travel the country to promote Obama’s Early Learning Proposal, I would urge him not to shy away from discussing the details of the President’s plan.  He had a great opportunity this week in a room full of early childhood advocates who understand that the early childhood system doesn’t begin with preschool – he can help us move the public discourse towards a more comprehensive early childhood system.

-Mina Hong

Medicaid Expansion Matters to Michigan Children

Governor Rick Snyder made a huge step in a healthier direction for the state when he proposed to expand Medicaid access to Michigan residents by taking advantage of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Under the ACA, states can choose to expand Medicaid to uninsured individuals living at 133% of the federal poverty level (FPL) or below, $31,322 for a family of four.  This expansion would not cover additional children under the age of 19 since they are already covered by Medicaid or MIChild up to 200% FPL.  However, it would have a significant positive impact on the well-being of Michigan children from cradle to career.

One major group of young people who will benefit from the Medicaid expansion is young adults – young people between the ages of 19 and 24 would make-up one-quarter of the individuals covered by the expansion.  There are many young adults who work beyond the traditional four years toward completing their high school diplomas – 18% of low-income students in Michigan utilize a 5th or 6th year of high school to graduate, and are unlikely to have access to workplace health insurance during this time.  Expanding Medicaid will allow young adults to continue to work towards their high school credential while having access to affordable health care and can continue to have access to health care as they transition into the workforce, expanding those options.

Additionally, many young adults in the 19 to 24 age range are also parents of young children.  Medicaid expansion would improve more young parents’ health and subsequently their ability to keep consistent employment and provide for their children.  Currently, the Michigan Medicaid program covers parents below 50% FPL, leaving many low-income parents without access to care.  Yet studies show that insured children with insured parents are more likely to receive check-ups and other health care than insured children with uninsured parents.  And for those young adults without children, having access to health insurance means access to family planning services to plan for their futures and behavioral health services to assist them in their success.  This includes planning for future pregnancies and ensuring that they are healthy before becoming pregnant so that they can have healthier pregnancies and healthier babies.  In a nutshell, expanding access to health insurance for parents and young adults leads to better health outcomes for Michigan families.

So what’s the status of Medicaid expansion in Michigan?  Neither the House nor Senate has included this expansion in their budget proposals for fiscal year 2015.  However, the Senate Appropriations Committee is continuing to discuss the possibility of including Medicaid expansion in their version of the Department of Community Health budget bill before they pass it out of committee.  Now is the time to reach out to the Senate Appropriations Committee members about the importance of Medicaid expansion for you, your children, your family, and your community.

Learn more about Medicaid expansion and what it means for Michigan children in our Budget Basics fact sheet.

-Mina Hong

Child Abuse Prevention Month ≈ Month of the Young Child

This month, child advocates across the country are promoting awareness around two very important issues.  April marks the national Child Abuse Prevention Month and the Month of the Young Child.  Coincidentally, these two topics have a lot of overlap since young children are more likely to be victims of abuse or neglect than older children, particularly infants.  In fact, almost 5,000 Michigan babies were determined to be victims of maltreatment in 2011 according to the latest Michigan Kids Count Data Book.  And unfortunately in Michigan, child maltreatment has been on the rise since 2005, mainly through the rise of neglect cases.  This is directly correlated to Michigan’s rising child poverty rates as evidenced by data – young children under the age of five who are receiving food assistance has also been on the rise from 24 percent in 2005 to 37 percent in 2011.

Unfortunately in Michigan, much of this rise in child maltreatment has been the result of the state’s disinvestment in family support programs.  Ensuring that families have the supports they need to provide a safe, healthy, and nurturing home environment is a strategy that improves outcomes for children, particularly those most challenged by their circumstances.  However insufficient access to basic needs like adequate employment, housing, food, clothing, and health care have resulted in unacceptable disparities in family and child well-being that continue to grow over a child’s life, including child maltreatment.

The good news is that the best time to prevent child maltreatment is to target families with young children.  Child maltreatment typically results from parents who struggle to adequately provide for their children physically, mentally, developmentally, and emotionally.  Supports like home visiting programs and other child abuse prevention programs give parents the tools they need to provide a nurturing and safe home environment to be their child’s first and best teacher while saving taxpayer dollars.  But as a state, we have struggled to provide these critical supports.  While funding to comply with the Children’s Rights Settlement has increased support to foster care and child protective services, funding to support child abuse/neglect prevention has not kept pace.  At the same time, Michigan has put additional stress on the lowest-income families with stricter lifetime limits to the Family Independence cash assistance program, reductions in the Earned Income Tax Credit, almost complete elimination of the clothing allowance for Michigan’s poorest children, and stricter eligibility requirements to access the Food Assistance Program.  Pulling out critical safety net programs from under Michigan’s most challenged families has a detrimental impact on the well-being of young children and increases the already unacceptable disparities in child outcomes.  Reversing some of the damaging changes to basic needs programs while expanding access to child abuse prevention programs are essential to ensure that all children are safe, healthy, and ready to succeed in school and life.

As part of Child Abuse Prevention Month, the Michigan Children Trust Fund is hosting its annual Prevention Awareness Day on Tuesday, April 16th on the Michigan Capitol Steps.  This event is a time to recognize Child Abuse Prevention Month and honor all the children and families in our state.  It’s also a great time for child welfare advocates across the state to talk to legislators about the importance of prevention programs and basic needs programs and how they benefit your family and your community.  As legislators negotiate the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year, hearing about the immediate family and child benefits as well as the long-term savings to the state that child abuse prevention programs provide is critical.  Equally important for legislators to hear about are the detrimental child outcomes that result from family stressors related to income insecurity, inadequate health care, and the like.  Will you take part in Prevention Awareness Day activities on behalf of Michigan’s most vulnerable children?

More information about Prevention Awareness Day is available on the Children’s Trust Fund website.

-Mina Hong

Let’s Learn from President Obama’s Early Learning Plan

Tomorrow, President Obama is expected to reveal his budget recommendation for federal fiscal year 2014, which begins October 1, 2013 and ends September 30, 2014.  With his budget proposal is expected more details on his early education plan – a plan that early childhood advocates have been touting since his State of the Union Address in February.  The details that we do know about his early childhood plan include:

  • a new federal-state partnership to expand prek to all middle- and low-income four-year-olds,
  • an Early Head Start–child care partnership to expand access to early learning for children before four-years of age, and
  • expanding evidence-based, voluntary home visiting programs.

While most folks know that the Congressional divide makes it difficult for President Obama’s early childhood plan to gain any real traction, there is some real learning that states can take away from his plan.

First, to get all children school-ready, efforts must begin before kindergarten and even before preschool.  The President has laid out a clear path that not only addresses expansion of preschool for four-year-olds but also a plan that support the nation’s youngest learners – children prenatally through age three.  This is evidenced by his support to expand home visiting and programs targeting infants and toddlers through Early Head Start and high quality child care.  Here in Michigan, we’ve made great strides towards expanding preschool for four-year-olds at-risk of being underprepared for kindergarten but have struggled to keep our other early learning programs up to par.  While we’ve made progress by requiring all state funding to support only evidence-based home visiting programs, these programs continue to serve only a small fraction of all eligible families.  And our child care program continues to be one of the worst among the Great Lakes states and in the nation.  To see maximum benefits from the state’s efforts to expand the Great Start Readiness preschool program, increasing access to other high quality early learning programs before four-years of age is critical.

Additionally, President Obama’s early learning plan has been promoted by both U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.  This inter-departmental coordination and partnership to move the dime on children’s issues is a huge step in the right direction.  As Secretary Duncan put it, “it’s not too often that you find two government departments with overlapping responsibilities trying to work together hand-in-hand.” Luckily in Michigan, we are perfectly set-up to work across departments to tackle the multiple issues that children and families face.  First, Michigan has the Michigan Department of Education – Office of Great Start whose goals don’t solely focus on educational outcomes but also health and development, since these are critical components to ensure that children can succeed in school.  Additionally, Governor Snyder created the “People Executive Group” to coordinate people issues across state departments including the Michigan Department of Community Health, Department of Human Services, Department of Education, and Department of Civil Rights.  Both of these entities provide avenues to increase inter-departmental coordination and partnership to realize feasible strategies to address Michigan’s unacceptable outcomes for the most challenged children – children of color and children from low-income families.  We know that one sector or one department alone can’t turn the tide for children and families nor should they be solely responsible for doing so.  This type of coordination across education, health and human services is already happening in some local communities in Michigan, but state-level leadership to coordinate across departments can set an example for communities across the state.

On Wednesday, I look forward to hearing more about President Obama’s budget plans to support early learning, and hope that inter-departmental coordination will continue to be a part of his early learning plan.  Perhaps Michigan can take a cue from the federal government and follow in their footsteps.

Learn more about President Obama’s early learning plan on the Michigan Sandbox Party website.

-Mina Hong

Authority and Evidence

Last week, the Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill to expand the Educational Achievement Authority beyond the city of Detroit.  This is the most recent of a long line of conversations that educators, legislators and others have had over the years trying to build a path for struggling students, schools and communities to success.

Turning around the educational circumstances of our state does require that we focus some attention on the worst performers.  It is important that we do put additional resources, time and attention to those with the farthest to go – that is what it takes to improve equity in outcomes.  It is also important that we make sure that our efforts are steeped in what the research tells us will improve the educational circumstances of young people in our state.

Will shifts in who controls the decision-making for these students, schools and communities make a difference?  Perhaps.  Will shifts in control absent of other investment and strategy make a lasting difference?  Not on your life.  At the same time that the EAA conversation has been going on, we are facing more than a decade of state disinvestment and a failure to compensate for some particularly disastrous disinvestment from the federal government.  While philanthropic investment is certainly a critical piece, there is no consistent community opportunity to raise funds to compensate for lost public sector resource.

As the Senate takes up this legislation, we urge them to consider the following:

We know that young people face barriers to educational success that one system alone can’t solve – not the education system alone, not communities alone, and certainly not individual school buildings alone.  The Senate could include more direction about how resources to support extended learning, school-based health, positive behavior, and other services that have proven to increase student success would be targeted toward all schools facing restructuring demands.

Current actions that have diminished services for at-risk young people through cuts in the state budget are counter-productive to meaningful reform.  Disinvestment in the very communities the EAA legislation is attempting to serve does not promote innovation, partnership and reform.  Evidence-based support programs will need to be expanded in order to see real, sustainable improvement in school success for those most challenged schools, communities and young people.

Legislators can’t decouple the EAA conversation with the budget discussions in the Capitol over the next several months.  The path to success for the lowest performing students, schools and communities is the same as it has always been:  invest in proven strategies from cradle to career.

It is likely that the Senate Education Committee will take up this legislation quickly after returning from spring break.  Contact your Senators and let them know what you know to be true to increase the success of kids and schools; let them know that there are successful programs around the state that are assisting in this effort already and that those programs need to be available to more struggling young people and their parents.

At the same time, the Legislature continues to debate funding levels for critical programs that support educational success.  Those programs exist within the School Aid and Department of Education budgets, but they also exist within human services, health, workforce and higher education.  Let your Senators and Representatives know that without other investment, the EAA will not be able to show the kind of gains necessary for our state.

Learn more about the EAA legislation and what’s left undone in our latest Issues for Michigan’s Children publication.  To keep posted on the state budget process, visit our Budget Basics library.

-Michele Corey

Steps Forward, Steps Backward on Michigan’s Responsibility

As we debate public responsibility for many things, there cannot be any argument about our public responsibility for the children who we have removed from their families and placed in the care of the state.  In 2008, a Federal court oversaw a settlement agreement between the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) and a national children’s rights group who asserted that we were not fulfilling our end of this bargain with children and families involved in our child protective services system.  This month, the sixth settlement progress report was released, assessing efforts made over the first six months of 2012.

We need to commend DHS for progress made, as cited in the federal monitors’ report:

  • Increased placements with relative guardians.  Under pressure to improve our record for permanent placements for children and youth removed from their families, DHS has stepped up their use of guardianship.  In fact, 70% of the children permanently placed out of foster care were placed under guardianship with relatives.  We know from research that when kids are removed, placement with relatives is generally less traumatic and more successful than placement with non-relatives.
  • Supporting youth “aging out” of foster care:   Continuing earlier practice, DHS committed to maintaining Medicaid coverage to youth after leaving foster care as independent – over 97% of the eligible youth were covered after their foster care case was terminated.  In addition, Michigan Youth Opportunity Initiative (MYOI) programs continue to operate in counties around the state, funded and supported by the Jim Casey Foundation and other partners.  Though MYOI results in the three counties reviewed by the monitors were mixed, efforts to coordinate services and increase skill sets for older foster youth are essential.  The work of these initiatives is to provide information, training and supportive services related to education, employment, housing, physical and mental health, permanency, and social and community engagement.  Though MYOI results in the three counties were mixed, efforts to coordinate services and increase skill sets for older foster youth are essential.

Unfortunately, monitors noted that Michigan did not improve on the following crucial pieces:

  • Timeliness of reunification.   Often the best option for kids is placement back into the family after services are provided.  Michigan fell behind other states when it came to timeliness of reunification with the family following removal from home.
  • Length of stay in foster care.  Michigan kids stay an average of 11 months in foster care, compared to the national average of less than 8 months.
  • Opportunities for contact.  For children in foster care, there are few elements more critical than visits between caseworker and child, caseworker and parent, and child and their parents.  Michigan failed to meet agreed upon standards pertaining to frequency of these visits.
  • Availability of out-of-home placement options.  Michigan is lagging in licensing relative homes for placement, and is having difficulty meeting the standard of no more than three children placed in any single foster home.

The goal of the Department of Human Services, also demanded through the lawsuit settlement is to quickly connect families to services following a child’s removal to strengthen connections that result in either a child’s timely return home or safe placement as soon as possible.   Support for families must come from various community-based sources – sources whose support from state resources has been cut almost entirely over the last ten years.  In addition, the fact remains that the child welfare system continues to serve a disproportionate share of children from families living in poorer communities and from families of color.

According to the latest Kids Count in Michigan Databook, confirmed victims of child abuse or neglect rose by nearly 30% between 2005 and 2011, and over 80% of those cases involved neglect.  For families who struggle the most to provide a safe and healthy home environment for their children, the need for early prevention programs has never been more critical.  The lack of adequate funding for home visiting and other family support programming and behavioral health services for adults and children, as well as the dismantling of basic financial support programs like food, cash and child care assistance runs contrary to what is necessary to improve outcomes in the child welfare system.

Fueled by the lawsuit, private philanthropic resources, and good administrative decision-making, DHS has made positive steps towards improving child protection services; but without adequate funding, Michigan cannot ensure that all families have the supports they need to provide a safe and healthy home environment for their children.  The Governor did increase resource in his budget recommendation for DHS staffing, but did not increase investments in other areas of that budget.  The Legislature went on spring break without giving us a glimpse of what they are planning for DHS funding, but they have the opportunity when they return to promote investments that have proven track records in halting child maltreatment, particularly for those families most challenged by their circumstances.

To learn more about DHS’s progress towards improving the child welfare system, visit the DHS website.

To keep posted on the state budget process, see Michigan’s Children’s Budget Basics.

-William Long

William is the former Interim President & CEO of Michigan’s Children, former Executive Director of the Michigan Federation for Children & Families, and current Eaton County DHS Board member.

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