Monthly Archives September 2014

The Questions No One Else is Asking

September 29, 2014 – The comment that struck me the most at the first of our series of youth-led candidate forums last week in Kalamazoo was echoed by all five candidates in attendance: questions they were being asked by the young people that night had not been asked so far on their campaign trails. The candidates were excited about this, and commended the young people on their thoughtful and thorough articulation of the issues that concerned them most.

There is probably no race in the state that is having more public forums, debates and other opportunities to hear from the candidates than the 20th Michigan Senate District. All three candidates for that office were present at our forum at Mt. Zion Baptist Church last Thursday, as were the two major party candidates running for the 60th House District. All were incredible – articulate, respectful and generous with their limited time.

The reason that these questions were unique is because Michigan’s Children is working with local youth partners to both develop and ask the questions of candidates at our four forums around the state. In Kalamazoo, three groups of young people were involved: Jeter’s Leaders, Calling all Youth at Advocacy Services for Kids, and the newly formed Douglass Youth Advisory Council. These groups developed and prioritized a series of questions that they were interested in hearing the candidates articulate. Then a group of about a dozen of their young people stood up in front of the forum audience and put those questions to the candidates.

The reason we decided to conduct a series of youth-led forums during this election season was to remedy the fact that we don’t often hear candidates talking about issues that really matter to children, youth and families. Turns out, it did the trick. The young people asked questions about access to services, including behavioral and reproductive health; they asked about candidate plans to address high school dropout and high unemployment of young people and their families and their perspectives on basic needs programs that serve families when they are at their most vulnerable. They asked how young people could get more informed about how our government works and how if elected, how the candidates would get consistent and substantive feedback from young people before they made decisions. Each of our five candidates was given equal time to answer each question, and answer they did.

If you can, join us for one of the remaining three forums in Grand Rapids, Lansing and Mt. Clemens. Get more information about the forums themselves, the candidates and our partners on the Sandbox Party website. And don’t forget to attend candidate forums in your area, we have our own questions for candidates on our What’s At Stake page. The general election is only a few weeks away – take all the opportunities you can to hear about what your candidates for office are saying and if they aren’t talking about the issues most important to you, take the opportunity to ask.

– Michele Corey

A New Public Forum for Michigan’s Children

September 19, 2014 – For nearly two decades, Michigan’s Children has organized our trademark KidSpeak® forums in Lansing and around the state.  These KidSpeak® forums provide an opportunity for young people to speak before a Listening Panel of policymakers, community leaders, and other decision-makers on the issues they have struggled with and how programs and services have assisted them.  Michigan’s Children has purposefully recruited young people who have encountered particularly challenging circumstances whether it be young people who have dropped out of school, become teen parents, struggled in the foster care or juvenile justice systems, or faced other significant barriers to their success.  Their perspectives are critically important as children and youth continue to struggle in our state, particularly children and youth of color and from low-income families who face more barriers to succeed in school and in life.

Connecting the experiences of young people directly with policymakers has provided Michigan’s Children with firsthand knowledge of the challenges and opportunities that plays a key role in our policy priority setting.  In addition, linking powerful stories of young people directly with policymakers themselves has proven to be an effective advocacy strategy.  Young people have been the best messengers for key issues like foster care and educational success.  Their voices have changed the trajectory of policy conversations and have resulted in additional champions for youth-driven solutions in the Legislature, state departments and other policymaking bodies.

With the success of our KidSpeak® forums, Michigan’s Children is looking to expand these opportunities to also capture the voices of families with young children to ensure that public policies take a multi-generation approach to ensure that families can succeed.  As the importance of the early years continues to gain recognition, and as the educational attainment and opportunities facing parents and the impact that has on their children is well documented, policymakers must hear from families on how they can best be supported.  This year, for the first time, Michigan’s Children is organizing two FamilySpeak forums to do just that.  Modeled after our signature KidSpeak® forums, FamilySpeak will provide a venue for families who have struggled for a variety of reasons to speak before a listening panel of policymakers and decision-makers.  These FamilySpeak events will focus on two-generation strategies that take into account the needs of children and their parents to ensure that families can thrive.

Our first FamilySpeak forum will be on Monday, September 22nd at the Michigan Association for Community and Adult Education (MACAE) annual conference and will be held in partnership with MACAE and the Goodwill Industries of Southwestern Michigan.  This particular FamilySpeak will highlight an innovative program in Kalamazoo and Allegan Counties called the Life Guides Program, a program of Goodwill.  We are excited that this FamilySpeak will be showcasing this innovative, long-term program – modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone – that works to move low-income families to economic self-sufficiency.

Our second FamilySpeak forum will be on Monday, October 13th at the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI) annual conference in Detroit and will be held in partnership with NBCDI and their Detroit Chapter.  That FamilySpeak will highlight multiple two-generation programs that serve families – ranging from programs that focus on health needs, mental health needs, human service organizations, and others.

To learn more about the FamilySpeak events, feel free to email Mina Hong.

-Mina Hong

Join the #InvestInKids Twitter Rally Today

September 10, 2014 – I try to play the social media game but I honestly feel like I can’t keep up.  I’m just beginning to dabble in the use of #hashtags and still struggle to get my message across in 140 characters or less.  What can I say?  I’m a policy person… trying to get something down to one-page is hard enough!  But, I do recognize that social media can be an effective strategy to move public policy priorities.  And to that end, I urge you to fight any possible social media hesitations – or embrace your love for social media – and participate in today’s #InvestinKids Strong Start Coalition Twitter Campaign from 2-3pm or anytime today if you’re unavailable during that hour.  The purpose of the Twitter storm is to let members of Congress – and I would add our state legislators and candidates for public office – know that investing in young children is a top priority.

The Strong Start Coalition is focusing on expanding access to early childhood opportunities – an issue that Michigan’s Children is prioritizing this election season via the Sandbox Party.  With our state’s significant focus on preschool over the past two years, it’s now time to focus on our littlest Michigan residents.  We must expand funding for programs that serve young children prenatally through age three through a variety of evidence-based services including home visiting, early intervention for developmental delays, and high quality child care.  These are all parts of Michigan’s early childhood system – particularly Early On Early intervention – that have received significantly less attention than preschool.

Michigan’s Children is glad that the importance of home visiting has expanded over the past several years in Michigan, with some increases in state and federal funding for evidence-based home visiting services and through the Governor’s Partners for Success opportunity.  And, we’re glad that the need to increase access to high quality child care is being worked on by the Administration through Michigan’s Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant.  But I would argue that both of these parts of the early childhood system still have quite a ways to go to ensure access to all families who are eligible for these services.  At the same time, Early On continues to be left behind.  An Auditor General’s report that came out last year highlighted some significant challenges with the Early On system – many which are the result of historic underfunding of the Early On system for decades.  In a nutshell, opportunities for our youngest Michigan residents continue to fall far behind.

I hope you will join many other early childhood advocates across the nation today by participating in the #InvestinKids Twitter action.  In addition to targeting our members of Congress, please consider tailoring your message to candidates running for public office.

To learn more about Michigan’s Children’s election efforts, visit www.michigansandboxparty.org.

-Mina Hong

Starting School and Staying There

September 2, 2014 – Here we are, the day after Labor Day, with all eyes toward young people returning to school.  Now that they are back, we need to keep them there – making sure that they aren’t losing opportunity because of multiple absences, and making sure that they stick it out until high school graduation and beyond.

September is national Attendance Awareness Month and the noteworthy Attendance Works national organization released today a study about the impact of attendance, or lack of attendance, on educational success in Michigan and around the country, titled Absences Add Up: How Attendance Influences Student Success.  As the report authors discuss, and Michigan’s Children has discussed many times in our blogs and elsewhere, it has never before been so essential that we move all of our young people to educational success.  One of the barriers to doing this is when young people aren’t getting all of the learning opportunities that they could.  This happens during the summer, it happens during the 80 percent of waking hours that children and youth aren’t in school and it happens when they are absent.  Bottom line:  they miss out and have limited opportunity to catch up.

So, not surprisingly, what Absences Add Up reports is that in Michigan and around the country, your assessment scores have EVERYTHING to do with how often you are absent.  Being present in school matters to academic performance for each grade and subject studied, for every group of children and in every locality.  The report states that “in many cases, the students with more absences have skill levels one to two years below their peers. While students from low-income families are more likely to be chronically absent, the ill effects of missing too much school hold true for all socioeconomic groups.”

In Michigan, there was a 15 point difference in average math assessment scores between 4th graders with no absences in the past month and those who missed at 3 or more days.  Similar gaps are seen in 4th and 8th grade reading.  The largest gap in Michigan is the 23 point difference for 8th grade math.  I see the impact of the cumulative nature of math instruction with my own kids, which is clearly hampered by multiple absence.

What are the keys to keeping kids in school?  Ah, that is the complication.  There are many reasons why children and youth are absent from school, some of which are under the control of the school system and some that are not.  The State Board of Education and the Michigan Department of Human Services recently staffed a Truancy Task Force with the purpose of building a common definition for truancy that could be utilized across the state.  In the course of that discussion, what was also apparent is that there are as many reasons for absence as there are absences themselves and a myriad of ways that local school systems both report and deal with absence.  So if it is this complicated, what can be done?

  1. Support integrated services in schools.  When schools are able to connect families with other community resources, there are more chances to find and address the causes of school absence – be they related to physical and behavioral health issues, unstable housing, bullying or disengagement by parents or students.
  2. Support expanded learning opportunities.  There is ample evidence documenting the impact of quality afterschool and summer learning programs on in-school attendance.  When expanded learning opportunities are utilized to engage and re-engage young people in their learning, they are more likely to engage and re-engage with school as well.

As we’ve been saying over and over again, this election season gives all of us a platform to see what the candidates for office suggest we do to keep kids in school and learning.  When kids miss school, they miss opportunity.  They can’t afford it and neither can we.

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