Monthly Archives January 2015

The State of Early Childhood

January 26, 2015 – Last week, Michigan residents got to hear two speeches from our political leaders – one from Governor Snyder with his State of the State Address, which was followed by President Obama’s State of the Union Address.  Families with young children should’ve heard opportunities in both of the men’s speeches as it relates to early literacy, service delivery, and better supporting families with young children through two-generation strategies.

In Governor Snyder’s address, I was pleased that he spent some time talking about Michigan’s challenges with third grade reading and how to best tackle this issue.  Instead of repeating last year’s punitive approach, he not only called for a commission of folks outside of state government to identify solutions to get more children reading proficiently, but he also mentioned that he would be recommending greater early childhood investments – beyond the Great Start Readiness preschool investment – to tackle the third grade reading issue with appropriate early interventions.  And if we know anything about the decades of research about early childhood and brain development and the emergence of the achievement gap in infancy, we know that early interventions should start at birth (or earlier) and focus on providing tools to parents to be their child’s first and best teacher – a two-generation approach to tackling literacy.  Given that our state’s revenues are down, I am glad to hear Governor Snyder continue to talk about supporting early learning and look forward to the details in his budget recommendations to be released on February 11th.

Additionally, Governor Snyder talked about merging the Departments of Community Health and Human Services.  I am sure that we will see ways to streamline efforts through this merger, and I hope that any cost-savings from service delivery is reinvested in two-generation approaches that simultaneously provide opportunities for young children to thrive while their parents get ahead in life.  We know that many families qualify for two-generation services provided by these departments that they cannot currently access due to insufficient state investment – this includes evidence-based home visiting, child abuse and neglect prevention services, family-focused mental health interventions, and other critical services that ensure young children are healthy, developmentally on-track, and that their families are on paths towards stability.  I hope we will see more of this type of holistic people-focused services coming out of the new department.

At the national level, we heard President Obama talk about a critical two-generation program in his State of the Union address.  He stated, “In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality child care more than ever.”  Child care is a key component to two-generation programming and without child care, we cannot expect parents who are trying to obtain a GED or complete a workforce training program to obtain family-supporting employment without child care assistance as they work towards family self-sufficiency and success.  Obama’s child care plan will require a big lift to get approval from Congress, and Michigan’s Children will work with our Congressional delegation to ensure this issue remains a priority; and at the same time, we will continue to fight for reforms to our state’s child care system to ensure that more low-income working families can access high-quality child care.

Hearing both our Governor and President talk about better supporting families is encouraging.  Both of them – whether intentionally or not – have identified clear ways to better support young children and their parents through two-generation strategies.  Michigan’s Children will continue to lift up examples of best practice that utilize two-generation approaches and will continue to advocate for good public policies – starting with the state budget next month – that best support parents and their children simultaneously.

-Mina Hong

How Can We Best Direct The Flowing River?

January 21, 2015 — Michigan families can be glad that the Governor talked so much last night in his 5th State of the State address about public resources helping individuals, rather than funding programs. Of course, this is what local service providers have been doing for a long time – often under very difficult circumstances – sorting out how to best address the multiple sets of challenges that children, youth and families face. We all know that treating single symptoms doesn’t actually provide opportunity. Service providers have been working in coalition and through collaboration to bring services together in ways that best serve families accessing them, so that the funding stream, eligibility criteria or administration aren’t apparent to the families themselves. But collaboration and coordination take time and resources to do well, and for service providers who have seen many cuts to their programs and often operate on a shoestring budget, they can prove difficult.

Michigan’s Children and others have advocated for years that public programs need to work better together, need to share data with one another, need to make things easier for organizations that know how to impact change in their communities and for the children, youth and families who are trying to move forward. Now, of course, as many people have said over the last 12 hours: the devil is in the details for the Governor’s proposals. It is clearly unnecessary to actually combine state departments or create commissions to make services work better for people, but if it these initiatives move Michigan closer to doing that, it will be a win for the most challenged among us.

Regardless of how things shake out with how public services are administered in Michigan, we will be doing what we can to help decision makers make investment decisions based on the following:

  1. What young people and families are saying about the barriers to their own success, and what they think might assist them.
  2. What research and evidence suggests about initiatives that work for children, youth and families in the most challenged circumstances.
  3. Consistent and sustainable availability of quality services throughout the state, regardless of the private economic or service infrastructure of individual communities.
  4. No gaps in services – making sure that there is seamless coordination across age groups, issue areas and eligibility criteria.

I have to admit that the “river of opportunity” image that the Governor used often in his address carries a connotation for me of a bunch of cool stuff flowing by children, youth and families that they can try to fish out, but not necessarily an intentional strategy to assess individual challenge, provide opportunities and evaluate the effectiveness of interventions.  We will work toward a “river of opportunity” with efficiencies that simplify access to holistic services for children, youth and families.  We will also work toward a river that transfers any costs-savings from those efficiencies to actual, high quality service delivery since we know that services for children, youth and families continues to fall far short of what is actually needed for all families to succeed.

In this Legislative session and beyond, Michigan’s Children continues to challenge the Governor and members of the Legislature to make sure that the budget that will be proposed next month and debated over the next several months includes resources adequate to build effective public programs that result in what we all want: generations of highly educated, skilled, creative children and young adults who will attract jobs, raise healthy families and support strong communities. Join us!

— Michele Corey

Get to know your lawmakers: Tell them you’re watching and that you care about kids and families

Jan. 14, 2015  – When I was a 19-year-old Michigan State University college student I was hired as an intern in a Detroit lawmaker’s legislative office. In my totally realistic teenage mindset I smartly arrived for duty expecting to help champion important, headline-making legislation. Instead, a wry office manager greeted me with a husky manila folder and thrusting it in my unwelcoming arms instructed me to start writing: congratulatory letters, condolences and appropriate replies that she would instruct me on in cases of specific constituent concerns. Pouring into that stack of intimate personal stories, that’s what I did — every Tuesday and Thursday – for an entire semester.

What I learned is that the daily bread of a legislative office is all about what people are experiencing back home. Their struggles and troubles, celebrations and milestones. That is what I learned from the man I worked for, a public servant who served for nearly four decades with distinction (before seniority-ending term limits) in the House and Senate. Over the course of those years, he demonstrated the critical nature of constituent services for getting to know what really matters to people in a personal and meaningful ways.

Today, one-third of Michigan’s incoming state Representatives and Senators are newbies in state government. Some may have local representative experience that put them in touch with the issues weighing closely on citizens’ minds; others come to Lansing because they won a campaign. Maybe they succeeded because they had a competitive edge, more fire in the belly, the right political leanings, or an ability to outspent, out-organize or out-perform the other guy.

Maybe you voted for him/her, maybe you didn’t. It doesn’t matter either way. Starting now is when all citizens should begin thinking about molding campaigners into the political servants we all need to shape public policies that give Michigan’s the children and families, especially those who have been under-served and under-represented, a stronger chance at a brighter future.

Our children won’t make it unless they get the education they deserve, a chance for a safe and healthy environment to live in, and at the most basic level, particularly important in a state where one-fourth of all babies are born into poverty, food and medical care to strengthen the body and spirit.

You can make a difference by telling your story and opening a line of communication with your representatives in Lansing today. Tell them what’s important in your community, what children and families need to be successful, what you’re observing about gaps in services and programs that do exist, how they can help to make things right. Write an email, send a letter, make a call. Believe that everyone has an important story to tell, an opinion of value. Make your voice heard for our children’s sake! Here are some tips for reaching out.

1.  Letters should be brief, kept to one page. Be respectful in tone.
2.  Introduce yourself in a few lines: I’m a veteran schoolteacher, a new mother/father of a child with special needs, a parent trying to make it off public assistance. Etc.
3.  Make your point. Are you advocating for a particular piece of legislation, or writing to detail a troubling issue perplexing your neighborhood, community, school. Spell it out. Make a case. Use arguments that have been thought out. Use details that highlight the issue’s relevancy to the home district.
4.  Before signing off, describe how you plan to follow-up and how and when the representative’s office can reach you.
5.  Make sure the communication is properly addressed. For a listing of Lansing lawmakers, see the House website and Senate website.

Politicians make it to public office because of vote totals. True public servants are remembered because they identify issues worth fighting for based on the experiences and needs of their constituents back home. Become an advocate for children and families and help shape the public debate. Get the conversation started. Reach out to your lawmakers today.

Teri Banas is the communications director for Michigan’s Children.

Meet Cainnear, the Newest Member of our Staff

January 12, 2015 – Hello! My name is Cainnear (pronounced Connor) Hogan, and I am beginning a year-long internship with Michigan’s Children.  In May, 2014, I received my Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Hope College in Holland, Michigan.  Currently, I am attending the University of Michigan School of Social Work where I will earn my Master of Social Work degree.  I am concentrating on social policy and evaluation within communities and social systems.  My current areas of interest include, but are not limited to: early childhood education, criminal justice, and women’s rights. I will work with Michigan’s Children until I graduate in December, 2015.  After graduation I plan to move to Washington D.C., or a state capital where I can work in the center of policy advocacy and reform.

Growing up I always knew I wanted a career that allowed me to help people.  I have an abiding dedication to social justice, ensuring equality for all people.  When I look at the world I see many problems in the way communities and organizations operate, and people hurting because of those problems.  I want to see a society where no one goes hungry, or worries about providing basic needs for self or family.  These beliefs and desires have led me to macro social work; and with my MSW degree I want to advocate for, and develop socially just policies that enhance the quality of life for all people.  Through engagement in policy advocacy and reform, I plan to pursue social justice for vulnerable populations.

I am thrilled to join the team at Michigan’s Children, helping to inform public policy in the best interest of children who experience challenges.  Policymakers have the power to make the big, impactful changes I want to see happen; and at Michigan’s Children I look forward to the opportunity to influence those policymakers’ decisions.  One of my many learning opportunities at Michigan’s Children will include an evaluation project in partnership with The Curtis Center Program Evaluation Group at The University of Michigan School of Social Work.  The project will examine the changes brought about through Michigan’s Children advocacy efforts, and help the organization identify the most effective strategies for its work.

I cannot wait to see what 2015 will bring for Michigan’s Children, and I am so excited to be a part of their incredible work.

– Cainnear Hogan

Michigan’s Children is proud to welcome intern Cainnear Hogan to our staff.  You will hear more from her throughout her year at Michigan’s Children, and can get in touch with her via email.

This New Year, Let’s Resolve to Improve the Lives of Michigan’s Children & Families

January 5, 2015 — In most ways, the future is written by the individual actions we take each day.

For more than 20 years, Michigan’s Children has consistently acted with one goal in mind: to make a positive difference for children and families. As a result, the policies we’ve researched and promoted were selected with the intent to create a brighter future for all children, especially those from low-income families, children of color, and children, youth and families shouldering other challenging circumstances.

With the start of a new year, we begin to look at the future with a fresh pair of eyes once again. As a child is born prematurely in a Detroit hospital, as an older teen ages out of foster care in Muskegon, as a Saginaw family struggles with mental health issues and economic self-sufficiency, and as a Northern Michigan community strives to re-examine ways to boost third grade reading, we’ll be looking at those issues too, but from the perspective of moving ahead public policies that have the best chance for helping children and families.

Won’t you join us in advancing public policies that give kids and families a fighting chance for success in life this year? Make the choice to keep informed and connected through our bulletins, blogs and reports, follow us on social media, help us bring the voices of youth and families to policymakers through KidSpeak, FamilySpeak and other opportunities, and answer our calls to action when it’s imperative to reach out to decision-makers. Each action matters.

Our public policy agenda is straightforward and detailed on our website under the caption, Policy Opportunities. But here in a nutshell is how we see the future getting better for children, from cradle to career, and their families, if Michigan invests more in its people:

Improving school readiness: It’s now a universal truth that success in school and life begins years before a child enters kindergarten. Scientists have shown that as much as 90 percent of a child’s intellectual and emotional wiring is set in early childhood. A healthy prenatal experience, support when there are developmental delays early in life, and high quality early care and education can make a huge difference in a child’s later school and life success. That’s why we fight every year for strong investments in services such as evidence-based home visiting, Early On early interventions, services that prevent child abuse and neglect, high quality child care and preschool and family supports as their children move toward third grade.

Ensuring safety at home: To grow and thrive, children physically and emotionally need to feel secure and supported in their homes and communities as they mature, move through school and reach adulthood. While Michigan’s poverty has shot up by 34 percent in recent recessionary times, child abuse and neglect cases sadly have risen too. The state can counter the negative impacts on children, however, by offering economic supports to help stabilize families and also offer support for behavioral healthcare when needed. Specifically, mental health services are needed for children in foster care and the juvenile justice system, where children have experienced high incidents of damaging abuse and neglect. We continually need to push for better investments in assessments and intervention, mental health and substance use/abuse, domestic violence prevention and treatments to quell the numbers of children entering both systems. Then as youngsters age out of foster care, transitional services are needed to help them get on their feet, earn a diploma, and find a post-secondary path that leads to self-sufficiency.

Improving college and career readiness: We know Michigan’s future is linked to all children getting ready for a post-secondary education, work and life. Bottom line: Without a high school diploma, today’s youth have little chance for a good outcome. In addition, we know that the achievement gap among poor children and children of color leaves too many of our youths without good prospects for success. Consistent support for integrated services that help students and their families focus on education; providing second and third chances for high school graduation for those who need extra time and different kinds of opportunities to succeed are essential to ensure more young people can obtain their high school credential. If Michigan is to have a strong future, we can’t leave any of our youth behind.

Supporting families: Because the well-being of children is inextricably tied to their parents, we strongly believe in the value of public policies that are based on two-generation strategies. Policies that take into account the needs of both children and parents include education and job training for parents so that they can better provide for their children and high-quality child care and education to help children thrive. Successful two-gen programs often include services such as evidence-based home visiting, Early On early intervention, adult and community post-secondary education, behavioral health services and connections to family and community resources.

Throughout the year expect to hear from us as we monitor Legislative and budget decisions and promote those that can make a positive difference for Michigan’s children and families. Better yet, join us as we promote a policy agenda that promises to do just that! Together we can make a difference.

— Matt Gillard

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