Monthly Archives September 2015

Support the Caregivers to Support the Kids

September 30, 2015 – As you all know, Michigan’s Children has been bringing together the voices of the most challenged young people and policymakers for nearly 20 years through our signature KidSpeak® forums, and that work has changed the trajectory of policy conversations over those years. But children and youth don’t grow up on their own, they grow up in families, in schools and in communities – often many different ones if they are involved with our foster care system. Michigan is too often not the best parent to the young people who we have taken responsibility for, but there are a lot of caregivers who are working as hard as humanly possible and against multiple odds to try to do better for kids in foster care. We heard from about a dozen of those caregivers last week, and learned quite a bit about how we could do better.

Michigan’s Children; the Michigan Statewide Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Family Coalition; the Michigan Federation for Children and Families; the Michigan Kinship Coalition and the Kinship Care Resource Center were recently joined by nearly fifty local, state and federal decision makers at our latest FamilySpeak. We were joined by Congressional staff, by Michigan Legislators and their staff, by staff from the Michigan Departments of Health and Human Services and Education, and by staff from multiple private agencies and service providers wanting to hear more about how to better support the very challenged children, youth and families that they serve.

Eleven caregivers, including foster, adoptive and kinship parents, spoke about what had brought them into the system, how their expectations differed from their reality of parenting and outlined their specific challenges. And all made recommendations for changes in policies and programs to make the system work better for their families and others. They talked so eloquently and emotionally about how the young people they were helping to raise at times just need access to the same things that other kids need– early identification of problems so that they can be addressed promptly and avoid larger problems later on. Michigan’s Children was glad to hear this recommendation coming from caregivers as it aligns with our ongoing advocacy work on ensuring a variety of early childhood programs and services are accessible that maximize future opportunities for all kids, rather than expanding equity gaps.

And they also talked eloquently and even more emotionally about how the kids in their care, and they, needed more help than they currently receive. More understanding of the impact of trauma – for themselves, to be able to negotiate it better as parents and for the systems serving their children, so that they are better served in their homes, in their schools and in their communities. More access to necessary services – better and early assessment of what is needed immediately, and consistent access to those services. They spoke a lot about how services were not available right away, or weren’t available in a way that worked for the young people they were parenting – many of whom will need supports like child care well beyond the traditional age of 12, and supports of all kinds well into adulthood, beyond 18 for sure.

They also talked about themselves – how they are workers and citizens and how both of those roles are at times compromised because of a lack of available support or understanding on the part of employers and workers in the systems. And some caregivers – particularly those family members who are caring for their grandchildren, their nieces and nephews – are often left out of access to critical services that their children need as much as others who have come into the child welfare system through other ways. In addition, it is clear that once children and youth have been adopted, there are far fewer services available to families, which also needs to be remedied.

Michigan’s Children is working with policymakers to see the connections between what we hear from young people in the system, and what we hear from their caregivers. So much of what young people experience as instability in their world and lack of services toward their eventual independence and adult success stems from exactly the same issues that caregivers articulate as lack of access to services and support so they can best care for their children.

We thank all of the amazing young people and parents who have taken the time to talk with us and to policymakers about their very personal experiences so that we can make sure that the state is taking its job as primary caregiver of children and youth in foster care as seriously as is required. Michigan needs to be the best parent to the children, youth and families in our care and we need to adequately support those who are helping with that effort.

– Michele Corey

September is a Time to Tackle Root Causes of School Absenteeism

September 10, 2015 – While working as a student teacher in a local high school some years ago, I was introduced to the mind-numbing business of taking attendance before each class hour. The routine process, involving some quick key board clicks on a digital report across 156 student names and six class hours, wasn’t itself time-consuming except for assembling lesson materials that needed to be set aside for absent students each day. Doing so gave them and their families some sense of what took place in the classroom that day. But in reality, it didn’t entirely replicate the learning process, the active exchange of questions, discussions, ideas and those wonderful unexpected ah-ha moments that come from the daily teacher-student experience. And not everyone was able to take advantage of take-home material.

Even though I frequently shared the importance of keeping up by coming to class with the teens and parents I worked with, I knew the problems some kids faced attending regularly were varied and complicated by their personal challenges. Chronic asthma; sick parents at home; early morning jobs teens took to support their families; struggles with mental illness and family trauma. Rarely could skipping school be explained by teen obstinacy alone. But absences did cause them to struggle in school and ultimately put roadblocks to their post secondary schooling and career training. Now, new information from Attendance Works and the Healthy Schools Campaign this month gives a deeper look into chronic school absences – an issue gaining priority in education as a national crisis.

Released this September during Attendance Awareness Month, the report, “Mapping the Early Attendance Gap: Charting a Course for Student Success,” spotlights a problem bigger than many people would expect with 7.5 million students missing nearly a month of school a year. It’s a problem that can be tracked to preschool and kindergarten whose absentee rates are nearly as high as teen’s rates, according to the report. The life-long consequences are serious, too. Children who are repeatedly absent in kindergarten and first grade are less likely to read proficiency by third grade. In middle school, students with chronic absences are more likely to drop out in high school. School testing and performance measures are negatively impacted, resulting in limited opportunities for success as students move on.

Using survey data taken during national testing of 4th and 8th graders, the report also pinpoints who is missing school, and in Michigan it doesn’t bode well for children of color, children with disabilities and children from low-income families. Once again, a national educational issue is hitting our vulnerable populations hardest and the numbers are compelling.

  1. The report found 32 percent of Michigan’s African-American 4th graders missed three or more days in a given month compared to 22 percent nationally. The rate was the same for Michigan 8th graders, 32 percent, compared to 23 percent across the country.
  2. Michigan’s Hispanic children also missed more school than the national average: In 4th grade, the Michigan rate was 28 percent compared to 21 percent nationally and in 8th grade, 26 percent compared to 22 percent.
  3. And Michigan children with disabilities also missed more school then peers nationally: 31 versus 25 percent in 4th grade, and 34 vs. 28 percent among 8th graders.

Attendance and truancy have gotten attention from political leaders in Michigan in recent years. Gov. Snyder’s Pathways to Potential program launched in 2012 as a means to reduce truancy by co-locating Department of Health and Human Services staff in schools. Some communities have developed successful strategies that are seeing progress in attendance, like the Kent School Services Network and others. Michigan needs to learn from success and build whole-community approaches statewide.

The State Board of Education and School Superintendent Brian Whiston are taking a serious look at what’s needed to make Michigan a top 10 state in education. Addressing the causes of school absenteeism should be a part of those conversations as we set our sights on helping all kids learn and achieve in Michigan.

– Teri Banas is a communications consultant working for Michigan’s Children.

Meet Elena, the Newest Member of our Staff

September 9th, 2015- Hello! My name is Elena Brennan and I am Michigan’s Children newest M.S.W. intern. I am so excited to join the team here at Michigan’s Children, as I am eager to immerse myself in public policy issues surrounding children, education, and advocacy work towards social justice. In May of 2014, I earned my B.A. in Psychology at Michigan State University and I bring knowledge and experiences surrounding various social systems, specifically those concerning youth and families from a policy and community based level. I will be graduating with my M.S.W. from Michigan State in the spring of 2016 and look forward to working with Michigan’s Children on the final portion of my graduate journey.

I have been interested in human development, specifically the relationship between the individual and their environment early on in my education. In 2012, I was involved in the Adolescent Diversion Program (ADP) at Michigan State, an intensive two-semester internship working with adjudicated youth in Ingham County’s court system, where I found myself working with an extremely vulnerable population. This spurred my interest in program development, mentoring, policy and advocacy work, and analyzing the criminal justice system within the United States. I then went on to direct a 5-month program in 2014-2015 called Youth Advancement Through Athletics. This multi-faceted youth development program was designed to improve the lives of Lansing youth through mentorship, athletics, community outreach, and career-driven activities. My involvement directing the program sparked my interest in teaching higher education courses and solidified my interest in the Organizational Community Leadership (OCL) route of my graduate studies, allowing me to pursue more of my passions through organizations like Michigan’s Children!

I have previously interned at the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency as well as participated in an international study abroad in Finland focusing on social service delivery. This recent trip deepened my passion and love for the field of social work, as I had the opportunity to study in a country with one of the most progressive social systems in the world. I hope to pursue more international studies in the future, as there is much more to learn outside of the United States.

For the next eight months you will find me at Michigan’s Children researching, writing, and advocating for the children of our state between cups of hot coffee.

– Elena Brennan

Michigan’s Children is proud to welcome intern Elena Brennan 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

 

 

Helping vulnerable children early is key to closing achievement gaps

September 9, 2015 – No longer a top tier state for education, Michigan today has larger gaps in student outcomes among its diverse populations than many other states, jettisoning our state to 37th in the nation according to the National Kids Count project. These learning gaps start early and persist and grow throughout educational careers without appropriate intervention and support, threatening our state’s future and the futures of thousands of our children.

New State School Superintendent Brian Whiston has begun his tenure focused on asking groups (many with competing interests) to talk with the State Board of Education about fixing that, and restoring Michigan to a top 10 state in education within 10 years.

At Michigan’s Children, we believe the answers lie in shrinking these achievement gaps and reducing student disparities through known evidence and practices that works best for children, youth and families, and their schools and communities. Positive change can happen even as state decision makers face unique pressures to fund costly road fixes while determining investments in the most struggling schools and districts.

We shared our recommendations that support students within and beyond the classroom to assist with their eventual success in a presentation to State Board of Education and School Superintendent Brian Whiston this week, outlining a strategy that includes several specific areas for attention.

Start early. Education is a lifelong process beginning at birth with differences among children becoming evident as early as 9 months. By 6th grade, children from low-income families have 6,000 fewer hours of learning than their peers due to fewer opportunities for early, consistent and expanded learning. The education system must continue to focus early to head off future problems by increasing parent coaching and supports through voluntary home visiting options, building state investment and maximize federal investment in Early On, and continuing to improve our child care subsidy system.

Because children succeed when their parents do well, the education system must support parents’ role in children’s learning. The evidence on this is clear, particularly for early literacy skills and retention in the early grades. Today, four out of 10 Michigan schoolchildren aren’t reading proficiently by third grade, and the rates are much higher for children of color. The education system must expand support to help parents reach their educational and career goals through investments in Adult Education, workforce supports and family literacy options, and promote effective two-generation programming where families can learn together.

Trauma from family stress, mental and behavioral health issues, violence and loss, abuse or other social or emotional issues can undermine a child’s ability to learn and grow academically. Yet, we don’t fully recognize its impact on learning gaps and educational achievement in our policy and practice. The education system must implement good practices in schools and provide educators with the necessary tools to deal with symptoms of student and family trauma. Improving connections with community partners who can help is vital.

When schools are able to unite families with other community resources, there are more chances to find and address the causes of school absence, behavioral issues and academic problems be they caused by health issues, unstable housing, bullying or disengagement by parents or students. There is ample evidence that after-school and summer learning programs help to integrating community services for students and families, and support their academic progress by getting students motivated and engaged with their learning, helping them get caught up when they get behind and keeping them on a successful trajectory.

Finally, there is no one-size-fits-all for student success. Because children are inherently different and come with an array of challenges, young people need multiple pathways to success beyond the traditional, arbitrary four years of high school. Therefore, we must invest in second-, third- and fourth-chance programs for high school completion. In addition, we must prevent unnecessary expulsions that leave too many students adrift from college and career by promoting school attendance and adjusting school discipline policies.

It is clear that the Superintendent and School Board are uniquely positioned to provide needed robust leadership for this difficult work by taking into account the expertise of many sectors of work, including family and community resources. To do so recognizes a universal truth: A child’s ability to succeed in school and life relies on multiple factors, most that aren’t exclusive to what happens inside the classroom, but extend far beyond that learning environment. Improving the state’s ability to build success in more students is possible and essential, will require a commitment from many partners. We encourage our educational leadership to join Michigan’s Children and many others to put all of our children and families at the forefront of what it takes to make Michigan’s education great again.

– Matt Gillard

This blog first appeared as an opinion piece in Bridge Magazine on September 8, 2015.

Starting Today a Step Ahead or a Step Behind

September 8, 2015 – Yesterday I walked across the Mackinac Bridge with my family, the Governor and tens of thousands of other people in celebration of the end of summer.  It was the first time that we had ever made the walk and participated in the throng of humanity that makes it, many year after year.   This was truly an awesome experience, making us all feel a little prouder of our state, for sure.  However, as we started across the bridge in the rain, it was obvious that some of us would have an easier time of it than others.  There were people pushing strollers that slipped on the wet concrete and got stuck on the metal grates, there were people with canes, limps and other indications that the long walk would be a struggle for them.

With my three kids, all very healthy, we had a pretty easy time of it, but there were clearly people who were better prepared than we were.  Sometimes we, and those going at a faster pace than we were, found ourselves frustrated by the extra time needed by the folks who couldn’t go as quickly or who needed some extra help by the many National Guard members who were there to make sure that everyone who started across would make it to the finish.

Today marks the first day of school for most students in Michigan.  The bridge walk made me think a lot about the summer learning graphic illustrating the different impact of the summer months that serves to increase the learning gaps between poorer kids and their more affluent peers.  In the summer, kids who have expanded learning opportunities through family travels, summer enrichment programs and specific assistance to build literacy and numeracy skills or catch up where they have fallen behind, continue to progress educationally.  Kids who don’t have any of those things actually fall behind over those months, starting school today even further behind than they were when they left in June.

So, in the case of the bridge walk, those who made it across the fastest would be like the kids who start school today having gotten those 6,000 hours of extra learning by the 6th grade – through literacy and other enriching activities with family members able to spend that time with them; and through extra learning time during the school year and in the summer in quality expanded learning opportunities.    Those who moved more slowly needed that additional time and assistance to be able to complete the trip.  Many students are starting school today who have not been afforded that time or assistance, and are beginning the school year further behind than they left it.

Michigan’s Children is testifying before the State Board today about investments that are necessary if Michigan really wants to become a top ten state for education, reiterating the pieces we’ve been talking about through our August Issues edition, Making Michigan a Top 10 Education State by Shrinking the Learning Gap and our Bridge commentary.  One of those necessary investments is in expanded learning – before-and after school programs, summer learning programs and other opportunities to bolster the learning that goes on during the typical school day and year.

The most challenged children, youth, families, schools and communities need to have better access to learning in the summer.  There are amazing programs across the state that serve to close those gaps.  Evaluation of a small summer learning investment that Michigan made a few years ago showed stark differences between the typical educational loss for students without those summer experiences, and the significant academic gain for the students who participated.  Funding that supports those programs has not been included in state budgets for several years, and high quality programs are not accessible through the state for families who cannot afford to pay for them.

Let this be the last first day of school where we allow students to start further behind than when they left.  Let’s commit this year to investing in expanded learning through the school year and in the summer, allowing everyone to begin in September a step ahead.

– Michele Corey

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