November 17, 2016 – As you know, in our wonderful and imperfect democracy that we call the United States of America, citizens recently had the opportunity to vote for elected officials who will make decisions on our behalves. Many, many decisions. And in our imperfect democracy, half of us are excited and half of us are concerned about what the future holds, but it is clear. The government isn’t working for many many individuals and families. And now is the time that we all need to take action.
Policymakers report hearing from only about 10 to 20% of their constituents. That means that very few of us are holding our elected officials accountable for the decisions they are making that impact the lives of Michigan families, even though we, the people, are their bosses. And then we wonder why policymakers make choices that we don’t agree with…
This is where democracy only works as well as we are willing to put into it. This is where you come in.
I would bet that at best, perhaps one person in the State Legislature understands infant mental health. Maybe a few understand the importance of social-emotional well-being. Maybe a few more understand the foundational importance of the first three years of life. If the vast majority of policymakers don’t understand the importance of those first three years, the importance of safe and secure attachment of babies with caregivers, and how various programs and services throughout our state aim to promote a strong social-emotional foundation for babies and toddlers, how can we expect them to make informed public policy decisions based on evidence and research that you know to be true?
Voting is just one step in the democratic process of an engaged electorate. Now is the time for you to make sure that those victorious candidates – and those who weren’t up for re-election and will continue to serve in the next legislative session – understand that the social-emotional well-being of babies and toddlers is incredibly important. They, like all of us, need to be asking themselves, “What about the babies?” And while they certainly don’t need to become experts, policymakers should have a foundational understanding and know that they can turn to you when they have questions and need more information.
So what can you do?
Get to know your policymakers. Sign-up for email bulletins from your State Representative and your State Senator and follow them on Facebook. Visit them at their local coffee hours or request to meet with them when they’re home in their districts (Fridays through Mondays). Invite them to visit your program, join you for a home visit, or engage them in other ways to speak to families who have been assisted by your services. Now is the time to begin educating them and building a relationship with them so they turn to you when they have questions about the needs of Michigan families with babies and toddlers and can start making informed public policy decisions.
Learn more on how to strengthen your advocacy skills on our website.
This blog was originally written for “The Infant Crier,” the newsletter of the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health.
Staff adjusted this post to address other priorities, and it has appeared in the following partner bulletins: