Monthly Archives September 2017

What it Really Means to Put Kids First

October 2, 2017 – Community leaders and advocates convened at Wayne State University for a community forum hosted by the United Way for Southeastern Michigan and the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child and Family Development.

Dr. Herman Gray, CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michigan, shared an experience from his time as president of Children’s Hospital of Michigan. A child was being treated for an ailment which was not very serious but required several weeks of antibiotics. After keeping the child in the hospital receiving the medication through an IV, it was time to discharge the family with a prescription. When given directions to refrigerate the antibiotic, the child’s parent surprised the staff:

The family did not have a refrigerator at home.

I took two important lessons from this story:

  1. Poverty is real, and its impacts are real. How healthy can a family be if they are unable to keep perishable items at home? And, if there is no refrigerator in the house, what else might they be missing?
  2. Important instructions are given to parents and families every day for the care of their children. With what assumptions are well-intentioned professionals delivering these instructions and advice?

Writer and radio host Stephen Henderson, who keynoted the event, shared his experience with the Tuxedo Project, which he started in an effort to improve the quality of life in his old neighborhood by repurposing the house he grew up in on the west side of Detroit’s Tuxedo Street. The home had been abandoned in the years after his family moved out.

Based in part on conversations had throughout the past year with current Tuxedo Street residents, such as an elderly man living without power or running water and around the debris where a fire caved his second floor into his first floor, Henderson argued that urban poverty has become increasingly like rural poverty, characterized by isolation.

These stories stayed with me until later in the day, when an attendee shared information about a program run by her agency to benefit young children who have experienced trauma. When her team members began planning for the program’s implementation, they took a step back to think through and identify desired outcomes. Then, they determined what would be needed to achieve those intended outcomes for the children and families who would be enrolling in the program. It was then that I realized something I do not often hear in public discourse relating to social policy. We often hear about what the government’s role should be, how much funding should be allocated, and which programs and services should be prioritized. What I do not remember hearing much of, however, at least in bipartisan conversations, is what we actually want to see for all Michigan children.

Maybe we should start there. What do we want for kids? This is the conversation we need to be having. What do we want to see for Michigan’s children, and what do we need to do to get there? What do kids need to get to that point, and what policies, funding levels, and services will take them there? If we can start there – and truly prioritize those outcomes – we can begin to make long-term, positive improvements for Michigan’s children.

And, in a society where very few decision-makers have personally experienced poverty and its effects, it is critical that we think carefully about which voices are at the table when discussing solutions to these issues.

If we fail to include the voices of those most impacted, we risk wasting time and resources providing solutions which will not address the complete problems and therefore fail to be impactful – or, in other terms, we risk continuing to provide medications needing refrigeration to people without refrigerators.

Kayla Roney-Smith, Executive Director of the Hazel Park Promise Zone and College Access Network, attended the “Families First for 100 Years” community forum at Wayne State in Detroit. Here, Roney-Smith shares what major lessons she took from the event.

Meet Sherry, Our Newest Intern

September 27, 2017 – As a child, I developed a love for singing. I joined my first church choir at the age of 5 and I’ve been singing ever since. What I love about being a vocalist is that it allows me to be a part of something greater than myself. Music is a beautiful thing. It’s the language everyone speaks. It brings people together, provides inspiration, and is even used as a vehicle for raising awareness of social injustice. Like music, advocacy is about being a part of something greater and bringing people together to raise awareness of social injustice. It’s about changing lives for the better and bringing more justice to an unjust world. It was my belief in a more just society that inspired me to change careers and work toward becoming a social worker.

When I started graduate school at Michigan State University (Go Green!), I had no idea what an incredibly rewarding journey it would be. It’s been a challenge at times to be sure, but every minute has been worth it. Now that I am in my final year, I’m amazed by what I’ve learned. One of the most surprising things I’ve learned is that I love policy work. I never imagined I would find it interesting, but after my first policy class, I was hooked. Another big discovery was that I’m passionate about children’s issues.

For several years, I’ve been a volunteer for an agency that provides services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse, and I’ve seen first-hand how unjust the world can be. This is especially true for children who experience trauma. Seeing the effects of trauma instilled in me a deep desire to protect the interests of children. Reading the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study strengthened my resolve. The ACEs study identified a strong connection between childhood trauma and issues such as impaired neurological and cognitive development, social and emotional impairment, substance abuse, poor physical health, shortened lifespan, and an increased likelihood of exhibiting violent or criminal behavior in adulthood. The more traumatic events a child experiences before the age of 18, the more likely they are to develop these issues.

Children often don’t have a voice or a choice when it comes to their circumstances. They are one of our most vulnerable populations yet they are often overlooked. From poverty to abuse, children have no control over their situations. I believe it is our responsibility as adults to be their voice.

When I was offered an internship that combined two of my passions, children’s issues, and public policy, I was beyond excited. This is my opportunity to be a part of helping policymakers see the value of investing in children. This investment will not only improve the lives of children, it will also decrease the number of adults with substance abuse and other major health issues in the future. I’m thrilled to have the privilege of being a part of Michigan’s Children and hope that my work as an intern will be an asset to the organization.

Sherry Boroto is a native Pennsylvanian who transplanted to Michigan in 1999. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Phoenix and is currently in her final year of graduate school at Michigan State University where she is pursuing her master’s degree in social work. Her focus is on children’s issues and public policy.

Meet Courtney, Our Newest Intern

September 11, 2017 – Contrary to most college students, I thrive off of the idea of having my own desk within a coffee scented office space. But while I do love a good cup of coffee (more than most things) and having my own desk, it’s not why I’m excited about joining Michigan’s children.

As a senior in the BASW program at Michigan State University, I have found a love for all things policy. My experiences of macro social work began in the classroom but grew as I witnessed the effects of policies in everyday life. Working in a residential home for adults with mental illnesses intertwined with my budding awareness of policy and it started to change the way I saw things. Suddenly those daunting terms mentioned on the news were relevant in my life – Social Security wasn’t just money taken off my paycheck and Medicare wasn’t something only the elderly had to worry about. Not only was I becoming aware of the struggles these clients were facing, I was realizing that they had very little voice to change it.

The next obvious move for me was to find out how I could help. I met up with a professor and he pointed out that there are actually careers dedicated to policy – how cool is it that there is a field of work that can influence so many different people’s lives? From that moment I have been researching and learning about laws and their impacts on real people; knowledge is something I love to gather, but experience is the next step. I’m thrilled to be an intern at Michigan’s Children because it gives me the opportunity to gain first-hand experience at advocacy and action in the lives of children statewide. I am passionate about helping people on a broad basis and advocating for people who help people on an individual basis – this is a priority of Michigan’s Children, and one that will positively impact the community for many years to come.

The expansive list of opportunities provided to me by Michigan’s Children further proves that this is an organization that is doing its part in the community. I can’t wait to help serve children in Michigan by learning more about policy and the interconnectedness of it all.

Courtney Hatfield is a student intern at Michigan’s Children for the academic year and will graduate this May with a degree in Social Work. Courtney is from Grand Rapids and is a graduate of Forest Hills High School.

Learning from Heroes of Michigan’s Children

With the annual Heroes Night dinner scheduled for later this month, Michigan’s Children hit the road recently for an inside look into the work of another group of Heroes through its first ever CommunitySpeak, which builds on the success of the signature KidSpeak and FamilySpeak forums. At CommunitySpeak, the heroes highlighted were those working directly with our most vulnerable children day in and day out at two of Michigan’s premier human services agencies.

 

Lessons from the Judson Center: Building a professional service workforce and supporting parents

State legislators, Congressional staff, philanthropic representatives and others convened at the Judson Center in Royal Oak, where attendees were welcomed by Lenora Hardy-Foster, CEO of the 93-year-old agency which serves children and adults across five counties.

Hardy-Foster made clear that “when you serve people who need mental health or foster care services, the job isn’t Monday through Friday but Monday through Sunday,” and she asked that policy makers consider children, youth, and families in care while deliberating changes to public services and budgets. Despite a small increase in the foster care administration rate over the past two years, she admitted that agency child welfare programs remain financially unsustainable, and, if service providers cannot afford to provide services, what happens to the children who need them?

And the financial uncertainties described were not limited to agency budgets.

Foster parent Sean shared his personal involvement with the system, having grown up with his own biological parents who fostered 24 kids throughout his childhood. After Sean and his wife had two children, they chose to begin fostering, and their oldest son has now continued the family tradition by becoming a foster parent himself. Sean asked for legislators to consider ways of increasing pay for social workers serving in the child welfare system, sharing that high turnover has resulted in the breaking of bonds between social workers and children, often increasing feelings of insecurity in children who have already experienced trauma.

Carr particularly got people’s attention when he spoke of a conversation he had with a particularly effective social worker who had worked with one of his family’s foster children: this social worker had decided to leave the profession and return to delivering pizzas, because pizza delivery would provide him with comparable pay and significantly less stress.

I must agree with Mr. Carr that increased wages are essential if we are to attract – and retain – strong talent in this critical field.

 

Lessons from the Children’s Center: Meeting the Holistic Needs of Every Child

Following a tour of the Royal Oak Judson Center space, the group boarded a charter bus to travel together to the day’s second location: The Children’s Center in Detroit.

“All children deserve to have their basic needs met – and to be able to just be kids,” opened Debora Matthews, the agency’s CEO. “Our children have needs right now, and it takes all of us remembering that these precious babies will be making decisions for all of us very soon.”

Attendees went through a guided tour of The Children’s Center, visiting, for example, the Crisis Center, where we learned that the agency is reimbursed $300 per “crisis encounter,” despite each encounter actually costing the agency between $1,200-$1,500. We also saw the “wishing well”, where children had posted their personal wishes – ranging from heartbreaking to hilarious – as well as walls filled with impressive art created by talented children and youth.

Following the tour, attendees were able to hear from additional youth and parents. One parent advocated for mental health services to become more accessible for foster children and youth.

This sentiment was echoed by a client of the organization’s Youth Adult Self Sufficiency program, which supports and empowers youth aging out of foster care. Now a student with a full scholarship to the University of Michigan, this particular young woman shared that she had fallen through the cracks because her behavioral challenges were not viewed as severe enough to make her eligible for funded mental health services. She was unable to qualify for care, despite having been sent blindly to Detroit from California by her stepfather.

“Any child who has been removed from their home,” she stated, “has experienced trauma and should be automatically eligible for services to help them get through that trauma.”

She and others were able to provide personal insight into the power of services and the need for their increased reach.  While many of the issues discussed were related to needs for additional funding, others were around the ways in which the systems themselves are structured.

The formal and informal conversations promoted further highlighted the importance of ensuring high-level decision-makers are educated regarding the populations and services impacted by their budget and other policy decisions. Particularly with our state legislators, due to the regular turnover resulting from term limits, it is critical that this education for legislators be ongoing. The participation by the Judson Center and The Children’s Center was critical in this case, as their staff members, youth, and parents understand better than anyone what the issues are, what works, and where gaps remain. For this reason, it is essential that the voices of youth and parents are uplifted whenever these conversations arise. They can speak for themselves, and they want to. They just often are not asked.

These issues are real, they are important, and they are time sensitive. We all must continually advocate for change. As Sue Sulhaney of Judson Center asked during CommunitySpeak: if not us, then who will be there for Michigan’s children?

Kayla Roney Smith is the Executive Director of the Hazel Park Promise Zone and College Access Network. Roney Smith, a graduate of Michigan State University, played a key role in coordinating the day’s events.

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