Stories Lend Strength To Advocacy

August 18, 2016 – On Monday, August 5, Michigan’s Children held our third KidSpeak event in partnership with Wayne State University’s Transition to Independence Program (TIP). Youth ages 16-24 stood bravely and told the stories of their experiences in the foster care system to a group of panelist made up of policy makers from various organizations. The youth provided their emotionally-driven testimonies in a way in which they were advocating for change within the foster care system to impact generations to come. While some youth were still involved in the system, many had aged out and are now pursuing post-secondary degrees from Wayne State University or other Michigan institutions. Youth spoke about topics including their safety in their placements and the community, educational and mental health resources, mentorship, and the importance of remaining connected with their siblings upon separation. All of the youth’s stories gave compelling reasons as to why policy makers need to make revisions to the foster care system in Michigan.

As a listener at this event, I was moved by not only the stories of the youth but by their confidence in standing and communicating how their experience, or the experiences of their friends in the foster care system, shaped their goals and where they are now. As an advocate for systemic change for youth, I enjoyed being a part of an event where youth can be an advocate for themselves with the support of those around them. Moving forward, I challenge myself and my colleagues at Michigan’s Children to keep hearing from young people through events such as KidSpeak, while also being a voice for youth who are not presented with the opportunity to have their stories heard. Additionally, in listening to the uniqueness of every youth’s journey in that room and how they were individually effected, I would encourage policy makers to take both the commonalities and the differences that they heard in each story into consideration when advocating for policy change.

A major part of the conversation was the lack of awareness of the availability of higher educational resources available to youth in foster care upon graduating high school. Youth also spoke about the need for mental health and counseling resources in their high schools. As a strong advocate for equity in schools and for youth being able to access a higher education, both of these conversations stuck with me. They inform my current work to better explain to policymakers what trauma-informed education looks like for foster youth, or any youth experiencing adverse experiences in their school, familial, or community lives. The testimony reminded the panelists of the importance of considering whole-child approaches when making policy decisions about the educational structure, opportunities, and resources for foster youth.

The KidSpeak event seemed to have resonated with many of the panelist as well as the audience, and I hope it encouraged the youth to continue to tell their stories so that society understands the complexities of the issues that these youth are facing.

– Briana Coleman

Briana is an MSW intern at Michigan’s Children.

Aug. 11, 2016 – By now, those of us tuned into the Rio Olympics have heard of Simone Biles’ remarkable journey as the world’s most celebrated gymnast and as a child from foster care adopted by her grandparents.

As is the case of many great Olympians, the story behind the making of this Gold-medal winner can be as equally powerful and instructive as her athletic performance. Biles’ childhood story has struck a chord with many foster, adoptive and kinship families across the continents because it is so familiar.

After her biological mother and father couldn’t care for her because of their struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, Biles and her sister spent four years in foster homes until her maternal grandfather and his wife, Ron and Nellie Biles, adopted them. By Biles’ own account, the couple created a loving and secure home and one that provided her with opportunities to hone her extraordinary abilities on display before the world today. They also kept the sisters together, an issue raised time and time again by young people in the foster care system at our most recent KidSpeak.

In Michigan, the new role that grandparents assume when their children can no longer care for their own children is far from unordinary. It is estimated that nearly one-third of children in the state’s welfare system are placed with grandparents and many others are cared for by grandparents outside the system. This has become a growing trend in our society for a variety of social and economic reasons. Lack of parental support services to address drug and alcohol addiction, mental health concerns, and financial distresses leading to circumstances unconducive to child rearing continue to upend families and fuel this change in family structure.

Last October we highlighted the experience of one grandparent-turned-mom again, Deb Frisbie from the Grand Traverse area, after she joined other caregivers and policymakers in Lansing and shared what makes their situation work and how our public policies could better support families like Frisbie’s. I returned to Frisbie recently to discuss grandparent needs and found her continuing to work as an advocate for other grandparents and older adults raising young children who are facing foster care or in foster care.

Near or in retirement, older adults who are starting over as parents have financial limitations and frequently health concerns that make child-rearing more than an Olympic feat, even when the desire to raise one’s own kin is best for the children and all involved, Frisbie says. Once children are adopted from foster care, adoption subsidies are non-existent except for children with special needs, and those are often limited. Providing basic needs and health insurance for children often drains retirement accounts leaving adults’ own future well-being at risk. Because of such struggles, it may be advantageous for families to remain as guardians because of new assistance resources available, but those are again inadequate, Frisbie says.

Delays within state systems continue to be raised as a barrier by young people and caregivers. Frisbie has worked with one friend recently who assumed care for her three granddaughters when their mother was imprisoned. She was advised to seek a foster care license in which public support would enable her to raise the girls. After entering the review process six months ago, she continues to wait for that assistance while caring for the children. She’s already drained her savings account and is now worried she won’t make her next house payment.

Another barrier: We don’t have good information about grandparents and other family members raising children. According to Frisbie and other family advocates, better support is needed for the many families who are offering the best, loving support for children, and ultimately saving society the financial and personal costs of maintaining too many children and youth in a system without a permanent caregiver.

But to do that, we need to have a much better sense of who the caregivers are, in the child welfare system and out of it, and know more about their circumstances and challenges. Without a more consistent and reliable accounting of these families and their struggles, we are turning a blind eye to real needs and future solutions.

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

July 29, 2016 – This week, Governor Snyder signed an Executive Order creating the Michigan PreK-12 Literacy Commission. Like many previous efforts, this Commission is charged over the next two years with assisting the K-12 system to improve student literacy skills. The group will be determined through appointments by the Governor, the Superintendent and legislative leadership from both parties.

The focus on literacy is warranted, and clearly not new. It is obviously a gateway skill – that is, the poorer your reading skills, the harder all classes are for you as you progress through the grades. Michigan students don’t test well on literacy compared to their peers in other states; in fact, at the same time that the nation as a whole has improved on 4th grade reading tests, Michigan’s performance worsened, resulting in a national rank on that indicator that places us solidly below 42 other states. And, some specific populations of kids continue to test more poorly than others – Black and Hispanic kids, kids from low-income or homeless families.

It isn’t as if we have not acted at all on this situation. There have been numerous initiatives within our K-12 system and the state Department of Education, including current Top 10 in 10 efforts. In the current legislature there has definitely been increased attention to the problem, and we even saw some investment in the last two state budgets, driven by concerns and efforts around improving our status. This investment was not enough, and some of it could have been better focused, as we’ve talked about before. Now we have yet another effort tasked with pinpointing strategies.

For candidates in this election year, for new legislators in 2017, for the Governor and for the new Commission members, here are some key facts. They are well known, and well researched.

Fact One: Gaps in literacy emerge as early as nine months. Some kids have stronger nutrition and better health, some kids are ready to more often, some kids are spoken to more often, some kids experience more stress and trauma in their early years. All these things impact literacy skill-building, and their impact starts right away. Efforts to support families early are critical to the state’s literacy success.

Fact Two: There is ample evidence (and common sense) that says that the educational success of parents has everything to do with the literacy success of their children. Family literacy efforts targeted toward building the skills of parents and other caregivers are critical to the state’s literacy success.

Fact Three: The 6,000 hour learning gap, experienced between lower income children and their financially more better off peers, contributes to a variety of skill gaps, including literacy, by the time young people are in middle school. As I’ve already stated, starting early and maintaining opportunities that expand learning through elementary, middle and high school are critical to the state’s literacy success.

Fact Four: Kids have to be in school in order to take advantage of even the most effective school-based literacy programming. Making sure barriers to attending school are addressed for families and young people, including unsafe streets, unsupportive school climates and exclusionary school discipline practices are critical to the state’s literacy success.

We have many effective strategies at our disposal inside and outside the school building to improve literacy, and it never hurts to focus efforts on learning more about what can be done. However, we hope that the Governor and Legislature don’t have to wait for this Commission to finish its work to continue to recognize and commit to needed investments in literacy. 2017 will bring shifting legislative leadership and the Governor’s final two years of legacy. There is no time like the present to reiterate what needs to be done, marshal the resources and take action!

– Michele Corey

July 12, 2016 – On Thursday, July 7, Michigan’s Children partnered with The Children’s Center in Detroit to hold the first Youth-Led Candidate Forum of the 2016 election season.  Youth from various programs of the Children’s Center came together to elicit answers from candidates in regards to some of the most compelling issues that they are facing in their communities.  The forum consisted of incumbents running for re-election and candidates who are first-time runners seeking to represent State House districts 2, 5, and 6.  The six candidates proved an interest in addressing a number of issues which the youth considered to be barriers to their personal safety and the safety of their community, their academic success, health, and their families’ economic issues.  The youth asked questions regarding crime throughout the City, high unemployment rates, racism and discrimination in their schools, substance and alcohol use by minors, the Detroit Public Schools crisis, and in light of recent events, redefining the roles and perceptions of police officers by residents in their community.  The space was truly uplifting as I heard the passion in these youth’s voices and listened as youth shared their personal stories of growing up in Detroit, specifically as it related to their growth and their families’ experiences facing various systemic barriers.

During the forum, most candidates shared their experiences growing up in Detroit which reinforced their passionate concern about the issues that the youth were most concerned about.  The candidates spoke about their extensive community involvement throughout the City of Detroit explaining why their commitment to serving and restoring the City was significant.  Often times the candidates mentioned the importance of working together within communities to create change, and encouraged the youth to continue to advocate through activities and conversations, such as the forum, that bring communities together to bring about change.  The youth were given opportunities to challenge answers from the candidates if they were in disagreement or wanted more information about how the solutions mentioned would come about.  Subsequently, this created a dialogue between the youth and candidates to critically think of policy solutions that would truly bring about real change.

Afterwards, the candidates expressed the value of, importance of, and showed gratitude for being involved in such an event.  Many said that it reinforced their commitment to running for State Representative and truly pushing for change in Detroit so that this generation of youth and those to follow can have a more enriching environment to be kids, grow, and succeed.  Candidates stayed around after the forum to thank the youth and applaud them on their courage and efforts to create change in their communities as a group.

Overall, this forum allowed candidates to hear about concerns from young people in their communities and consider potential solutions to bring about change.  And it showed the youth that they can have a say in what the future of their community looks like, and I believe that it did just that.

-Briana Coleman

Briana is an MSW intern at Michigan’s Children.

May 9, 2016 – Hello! My name is Briana Coleman and I am excited to begin my journey into the policy world during my time at Michigan’s Children.  I received my Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Michigan State University in May of 2015. Originally from Hamtramck, Michigan I have always taken a value in diversity and understanding the importance of community to motivate change. Coming from a low-income background, and understanding the struggle of graduating high school and going away to college sparked an interest very early in my professional career to work with youth who come from similar communities as myself. Beginning in 2012, I worked as an advocate and later as a case supervisor for the Adolescent Project which is a community based intervention program between the Juvenile Justice Division of the Lansing District Court and a department at Michigan State University. Mentoring youth and helping them find resources in their community led me to further working with youth involved in foster care, homelessness and housing insecurity, abuse and neglect services, and in more aspects of juvenile justice. Most recently, I have served as a program assistant for the Center for Educational Outreach at the University of Michigan where I have been in charge of developing, facilitating, and evaluating college access workshops which were presented to students in Detroit, Monroe, and Garden City among other cities in Michigan.

Currently, I am in my second year of my graduate studies at the University of Michigan studying social and educational policies which effect disadvantaged youth. Having experience working with youth in multiple systems led me to see how these systems overlap, and enable youth to become further involved with behaviors that will have a negative effect on their futures. Furthermore my experiences have led me to understanding how the disparities and lack of resources in the educational system across economic thresholds effects the chances of youth involvement within these systems. With this perspective I became interested in policy advocacy work for children and youth from disadvantaged communities. Upon being made aware of Michigan’s Children I became intrigued with their work and wanted to become involved in the things that they were doing due to the overlap of issues that they prioritize and my personal interests. The emphasis that Michigan’s Children places on improving youth outcomes from a multi-systemic approach further warranted my interest in the organization.

During my time at Michigan’s Children I hope to learn and expand on my advocacy skills while also learning skills relevant to building and maintaining partnerships within the communities where we work. Additionally, during my time here I hope to contribute to the mission of Michigan’s Children by engaging in research, assisting with outreach events, contributing my thoughts on policies which effects children, and by learning from the people that I work with.

– Briana Coleman

Michigan’s Children is proud to welcome intern Briana Coleman 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.

April 11, 2016 – If you’ve never sat on a crowded bus or taken a carpool at sunrise to the state Capitol for one of the many time-honored Legislative Education (substitute Action) Days, you really should add it to your bucket list. As one who wants Michigan to become the very best place to grow up and raise a family, you owe it to yourself and your state to help raise awareness about issues policymakers have the power to change. Organized by advocacy groups and professional organizations, an advocacy creates synergy fueled by the power of numbers bringing together strong, united voices to educate and move action.

The 2016 Michigan Kids Count Data Book gives us a county-by-county look at where child well-being stands and a great opener for talks with decision-makers on where we’ve been and where we still need to go. An upcoming opportunity to talk about child well-being and ways to prevent child abuse and neglect is happening on April 19 in Lansing. Organized by the Children’s Trust Fund of Michigan, it’s just one of many opportunities for ordinary people to come together and collectively draw attention to how we can build healthy families and communities.

Whether you’re attending this or another legislative day, here are some tips to help you before you go. Begin by knowing that speaking out is taking responsibility for living in a participatory democratic society. It’s in our national DNA. Your voice, your experiences, your take on life in your community is critically important for elected leaders to hear so they can make informed decisions on policy and budget deliberations. Research shows that only 10-20 percent of voters ever contact their elected officials. If our elected leaders are going to make decisions based on our best interest, they must hear from more of us and especially between election cycles.

What do they need to know? Use data, information and stories to inform lawmakers about what’s happening – good and bad – at home. Raise real-life success stories about programs that help kids and families and identify issues of concern. Stories are often most memorable with lawmakers and help support a case for maintaining funding for the good work at home. Identified concerns help recognize where new efforts should be applied. Consider how you want them to think and feel about what you’re saying. Anticipating the outcome will help you choose what you say and how you say it. Helping to educate decision-makers within a framework for change and providing solutions for problems can be powerful persuasive strategies.

Know your legislator. Know the committees they work with, especially if these are useful to moving your issues. Learn about the issues they’ve championed. Their office and campaign websites are a good starting point for those insights. Also become familiar with knowledgeable staff members who can serve as points of contact after the visit is over. Afterward, also make sure you leave behind something to remind them of your message, whether it’s a description of a particular program, a fact sheet or summary of key points. Lastly, leave them with a plan for next steps. And do take a photo you can share back home or with the lawmaker so they can include it in their communications with constituents. Ultimately, these visits can be the start of opening lines of communications and a solid relationship that will serve you, your issues and your community well long past the legislative visit.

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

March 21, 2016 – As another annual Michigan Kids Count Data Book is released, it gives us several opportunities.  First, using county profiles available in the Data Book each year is a great way to draw attention to the status of children, youth, families and communities.  How are things improving or declining?  Why is that happening in your community?  It is also a great opener for conversation with local policy makers.  Sometimes, they really aren’t aware of some of the facts, like how much of their income people pay for child care, or how many births are to mothers without a high school credential.  Or whether or not their communities are improving or worsening on key issues like prenatal care for moms or child abuse and neglect.   Local advocates can use the Kids Count information to help position themselves as a resource to their policy makers – a helpful thing during a state budget season, an election year and beyond.

Secondly, it is important to examine the Data Book every year to scrutinize how our current investment and other policies are impacting the lives of families in our state.   The annual report offers us a chance to renew attention to long-standing needs, examine how our efforts have paid off, and expand discussions.  Here are just two critical examples:

  1. Family Literacy. With fully one in seven births in Michigan to moms without a high school credential, increased investment in adult education and other literacy initiatives remains imperative.  Our support of teen moms, while those rates continue to drop, must also include high school completion, post-secondary and career opportunities.
  2. Expanded Learning. Increasing poverty rates, costs of child care, and the majority of Michigan students not proficient on highlighted standardized tests make new state investment in learning opportunities outside the school day and year even more of an imperative.  By the time they reach the 6th grade, kids in poor families have received 6,000 fewer hours of assisted learning than their wealthier peers, mainly due to a lack of affordable and quality opportunities outside of school.

Michigan’s Children joined the Michigan League for Public Policy and local partners in Ingham County today for a release of the Data Book to local media around Lansing.  We did this to help highlight how state policy and investment needs to do better at supporting local innovation.  This community intertwines resources available through different entities and targets families with different kinds of needs to try to make sure that parents are supported in the care of their children, that any physical or developmental delays are caught early and that the best services are made available to assist.

It is quite amazing what local communities do with limited resources, but their innovative and effective practices are often stymied by a lack of state and federal investment in necessary programs.  One example that is highlighted in this year’s Data Book is the share of families with children ages 0-3, who participate in Early On.  In Michigan and in Ingham County, that share is less than 3 percent.  Nationwide, estimates are that fully 8 percent of that population qualify for early intervention services, so we are well below that mark.  This is due in part because Michigan fails to invest state funding in that program, unlike the vast majority of the states.

Building on the disaster in Flint this spring, Michigan legislators invested state dollars for the very first time to support Early On in Flint, recognizing that it is a critical part of the intervention and investment that will be needed for years to come to deal with that human calamity.  But, the Data Book points to the need for Early On investment around the state.

Take the time to review the Data Book for key insights into your community, and use its findings to make your best case for local, state and federal investments in children and families where you live.  We are here to help.

– Michele Corey

March 17, 2016 – On March 8th, my family welcomed Emmie to our lives as we grew to a family of four (technically five if you count Hobie the cat).  Now with two children under the age of three, we have been preparing for what this means for our child care needs when I return to work from my maternity leave.  It also has me thinking about the state of our child care system here in Michigan – much like I did just over two years ago when we were getting ready to send Lennon to child care.

Some things have shifted for the better in the past two years when it comes to our child care system.  At the end of 2014, Congress reauthorized the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) for the first time since 1996!  We know quite a lot has shifted in terms of how child care is seen in our society since the ‘90s when it was primarily a work support for low-income working moms.  Now integral and important not only for parents as a work-support but also as a critical partner in their children’s development, CCDBG reauthorization aims to improve the quality of care while also best supporting the needs of working parents.

CCDBG Reauthorization has been an important trigger, forcing states to look at their child care systems to figure out how to comply with these new regulations.  Michigan took some important steps last year even before we had to begin complying with this new federal law.

First, we began providing 12-months of continuous eligibility regardless of whether or not parents’ income shifted during that time or experienced temporary job loss – an important shift for Michigan.

We also increased the income eligibility exit threshold meaning that now families don’t face an immediate child care cliff if they begin to make a little bit more money.  Instead, families can continue to access the state’s child care subsidy until they hit 250 percent of the federal poverty level allowing families to experience some economic stability before losing their subsidy.

And finally, we began providing tiered reimbursement rates starting at 2-star rated programs, continuing to further incentivize families to access higher quality care and for higher quality child care programs to accept subsidized families.

Michigan also hired additional child care licensing consultants responsible for ensuring programs meet minimum health and safety requirements, though Michigan’s licensing consultants’ caseloads continue to remain higher than the national recommendation.

All of these important changes, however, were made because Michigan continued to experience declining child care caseloads and continued to have unspent federal child care money that we would have otherwise lost.  While all of these shifts are important, there are two things that Michigan continues to struggle with that need to be prioritized.  First, and thankfully this will need to be addressed due to the new CCDBG requirements, is our hourly reimbursement rate.  Michigan continues to be just one of three states that provides the child care subsidy in hourly form.  Not only does this make it challenging for families and child care providers alike, it does not align with the private child care market which CCDBG requires.  Like the vast majority of states, we must shift away from this archaic practice to one that meets the needs of families and providers – either a full-time/part-time rate or one that is based on monthly, weekly or (at a minimum) daily rates.

Second, something that is a Michigan-specific problem is our declining child care caseloads.  While the nation on average has seen declining caseloads of families accessing the child care subsidy, Michigan’s has declined much more rapidly and dramatically than other states.  This decline cannot be solely the result of higher than average unemployment, declining population, and the elimination of fraud within the child care system.  There is something more going on, and we cannot continue to accept this to be Michigan’s trend.  Efforts must be made to ensure that families who need support to access high quality child care are receiving that support to best meet their needs as working parents and their children’s needs as our next generation of workers.

At Michigan’s Children, we’re glad that CCDBG Reauthorization is forcing states to improve their child care systems.  We’re also glad that the Michigan Department of Education is currently taking the time to get input from stakeholders across the state on how our child care system can best meet the needs of working families.  2016 is the year for Michigan to make some bold movements forward to shift our child care system for the better.

– Mina Hong

March 4, 2016 — Cradling my first child hours after her birth in a haze of sleeplessness and awe, I was overcome with the responsibilities of raising a new human being. A difficult birth left her under close medical watch for five days, and I spent many hours wondering over the unknowns, and if I would be up to the task. With each mistake and triumph in the months and years to come, I learned to parent aided with knowledge from others around me – my own parents, spouse, child care professionals, teachers and pediatricians. I learned parenting a child often involves an entourage – a team made up of various supporting specialties with mom/dad the quarterback calling the plays.

Parenting, like many disciplines, is both learned and a fine art. Over time, we grow as they grow. In March we observe Parenting Awareness Month in Michigan with the knowledge that this work is seldom effortless or accomplished without support from others. Parenting, as we know, often extends beyond mom or dad, to extended family, adoptive and foster families, even the state. “The village” in which our children are raised include schools, child care facilities, institutions and organizations we rely on and hope are also up to the task of supporting the growth of healthy and happy children, including and especially the most vulnerable among us.

Through March, Michigan’s Children is spotlighting a variety of parenting issues and partners we’ve worked with to highlight the critical nature of raising children with the community supports and services necessary to meet the challenges of 21st Century life. Our advocacy and work is rooted in improving our communities to do that with policies made in the best interest of children, youth and families. We believe supporting parents – a child’s first and best teacher – as they become the best parent they can be is a major part of public policy that results in stronger families, stronger communities and a more prosperous Michigan.

You will read about the importance of parents improving their own literacy and academic skills through adult education programs that recognize not just the economic benefits of a high school diploma and advanced training, but that parent literacy is a major factor in 3rd grade reading skills and a child’s own success in school and life.

We will spotlight the need for expanding services with additional state revenues for Early On Michigan, an early intervention program designed for families with children birth to 36 months who have developmental delays or medical conditions that can result in developmental delays. This home-based program has had great success in working with parents and their children for better outcomes.

Other pieces will describe the necessity for improving supports for foster, adoptive and kinship families in a state that has not invested adequately in those caregivers. Improved mental health services for children who have experienced trauma and better access to services in general are two issues we hear families discuss at our sponsored FamilySpeak events. It’s a timely topic as new foster care legislation is working its way through the state Legislature. Additionally, we will look at pilot programs aimed at family reunification that will help parents become better parents for their children.

Take this journey with us this month. It’s our hope parenting Michigan’s children gains new advocates not just this month but year-round.

Parenting Awareness Month is a Michigan initiative to promote awareness, education, and resources – through state outreach and local efforts – emphasizing the importance of effective parenting in nurturing children to become healthy, caring, and contributing citizens. Parenting Awareness Month is unique to Michigan and has been celebrated since 1993.

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

February 22, 2016 – Personal experience often generates the most compelling arguments for change. The real challenges ordinary people face provide the human connection that resonates strongly with the public, policymakers including elected officials and the media.

That’s what makes Deb Frisbie an effective advocate for kinship care and grandparents raising grandchildren in her adopted hometown in Northern Michigan. (See related article.) Forthright and open, Frisbie, her husband and two grandchildren recently became the subject of a front-page news article in Traverse City that explored the rising trend of grandparents raising grandchildren.

As a former newspaper reporter, I know how powerful these real-life stories can be. Made public, stories such as Frisbie’s also have the power to reach others who are fighting similar battles and offer them the courage to come forward to seek help. And equally importantly, they have the ability to grab public attention and grow support for changing policies that help families.

The downsizing of traditional journalism in the past decade has left far fewer staff with the time and expertise to ferret out stories to tell. But with change, opportunity arises. For those of us who work on behalf of the children, youth and families in our communities and state, it is even more important than ever to reach out to local media, and bring attention to relevant stories that could help improve the policies and investments that matter to our children and families.

Michigan’s Children has a strong tradition in helping raise up authentic voices to spotlight the needs of children, youth and families, whether caregivers such as Frisbie, young adults from foster care, or students needing a second or third chance at a high school diploma. We’ve seen how outspoken advocates build needed public awareness. We’ve learned that personal stories matter and that their lessons tend to stick with policymakers who have the authority to provide new investments or system changes that assist families. Equally important, we’ve seen how personal experiences shared by advocates such as Frisbie offer expertise to an issue.

There’s no mystery to becoming a voice for change in the media. Post views on social media and in letters to the local newspaper. Write opinion pieces. Lawmakers look to the media for information and pay attention to what their constituents are saying there.

Frisbie’s article in January has been a boon to her work, leading to other media inquiries to spread the word about grandparent issues in Northern Michigan. Her article also led to a follow-up opinion piece from Michigan’s Children published in that same paper, helping us to connect the dots between Frisbie’s conversation and current policy work.

Know that being an advocate means using all tools at your disposal, whether it’s reaching out through social media postings through professional organizations or getting to know the media who cover your community. Seeking the journalists in your community to educate them about what’s important to those we represent is a valuable service. Be a great source of information about kids and families in your community – and a source for change.

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

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