Staying the Course
February 10, 2017 – An old friend of mine died this week, her funeral was today. Louise Sause lived to be 104 years old, (wow, right), and I was blessed with several decades of both professional and personal relationships with her. For those of us who work in the Lansing area, and throughout the state honestly, on building better public policy for kids, we knew Louise. When I first met her, she had long since retired from a long career at Michigan State University as a professor, and was spending most of her time at that point working to get more people involved in the policy decision making process through the League of Women Voters. I was inspired by her expansive knowledge and her generosity in time and talent with those of us who worked hard to learn as much from her as we could.
While I could go on and on about Louise, what made me think to write about her was her commitment to this work over the long haul. As a person less than half her age, with so many fewer decades of work under my belt, I’ve been thinking about how important it is to stay the course. Despite challenging times to come at the federal, state and local policy levels, I know, so cliché, but true: this is a marathon, not a sprint, and we have to approach it as such.
As we begin a new legislative session, I tend to think about what didn’t get done in the last session. While this can be frustrating, particularly to people who are newer to advocacy and policy making, it is the wrong tact to take. One example is the Quality Assurance of Foster Care Act – a legislative package that had broad bi-partisan/bi-cameral support and still didn’t make it to the finish line before time ran out last year. While frustrating, that package of bills is in the process of being reintroduced by some of the original legislators and a few new ones. The package got a little better last session, after having been introduced the session before that. This session, it will be even better. We will be again proud to work on its passage.
One thing that we know is going to happen every single February: new state budget proposals, from the Governor and then the Legislature, to decide how we spend the money that we’ve gotten from taxpayers to benefit the children, youth and families who face the most challenges in our state. While an annual fight, and a quick one – the whole state budget process begins now and will likely be finished by early June – it is also a conversation for the long haul. The years that Michigan’s Children has been entering into that conversation and working to persuade policymakers that evidenced investments are the way to go, has mattered and will continue to matter. Even in the years where we feel like all we’ve accomplished was to stave off something more dire. I’m sure Louise had many of those years, as have I.
So, we move forward in 2017 with a purpose. For some, that represents decades of work. For others, just the beginning of their commitment. For all of us, who work to build better public policy in the best interest of children, youth and families in our state, it is our marathon to run. I only hope that I can run it as long as Louise did. Thank you for the inspiration!
– Michele Corey
February 6, 2017 – This week marks my last week at Michigan’s Children. As I reflect back on my time at this incredibly important organization, I am so proud of the work of this agency and our advocacy community. I’m a firm believer in the essential nature of Michigan’s Children because of our holistic, cradle to career focus; and I’d like to highlight a few things that I’ve been privileged and honored to be a part of.
I’m proud that Michigan’s Children worked collaboratively with other early childhood advocates to see a $130 million increase in our state’s Great Start Readiness preschool program. Sure, Michigan’s Children would’ve liked to have seen a focus on infants and toddlers in addition to the four-year-old investment, but I know our willingness to be committed as an advocacy coalition and to not muddy the proverbial advocacy waters led to the historic increase our state saw for preschool programming.
I’m proud that Michigan’s Children has continued to stand firmly by the needs of the lowest-income working families who depend on the state’s child care subsidy so that parents can work while their children learn. And even more so, I’m proud of our dedication to the families who utilize unlicensed family, friend and neighbor care as they are an integral part of our child care system that we must continue to support.
I’m so proud that Michigan’s Children helped lead the way for Early On advocacy when there were no other independent voices in Lansing talking about this important system. Without support from amazing Early On partners including administrators, providers, and families; Michigan’s Children wouldn’t have become a leading advocacy voice on this and it demonstrates the critical nature of our partnered work. Because of our work, children in Flint who were impacted by the water crisis have seen additional resources in their community specifically for Early On.
Finally, I’m so proud of Michigan’s Children’s strategic focus. We are a small but mighty team that provides an important independent voice for children, youth and families in Lansing and at the federal level. With the new U.S. Presidential Administration, a lot of energy and attention has been focused inside the Beltway, and I’m admittedly a bit anxious about the work that lies ahead. But I know Michigan’s Children’s commitment to equity is paramount and will continue to be a guiding force. The team’s dedication to public policy and investment opportunities that best support the kids and families who face the most significant structural barriers to success is unwavering.
So you’re probably wondering where I’m going. I accepted a position at the University of Michigan as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Project Manager in the Division of Student Life. After the last election season and the horrific rhetoric on the campaign trail – that is unfortunately continuing into this new Presidential Administration through policy action – diversity, equity and inclusion work feels essential for advocates to see more equitable public policies and investments. This opportunity to foster the next generation of leaders in Michigan and the U.S. who understand the significance and value of our diverse society, the need and demand for equitable opportunities (including policies!), and the importance to ensure the inclusion of all people is essential for the success of our State and our Nation.
I know this is getting wordy but I have to end with a huge THANK YOU. Thank you for being my partner and Michigan’s Children’s partner in advocacy work. Our successes would have been failures without your support, your work, your communications with your policymakers. Thank you for your unwavering commitment, and then some, for all you do for children and families in our state. Your ongoing work continues to be essential and I will be continuing to fight the good fight with you from Ann Arbor.
Thanks again. And Go Blue! (I can’t help myself!) 🙂
January 26, 2017 – On Saturday, millions of people participated in either the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. or one of hundreds of sister marches or rallies across the globe. In Michigan alone, there were sister marches in Lansing, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Traverse City, Marquette and other communities. By targeting the day after President Trump was sworn into Office, the message was loud and clear. Marchers were standing up in solidarity to protect the fundamental rights and safety of individuals, families and communities across the country – a message that was starkly opposite of this during the election season.
And there was appropriately controversy about the lack of diversity in the marches, that other marginalized groups were not a part of the initial planning of the Women’s March, and that the millions of people marching on Saturday were noticeably absent when it came to other previously organized grassroots efforts around the significant societal problems other populations face like people of color. And this is all true. As a woman of color and social worker with my own personal and professional values and ethics rooted in the fundamental importance of equity and inclusion, this was something that I struggled with. At the same time, as a policy advocate always looking to get more people civically engaged, this Women’s March was a momentous occasion to get millions of individuals active in ways that they weren’t previously.
At Michigan’s Children, we often talk about voting being only one component of policy advocacy. That after voting, people must stay engaged by communicating to their elected officials about the issues that they care most about and what they want their elected officials to do about these issues. And we know that people often only enter into policy conversations when they feel strongly and passionately about an issue that personally affects them. The Women’s March did just that. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, the sheer magnitude of political activism should be exciting. It was an amazing starting point to get millions of women and men in the U.S. and thousands of Michigan residents who are concerned about the direction of the country and their rights being stripped away engaged in civic action. Now is the time to harness that energy and passion and keep the momentum going.
The challenge for the marchers and for those of us that want to see more people active in policy decision-making is sustaining the focus and commitment of those that participated and providing them with opportunities to continue their advocacy work. For meaningful change to result from these efforts, it cannot be about a one-time action. Rather, a long-term commitment is needed to raise our voices with each other and with folks who may not have traditionally been our active and engaged allies. And, direct communication with policymakers is essential to help them work toward public policies that can serve in the best interest of individuals and families who face the most significant structural barriers to success in our state and in our country.
Learn more about the federal challenges lying ahead that will impact Michigan children and families.
Learn how you can bolster your advocacy skills and continue with the activism coming out of last week’s marches.
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:
November 9, 2016 – As disheartened as I am with the rhetoric of this year’s presidential campaign, the results clearly point to the extraordinary level of frustration on the part of people around the state and nation that our public systems are not working for them. That frustration was let out at the ballot box, as it should be.
The trickier task for me, as an advocate for better public policy investment in what really works to improve the lives of children, youth and families, is to tease out the reality from the rhetoric – from the winning candidates as well as from the voters. Frustration is borne of situations where you believe you are getting a bad deal, where you believe that something different should be happening. The frustrations that came out during this presidential election had to do with feeling left behind in the current economy and the impact of those economic losses on quality of life. They also had to do with feeling like the political construct of this nation was being led by people who don’t understand lived experience. Some of the frustration came out as fear.
I would never justify any of the statements made over this election season that were, honestly, horrifying and unbelievable in their disrespect of women, of Muslims, of immigrants, of Latinos, of differently abled people, and of others. And now, we need to move forward. We must harness the frustration that has spilled out and work together in creating opportunity to change the things that need changing.
I have worked my whole professional life to help people realize that there is a path for their frustration. That we own this democracy, this state and this country. That the decisions that have disenfranchised us and failed to support us can be changed. As we move forward, Michigan’s Children and many others will be working hard to listen to the frustrations expressed around the state and help to redefine those frustrations into policy strategies. We will continue to provide opportunities for people to express their frustrations directly to decision makers and use those conversations to build relationships that support champions for change.
We are frustrated too. Let’s use it to move Michigan children, youth and families forward.
– Michele Corey
October 28, 2016 – On Tuesday, October 18, Michigan’s Children partnered with Ingham Academy and Peckham Inc. to facilitate Michigan’s Children’s 2nd 2016 youth-led candidate forum in Lansing. The youth who spoke at the forum were youth currently or formerly involved with the juvenile court system, who attended Ingham Academy and programs through Peckham Inc. The young people had a lot of great questions to ask the candidates present running for the 67th Michigan House district, and Ingham County Sheriff and Prosecutor.
This forum was particularly interesting because the youth were able to stand and ask candidates who make decisions regarding their lives questions about some of the things they have experienced firsthand. The youth asked about topics from foster care, substance abuse services, transitional programs, human trafficking, and community violence, to mental health and holistic practices for sentencing youth in juvenile court. The candidates responded to the youth placing an emphasis on enhancing the relationships between the county officials and the community, along with community policing, and advocating for the allocation of funds for programs that the youth need in their communities. Through their stories and questions, the youth were able to utilize the forum as a safe space to advocate for a better, more-resourced community environment. Personally, it is truly refreshing to see so many youth communicate the needs of their communities in such a strong way to the candidates. It is equally as refreshing to see the candidates take time out of their busy schedules during this election season to hear the youths concerns, and learn more about the issues that are pertinent to the communities that they are hoping to serve for the next several years.
The forum elicited many spectators who were from local non-profit organizations, the Lansing courts, and other interested community members, family, and friends of the youth. The size and strength of the audience illustrated community support for the youth, which clearly boosted their confidence as they told their stories and asked their questions. It was refreshing to hear the youth claim and embrace their journey as they provided support for the importance of their questions by sharing their own life experiences. As an audience member, I can only hope that the candidates take all of these personal stories into consideration after the election. For the winners: as they create and advance their agenda once in office; for the others, as they continue with other opportunities to serve the community. The candidates offered solutions, and even though complete answers could not be provided to every question, the youth stated that just by putting their concerns on the table they felt as if they made a difference in their communities.
As an advocate for youth voice, and including the practical experiences and knowledge from youth about their communities and schools in policy change decisions, I could not have asked for a better response from the youth. It is my hope that the youth continue to grow, and create and participate in spaces for dialogue about the changes in their communities as they continue through their educational and life endeavors. The youth in this forum had great perspectives and the candidates made sure the youth felt heard which made for yet another successful forum.
– Briana Coleman
Briana is an MSW intern at Michigan’s Children.
October 14, 2016 – Last week, Governor Snyder signed into law a new measure aimed to improve literacy by third grade. We’ve all heard it before – the critical importance of learning to read in the early grades and Michigan’s ongoing challenge with this important benchmark with 37% of kids unable to read at a basic level and 71% not reading proficiently by the end of third grade – statistics that are far worse for students of color and students facing other learning and life challenges.
Michigan’s Children played a unique and specific role in the conversation, focused primarily on how this bill might impact students whose parents also face their own challenges – whether they are related to parents’ illiteracy, language barriers, parental mental health challenges, housing instability, or work schedules that make parents literally unavailable to support their children’s reading struggles. Through our advocacy efforts, we were glad to see in the final law the following provisions included.
- The law includes other caregivers to help support students with “read at home plans,” which are designed to supplement school-based learning with a home-based plan. The original language of the bill did not include other caregivers, and we are glad they were included as they could be and often are critical partners in education such as afterschool providers, neighbors, church members, or other family members who could be implementing a read at home plan when a parent may be unable to.
- The law also requires schools to document efforts to engage parents and whether or not those efforts are successful. This as an opportunity to get a better handle on the barriers currently in place that make it challenging for schools to better partner with parents. This could include all of the issues previously laid out around parental literacy, language, ability to be home to support their children’s read at home plans, and other factors. Whatever the issues, understanding them are essential to then figure out how to address them. For example, if a significant barrier around engaging parents are parents’ own literacy challenges, then an opportunity to address that systematically would be to increase access to adult basic education.
While Michigan’s Children was ultimately supportive of the final bill due to these shifts around parental engagement, things we worked specifically on, we know that this is just one step to improve literacy, which will also require a significant resource investment. I was personally glad to see my own state legislator – Rep. Adam Zemke who worked very hard on the third grade reading bill – bring up a potential inequity in the way parents are allowed to request a good cause exemption to not retain their child who may be behind in reading. We know that parents will advocate for their children as best they can, but some families may not have the capacity or time to do so, thus the possibility for some groups of kids to more likely be held back (like kids in foster care) while others are promoted. Rep. Zemke pushed to allow other adults to be able to request exemptions for students besides their parents, an amendment that was ultimately not included but would’ve made the law stronger.
As more information is gleaned from the implementation of the third grade reading law, Michigan’s Children will be monitoring the equity impact and the barriers that schools identify with parental engagement. And we will continue to advocate for a variety of supports to ensure that literacy needs are met for children that span beyond the classroom based on these identified barriers as well as research on what works. This also means making sure that necessary interventions are adequately funded. As candidates are pounding the pavement over the next few weeks, be sure to talk to them about the importance of early literacy and what you think are critically important to move the dime – things like family literacy, high quality child care to prepare kids before they reach kindergarten, and high quality afterschool and summer programs that can reduce the literacy gap through the early grades and beyond.
– Mina Hong
October 6, 2016 – Earlier this week, the National Dropout Prevention Conference (NDPC) was held in Detroit with a focus on empowering students, improving educational success, and mitigating the long-term effects associated with dropping out of school. This month is also National Dropout Prevention Month, encouraging groups across sectors to raise awareness of the issue and work harder toward helping all students stay in school.
The NDPC brings to our attention that, too often, the need for dropout prevention awareness and viable solutions is underestimated. While progress in reducing school dropout rates has been made, the need for greater awareness still exists. Notably, 6.5% of people between the ages of 16 and 24 in the US are not enrolled in school and have not earned a diploma. These young people, on average, will be qualified for only 10% of available jobs and earn $8,000 less per year than high school graduates. Yet as many are aware, individual lived experiences are not captured in these nationally reported numbers.
To provide space for students to share their experiences, the NDPC hosted several Youth Led Sessions. Michigan’s Children assisted with coordinating these sessions, and I was honored to attend several on the afternoon of October 4. Student presenters represented several impactful organizations throughout Michigan focusing on a variety of points along students’ journeys, including: Ozone House, Fostering Success Michigan, Swartz Creek Academy, Crossroads High School, Neutral Zone, Oakland Opportunity Academy, Youth Action Michigan, Lansing Community College, The Children’s Center, Developing K.I.D.S., Metropolitan Youth Policy Fellows, and Washtenaw Technical Middle College.
The Youth Led Sessions covered a wide range of topics, from the importance of embracing technology in the classroom instead of fighting against it to actualizing the idea that students should feel cared for by their teachers. Similarly, presentations varied depending on the students leading them: there were skits, panels, ice breakers, interactive activities, internet memes, and lots of comradery. One common thread among all sessions was the prompting of self-reflection by teachers, administrators and others with influence over students’ learning experiences: What are we doing to make school a place where students want to be? After hearing what students had to say and the thoughtful discussions about their ideas for solutions, I reflect on two key takeaways:
- Consideration of the multiple factors that go into students’ school-day experiences. Decisions to drop out – or engage in behaviors that lead to punitive responses by school officials – rarely have to do with only one factor, and the intersection of young peoples’ school, home, and community lives cannot be ignored. This highlights the importance of moving toward a trauma-informed educational system in each district and classroom. School should foster a sense of belonging and connectedness to the world students are preparing to enter, rather than serve as another stressor.
- Raising awareness of resources that can make postsecondary education more of a possibility. In addition to making financial and compensatory resources known to students and their families — e.g., Michigan’s Fostering Futures Scholarship & Tuition Incentive Program for those who have experienced foster care – teachers’ and administrators’ awareness and willingness to engage in discussions about what is helpful to each individual student is also crucial. Students emphasized that their perception of education as a key factor in their future shifted their attitudes toward education in the present.
It was an honor to attend the Youth Led Sessions and engage in these discussions. While the NDPC and awareness campaigns through National Dropout Prevention Month have amplified these discussions to new audiences, the importance of dropout prevention work is ongoing. In Michigan, there are several things candidates can do to promote graduation. To effectively honor what was heard in the Youth Led Sessions, these issues must continue to be highlighted throughout the election season and into the next legislative session.
– Leann Down
Leann is a former Michigan’s Children Intern, and is finishing up her dual Master’s degrees from the University of Michigan School of Social Work and the Ford School of Public Policy.
September 8, 2016 — Should anyone think that their vote doesn’t matter, please take a look at what just happened in the Michigan primaries. In the 2nd Michigan House District in Detroit, Bettie Cook Scott won her Democratic primary by 17 votes over her closest competitor in the race. That’s right. So if nine people had voted a different way, another candidate would have won. How many times have we been in conversations with more than nine people? How many times have we been able to find nine like-minded people? And, as we’ve talked about many times before, in many districts around the state, including those in the city of Detroit, the primary run determines the winner in November.
So, what do we take from that? We are in charge of the Michigan we make. We can change our state where it needs changing, we can stay the course where we need to. Seem like a leap? No way. Nine people literally made the decision about who was going to represent the 85,000 people in the 2nd district. Wow, what power! I have many more family members than that around my dinner table on a regular basis. I have many more neighbors than that gathered in the backyard on many summer evenings.
But with this power comes responsibility.
- We have to understand what the candidates are saying about the issues that we care about – and not just in the November run-offs, but in primaries, too. That is true from the Presidential race to local races for township positions and everywhere in between. The great thing is that the election season is the EASIEST time to hear about the issues from policymakers, and it is the easiest time for them to hear from us. Even when they don’t have a competitive general election race, they are still around, building additional support and getting the bell weather on constituent issues and concerns.
- We have to treat the election as the BEGINNING of the process, not the end. As we are connecting with candidates over the next two months, we need to make sure that they know that we are paying attention to what they are saying, and that we will be holding them accountable for promises they are making – those that we like, and those that we don’t.
- We have to make friends with decision makers. Remember what Mark Twain famously said, when you need a friend, it is too late to make one. Huh? As we all know, and as I hammer on ALL THE TIME I know, lawmakers – like the rest of us humans – are more likely to turn to people they know and trust for advice. People they have built a relationship with are more likely to be the ones they turn to when they are trying to find out more information about an issue or trying to decide how to vote on something. We know that we all do it. Nothing like a campaign season to make sure that your candidates know who you are, and see you as a resource for their later work.
- We have to take responsibility for outcomes in our Democracy. If we aren’t voting, we have given up our power right there. If we aren’t sharing what we know with lawmakers, we can’t expect that they will make the right decisions once elected. If we aren’t paying attention to what they are saying and doing, we are not the ones who will be holding them accountable. Are we all doing the best we can to make sure the people who represent us are well informed, well-prepared, well-supported when they do the right thing, and facing consequences when they don’t.
I feel compelled to raise these issues in election years because it’s honestly that simple – and that darn essential to our lives at home, across the state and nationally. Talk with candidates about what is going on in your own life – what are you seeing in your community, what you think they should do to help. As when you are talking to a friend, be respectful, be honest, be clear, be willing to clarify if you need to. Candidates don’t know what we know! If you want some thoughts about possible questions to ask, take a look at our election issues pieces that include some and other talking points.. You can talk with them directly, or you can talk with them publicly – through all sorts of media. They pay attention to letters to the editor in local papers, they pay attention to social media, they pay attention to people who come to opportunities to meet with them.
Thanks for joining Michigan’s Children and countless other advocates for children and families as we work through this election and beyond to make the Michigan we want and need for children, youth and families everywhere.
– Michele Corey
Michele is the Vice President for Programs at Michigan’s Children
August 26, 2016 – A couple of weeks ago, Michigan’s Children joined the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), University of Michigan Blavin Scholars Program, Eastern Michigan University MAGIC Program, Michigan Youth Opportunities Initiative, Enterprising Youth Program, Center for Fostering Success, Western Michigan University, Wayne State University, and the Student Advocacy Center in sponsoring the 2016 Michigan Young Leader Advocacy Summit, a gathering of about 70 young people who have experienced the foster care system, their supporting agencies, and decision-makers interested in building a better understanding of critical issues facing them. It was one of the most impactful days I’ve been a part of.
The Summit proceedings raised familiar issues about the barriers to young people “aging out” of foster care that are completely fixable:
- Our services are based on arbitrary ages and arbitrary designations (foster care, adoption, guardianship), instead of making sure that no young person is leaving the system (or coming in and out of the system) without adequate support.
- Work and education requirements don’t always fit the lives of young people facing the most challenges as they move into adulthood. Requirements need to be flexible enough to work for all young people under a variety of life circumstances that will likely shift over time.
- There are so many changes in the people responsible for helping young people as well as the services available to assist them as they move from traditional to voluntary foster care, as they move from county to county (as we would expect young adults to do.)
The fact is that we wouldn’t place arbitrary age or location requirements on our own children. If they faced similar barriers, we would work to help them remove them, for as long as it took, in as many different ways as we could. These children are also our own.
I am inspired, as always, by the knowledge I gain from these conversations, and the energy of the young people. This fall, there are many ways for us all to utilize that knowledge. The Michigan House and Senate need to agree on and pass the Assurance of Quality Foster Care legislation before the end of the year, or that process will have to start over again next Legislative session. This legislation would require some additional diligence to make sure that our foster care, education and other systems are working well for all young people in the foster care system. Summit attendees committed to take action to make that happen. See our Act Now page for more about how you can join them.
In addition, most candidates running for office around the state have limited experience and expertise with the child welfare or foster care systems, but we think they need to build some knowledge there if they want to be elected. Take the time to find out where your candidates are going to be, get there, and ask some questions to at least raise your concerns and offer yourself as a resource.
— Michele Corey