Speaking For Kids

Pack Up Your ‘Asks’ and Prepare for Your Capitol Day Visit

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.

Counting Our Successes and Fixing Our Failures

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

Bold Steps Force Improvements in Our Child Care System

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

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