Speaking For Kids

Casting A Vote for Kids and Families

November 2, 2017 – I still remember the first time I ever voted – it was 2000, a waiter at a restaurant in Washington, DC passed a ballot to me, a first grader who had just learned the names of our “founding fathers”. Eager to show off my new skill, I proudly voted for my own hybrid ticket of Al Gore and Dick Cheney.

It’s probably for the best that six-year-olds aren’t allowed to vote, but their interests and, ultimately, their futures will be front and center on November 7, 2017, when communities across Michigan will vote for municipal and county officials, school board members, and a number of property tax increases, many of which would fund local public school facilities improvements.

Choosing the right local candidates is vitally important because not only will the winners make decisions that immediately impact the well-being of Michigan’s children, youth, and families, they also, more often than not, will be the people running for state house and Congress, governor or state-level office, and, maybe, even for President.

Local elected officials have the power to direct available resources towards issues of interest to local voters, including matters like education, health, and human services, and criminal and juvenile justice policy. School board members, for example, can ensure that diverse voices are included when planning facilities renovations and build relationships with community partners to bring the whole community’s resources to bear in public schools. County commissioners can allocate funds to court programs that divert youth from the criminal justice system or promote maternal and infant health. Sheriffs can work with their police departments to promote more equitable practices and build relationships with youth in their community. Simply put, local officials have a say in policies that affect the day-to-day lives of children, youth, and families.

It’s also incredibly important to elect local officials who uplift the voices and tend to the needs of children, youth, and families because, one day, those same people will run for a state-level or higher office. If you’re not satisfied with your own elected official for being out of touch with the needs of struggling kids and adults, you can begin to turn the tide by filling the benches of all political parties with candidates who truly put the interests of children first.

All politics is local, and all politicians get their start somewhere. We can ensure that youth and family voices, especially the voices of those who are struggling the most, guide policy change, and simultaneously lay the groundwork for a new generation of committed child advocates in our state and federal legislatures, by getting out on November 7 and choosing local political candidates who share these values.

Bobby Dorigo Jones

Intern Dispatch – New Pathways for School Reform

October 11 – To fit the dark and rainy day, I spent the afternoon learning about current threats to the US federal budget and tax system; a discussion by Bob Greenstein, founder, and president of the CBPP. A lightning strike to the already dreary day hit as I learned that Michigan is at risk—42% of all Michigan spending comes from the federal government. This specifically affects the children of Michigan: if budget cuts go as planned, as the already low education budget in Michigan could be cut by 14%.

To provide some structure and clarity in regards to the state’s education budget, State Superintendent Brian Whiston spoke to address the current educational threats and issues. Whiston provided some truly innovative ideas to change schools and shared his efforts to get Michigan back on top. I was intrigued by his idea of using a ‘multiple pathway’ model for schools—an atypical learning environment for students who struggle to perform their best in a traditional classroom. Whiston’s plan would implement a school system that allows students to move up at their own pace rather than following an age-based grade system. The thinking behind a multiple pathways approach is that children who are the same age aren’t always at the same place academically, and this alternative school system would account for the individual differences among school children.

Something that I wish would have been implemented while I was in high school is Whiston’s hope to help high school students accumulate 60 college credits (paid for) by the time they receive their high school diploma. This plan has been backed by recent research in Michigan—students who graduate high school with at least a few college credits under their belt are much more likely to go on to get a bachelor’s degree than students who graduate with no college credits. I can definitely see why; not only are half of the college credits paid for by the state, but teens would be much more motivated to finish a degree program if they had already invested so much time and energy into completing half of it.

Possibly the most impressive part of the whole event was hearing how these educators are focused on the whole-child; their view of the ‘child’ never split off into ‘student’. These educators are focused on what happens outside of the classroom that affects the child’s sphere of learning. For example, if a child isn’t eating at home, they won’t perform well at school; if a child doesn’t have access to a dentist, a cavity can distract them from paying attention. Michigan is attempting to transition to a comprehensive whole-child approach.

As always, funding is the big issue. All of these ideas sound great in theory, but will not happen without monetary support. More money needs to be in special education programs. More money needs to go to schools that are in physically bad shape. More money needs to go to after-school programs, which are proven to help students both academically and socially. Essentially, the point is that a 14% spending cut would drastically hurt an already hurting education system. Luckily, there are educators in Michigan that care about children and want to help them grow and learn.

Maybe it isn’t such a dreary day after all.

Michigan’s Children continues our policy strategies that assist the state in these education goals set out by the Superintendent. We will work again with the Department and the Legislature to prioritize investment in multiple pathways like an adult and alternative education as well as competency-based options, in addition to a focus on the whole child approaches, including some targeted resources from recent increases to the state’s At-Risk funding. Read more about our whole child asks from last year’s budget process here, and our recommendations to focus better support on family literacy.

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.

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.

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