Speaking For Kids

Putting the Needs of Children and Youth First

June 15, 2015 – Administratively, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) allows adoption agencies to deny services to potential adoptive parents for any reason they see fit. Last week, June 11, Governor Rick Snyder signed a package of bills that made a section of that DHHS practice state law. Specifically, Governor Snyder codified the practice of allowing adoption agencies to reject potential adoptive families based on sincerely held religious beliefs. So what does this mean? Now all adoption agencies have the right to deny services to any family for any reason that “goes against their religious beliefs” including but not limited to same-sex and unmarried couples.

DHHS reports that at any given time approximately 13,000 Michigan children and youth are being served by the foster care system, with approximately 4,000 eligible for adoption. Children and youth in the foster care system need safe and nurturing homes until they can return to their families; and the children eligible for adoption need a stable permanent home. Homes where children have a loving supportive adult to help guide them. Michigan already faces a deficit of quality placements for children in out-of-home care, and putting limits unrelated to researched practice only further limits the number of forever family options for the children most in need in our state.

Through a recent KidSpeak forum in January, 2015, Michigan’s Children had the opportunity to speak with youth from the foster care system. The youth all expressed a common desire, one that research has shown to be common among many children in the foster care system – they want ways to make permanent, meaningful connections with a loving adult(s) who will help them access opportunities for success, and resources to help address the trauma they have experienced. They need these things now and for the rest of their lives. Michigan law should not define who the loving adults will be in ways unsupported by research or best practice.

Michigan’s Children hopes that from this attention and debate we take a closer look at how we are working toward building permanent options for all of the children and youth in our care. Instead of passing bills decreasing the options for children and families in need, why don’t we spend time and invest resources in recruiting, maintaining and supporting more successful foster and adoptive parents? Additionally, the state should invest much more in programs that support families struggling to provide safe and stable homes for their children; family reunification; and more out-of-home placement options for children unable to remain with their birth families, such as placing children with relatives and others as guardians or kinship parents.

Michigan, let’s invest in options that put the needs of children, youth and their families first. Let’s explore options to keep families together, and when that is not possible let’s expand the number of options for children, not limit them!

Learn more about what young people in the foster care system say they need to best support their unique circumstances and challenges.

-Cainnear Hogan

Cainnear is an intern for Michigan’s Children.  She is currently completing her MSW at the University of Michigan – School of Social Work.

Ensuring All Students Have Community Connections

June 2 – Raising kids isn’t easy.  All families need support to take care of their children, regardless of socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, or geography.  And we know that all kids need the support of the community around them to ensure that they are healthy, developing appropriately, and learning the skills they need to succeed in school and in life.  For the average family, this means regular appointments with pediatricians; regular communication with child care and k-12 teachers; confiding in a family member, close friend or member of the clergy when times are particularly challenging.

But what happens when parents are so incredibly challenged that they can no longer provide for their kids?  What happens when their children no longer have access to that community support to ensure their well-being?  Unfortunately, this is what happened to Stoni Blair and Stephen Berry – the children whose story we all know from their tragic deaths when their mother used homeschooling as an excuse to keep them away from important community supports to abuse and ultimately murder them.

In response to their deaths, Rep. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) introduced HB 4498 that would provide some level of oversight for families who choose to homeschool their children.  This bill would require families to register with the Michigan Department of Education so that their children would be counted on the homeschooling registry.  This would put Michigan on the same level as the rest of the nation, as one of the few remaining states that doesn’t require homeschooling families to register with their education system.  And the bill would require twice-a-year in-person check-ins with a community support person of the parents’ choosing that could range from a doctor to a social worker to a child care provider to a member of the clergy.  This would help families and kids – regardless of whether they are educated in a school building or at home – connect to the supports they need to receive healthy, safe, and enriching educations.

The tragic deaths of Stoni and Stephen and the subsequent introduction of Rep. Chang’s bill has spurred a lot of conversation at Michigan’s Children – as the state’s co-chapter lead of Prevent Child Abuse America – about what families truly need to provide safe, stable and nurturing homes for their children.  What happened to Stoni and Stephen are the anomaly.  But any child’s death is a stark reminder that Michigan needs to do more to support its most severely challenged families.  This means ensuring that parents have what they need to provide safe and stable homes including access to mental health services for kids and parents alike; ensuring that when families are identified by Child Protective Services as Stoni and Stephen were, that the child welfare system has sufficient resources to provide families with adequate and appropriate wraparound services; and truly acknowledging the trauma that parents and children experience and how to appropriately intervene with both in a trauma-informed way.  To do this, Michigan needs adequate investment in the intensive community-based services that CPS case workers could refer families to that would help families address things like mental health conditions, deep and persistent poverty, trauma and other major stressors.

Rep. Chang’s bill is a small step to make sure all kids and families have consistent connections to community support.  And we must take a closer look at the successes and challenges faced by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education to ensure that they have what they need to do their jobs well so that all families have the tools they need to adequately provide for their kids so that all children can succeed.

-Mina Hong

Goal Setting=Good; Investing Toward Goals Starting Now=Better

May 26, 2015 – Last week the new State Superintendent-elect and the Education Trust Midwest announced new educational goal-setting priorities in Michigan. The purpose of these new state efforts is to improve educational outcomes that in recent years have moved further and further away from the most successful states. The new educational goal-setting priorities aim to put Michigan back on a trajectory that will lead to more success for our kids, schools and communities.

Statewide goals for improving education?  Great, let’s give that another try. There have been many state and federal goals for improving educational outcomes over the years – most recently, those goals have come with both carrots and sticks for the schools and communities who serve those lowest performing students. The Ed Trust’s Michigan Achieves initiative suggests that we continue some current efforts that have shown success, and that we also take a closer look at the efforts of states who have better outcomes than we do.  And the new Superintendent publicly agrees.

A great step, right? You set a goal for improvement, and then you shift your program investments to be able to meet that goal. Michigan’s Children is all in. As I’ve certainly said too many times to count, we absolutely know what it takes to improve educational and other life outcomes for children, youth and families. We have decades of research, we have innovative and effective practice from other states and from within our own. What we have not had is appropriate investment in what works to improve equity in these outcomes.

Relatedly, members of Congress introduced a bill that would require the U.S. to set goals for reducing child poverty – similar to what took place in the U.K. over the past several years with impressive results. The impact of economic insecurity on the well-being of children, youth and families can not be overstated. Research has shown that poverty (particularly extreme poverty and living in poverty for many years) is tied with nearly every negative outcome. Everyone from all ends of the political spectrum recognizes this. Some members of Congress are suggesting that instead of wringing our hands and continuing to pay for the consequences of those outcomes, we set a goal and move to change the situation.

What really struck me here was the intimate connection between these two goals – the clearest path to better economic security is educational success, so we won’t reach the poverty goal without focusing on the education goal. In addition, we are unlikely to move the needle on educational goals without tackling challenges that families face outside of the school building, day and year as well.

Let’s start now, in the current budget conversation. There are stark differences in state budget proposals that will be decided on by small numbers of legislators over the next few weeks. Three that we’ve pulled out that will take us closer to both goals:

  1. Investment in 3rd grade reading. The Senate included additional investments in 3rd grade reading success. Particularly important for equity is the Senate recommendation for $10 million to expand learning opportunities for the most challenged kids. This isn’t enough (we’ll be going for at least $50 million moving forward), but it is certainly a start.
  2. Investments in the most challenged kids, schools and communities. The Senate included an additional $100 million to fund programs specifically for learners with identified barriers. The House didn’t include this increase.
  3. Investments in family literacy. We will not reach either poverty or education goals if we don’t make sure that every parent can assist every child as their first and best teacher. With 34,000 young adults in Michigan (ages 18-34) without even a 9th grade education we need more investment. The Senate included an increase in the adult education program, while the House eliminated it all together.

Let’s keep talking. Moving beyond the current budget year, our Legislature and Congressional Delegation need to prioritize many supports for the most challenged, including: services that prevent later problems like child abuse and neglect prevention, home visiting support and Early On; services that improve outcomes for young people in the state’s care through the Foster Care and Juvenile Justice systems and their families; and services that best support college and career success like early learning, expanded learning, family literacy and integrated student services.

Let’s talk about setting goals and let’s keep working to meet them.

— Michele Corey

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