Speaking For Kids

Safe and Stable: Introduction

July 24 marked the beginning of the National Housing Week of Action. In recognition, Michigan’s Children is launching Safe and Stable, a guest blog series to shine a light on the systems and policies that keep foster-affiliated young adults from achieving safe and stable shelter. We will hear from fellow practitioners and from youth themselves to highlight how national, state, and local leaders can close the gap in housing need.

Our first guest blogger is J. Thomas Munley, who has worked as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for foster youth and is the Coordinator and Life Skills Coach for Fostering STARS at Lansing Community College. Munley has worked with many students in Fostering STARS with unstable living situations. 

***Our blog has been featured on the Voices for Human Needs blog of the Coalition on Human Needs!***

Safe and Stable: Two words that guide how we find housing for youth leaving foster care, two words that can mean the difference between an unsettled life and one that may produce a happy, fulfilling and productive life.

When I was 16 years old, my family lost our house in the recession, and with it our pride and feeling of security. I remember driving around with my mom looking for homes to rent for a family with five kids and feeling petrified that we would never find anything that was livable for that many kids. We actually found a large old house that had just been renovated and we felt so blessed to be able to rent it. My parents would later buy the house and it would be the last home my parents created before they passed away. That experience has always made me sensitive to young people who find themselves facing one of the most basic life questions and yet one of the most important; will I always have a safe and stable home to live in?

After working in various capacities with youth who have experienced foster care over the years, I am acutely aware of the elusive nature of “safe and stable” housing. Many of our youth from care often find themselves in situations beyond their control: how long will I be in placement? Will I get along with the foster family? Will I have to move again soon? Can I stay in the same school? Will I lose my friends? The very thing that our foster care system says is most important for our youth, “safe and stable” housing, can often be one of the most difficult things to come by.

The barriers to safe and stable housing faced by youth who leave care are far and wide. Housing rules change from community to community, and well-intentioned federal housing eligibility preferences can mean the end of the road for a young person who has experienced care. Strings attached to different funding sources can provide no leeway to youth who have experienced foster care. In less dense areas, youth who have experienced care are unable to get a driver’s license and, by extension, any reliable transportation. These obstacles have disastrous results – nearly 40% of youth experience homelessness within a few years of leaving foster care. All this coming at a time when student homelessness more broadly has risen 100% since 2007, reaching at least 40,861 Michigan youth who were identified by their public schools.

Homelessness is not an issue for one family, one city, or one state but for all of us. The untold cost of this epidemic on lives lost, potential squandered, education delayed, and physical and mental health tolls makes this an issue we should all care about. These are our children and youth, whom we said we would take care of when we took them from their families and placed them with strangers at no fault of the child. These are children who deserve every chance and opportunity to succeed to the best of their ability and who deserve the privilege of a stable home.

It was once said that the measuring stick of our society is how well we care for the most vulnerable among us. How are we doing?

J. Thomas Munley is a Licensed Professional Counselor (L.P.C.) working on his certification in Childhood Trauma. Fostering STARS is a program that works with youth who have experienced foster care to navigate and succeed in their Higher Education pursuits.

What Do We Expect For Our Vote? Round 2

July 25, 2017 – Here we are again, getting much less out of our elected officials than we deserve.  This time it is with our members of Congress, but similar thoughts run true to what I’d blogged about back in May related to our state Legislature.  My earlier list of what we expect and need to demand for our vote for those who represent our best interests in Lansing or Washington, DC included:  1. An ability to share our thoughts and concerns; 2. A path to understand the actions of our elected officials; and 3. A voice in important decisions about priorities.  In other words: hear us, share with us, and include us.

For the past several weeks, I’ve found myself needing to articulate a few more expectations that honestly, I didn’t think needed articulation.  We expect and deserve representation that knows the impact of a piece of legislation before voting on it, and that will share that information publicly in time for some constituent response.  In other words:  know exactly what you are voting on, and talk to us about it before you act.

So many of the discussions around repealing or replacing the Affordable Care Act, and those about some of the most significant cuts that the Medicaid program has seen since its inception, have demonstrated that neither knowledge of the legislation up for debate, nor communication about its details are required. The U.S. House of Representatives voted through a bill before the Congressional Budget Office had a chance to fully analyze its impact, and today the U.S. Senate has voted to proceed with a bill process without knowing the final details that vote will represent.

Our members of Congress, like our state Legislators, are still scheduled to be home in their districts during most of the month of August.  While they are here, we need to make sure that they better understand what we expect of them.  We can demonstrate that we understand our responsibility too – that we are here to help.  For those members of our delegation who have done what we expect, we need to make sure they know how much that matters to us.  Find out who they are and how to contact them here.

It is our votes that compel the kind of understanding, communication and partnership that we expect from those who represent us, not any other legal mandate.  As always, it is up to us to make sure that our representatives are aware of what it takes to win those votes and keep them.

– Michele Corey

Advocacy Matters: State Budget Foster Care Wins

June 26, 2017 – Many legislators love nothing more than being able to leverage state investment with other funding to increase the reach of the limited dollars in our state coffers, especially those involved in the state budget process that just got wrapped up last week.  Of course, the largest leveraging that we do is with the federal government, and we rely heavily on those leveraged funds.  Many programs in Michigan get just enough state funding to be able to draw down federal funding allocated to our state – child care assistance, foster care and other child welfare services, and many others.  Of course, federal funds that support many critical programs in Michigan are at great risk right now, but that’s a topic for another blog.

This is about giving credit where credit is due.  At the beginning of the state budget process, when the Governor released his budget recommendations in early February, many pieces stood out to Michigan’s Children, including two that provide support for young people as they age out or leave the foster care system.

First, there was a recommended expansion to the Michigan Youth Opportunities Initiative (MYOI).  MYOI is a state legislators dream.  Not only is it a great and effective program that helps young people in foster care build the skills and relationships that they need as adults, but it is also based on a funding model that takes full advantage of private philanthropy, community resources and partnerships and federal funds.  The problem:  MYOI didn’t have staffing around the state, so young people’s geography, rather than their need, was determining their access to the resource.  The ask: increase the state investment to support enough staff to serve youth wherever they live.

The second program is one whose state funding seems to always be on the chopping block, the Fostering Futures Scholarship Fund.  This funding helps young people who have been in the foster care system access higher education.  It is also a legislators dream, because there is a comprehensive private fund raising component around the state for the fund, in addition to its state funding.  The problem:  taking away the $750,000 in state funds that adds to the roughly $180,000 that is raised privately each year would be a huge blow.  The ask: maintain the current state investment in the program.

As the state budget process wore on over the last several months, it became clear that although the Governor was supportive of funding in both programs, there were members of the Legislature who were not.  Some of this was driven by legislative interest in finding state resource for tax cuts and to pay for adjustments to the teacher pension system.  For whatever reason, funding for both was at risk.

So, we got to work.  Michigan’s Children got the word out through our networks, talked about the critical importance of these programs with legislators on key budget committees, and most importantly, encouraged young people who had been served by these programs to get involved.

And, we won.  Both programs will be funded through September 2018 at the levels recommended by the Governor.  We are convinced that the work done by the amazing young people in MYOI, and in college access programs for youth experiencing foster care sealed the deal.  When they were there on their own or with Michigan’s Children, talking directly with legislators, those legislators listened.  The legislators became champions for these programs with their colleagues and joined us in demanding that their funding remained in the final budget.

Thank you to the young people, thank you to the programs that support them, and thank you to the legislators that heard us all.  We will continue to ask for more support for young people experiencing foster care, but we can take a moment to congratulate ourselves on this win as well.

– Michele Corey

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