Speaking For Kids

Meet Bobby, our Newest Staff Member: Ready to Serve

June 23, 2017 – Whenever possible at lunch, I like to enjoy my sandwich along Lansing’s Grand River river trail, a couple blocks from our office but, beneath shady trees on our stuffy summer days, a world enough away. The breaks help me re-focus and re-center myself for the afternoon grind. These first couple of weeks at Michigan’s Children have been busy, but they’ve hardly felt like work. It’s just so darn exciting to be here! It’s a real privilege to begin my career at an organization with such experience and authority on children’s issues, and even more of a privilege to learn the ropes from Matt, Michele, and Kali, incredibly kind colleagues who have fostered a focused and supportive environment.

I’ve always wanted to work to help future generations achieve their fullest potential. I first gravitated towards education policy, and for the last few years have had a unique seat to some of our most poisonous education debates – school finance, charter schools, standards, testing, and others. The more I worked with people at the grass roots of the system, the more I learned how little we in Michigan invest to meet the holistic developmental and social needs of children, how ideas like parent and community “engagement” are weaker in practice than they are in rhetoric, and how this leads to the savage inequalities many children face. Systems that ostensibly promote opportunity and security for children instead perpetuate inequity and strife. From education to health to family services, there is work to do on many fronts. It’s the solutions to these problems to which I hope to contribute.

Because of the need for child advocates across our state, it’s an honor to join Michigan’s Children, which has fought for children longer than I’ve been alive. Here, we focus on more than just passing laws, we are invested in building channels where anyone who wants to raise their voice for kids is empowered to do so. Achieving our mission requires more than just policy, it requires reframing and re-sparking debates around children’s issues in the public sphere and forging a deep and lasting network of champions for children who can carry the flame on those debates.

So far, my objective from day one has been learning – studying up on home visiting laws, the Lansing political scene, website analytics, the cheapest parking lots downtown, you name it. I’m excited to get to work – to grow stronger, we must reimagine how we engage with our diverse partners, how we tell the stories of the challenges Michigan’s children face, and how we highlight the most innovative and effective ideas across our issue areas so that we are always driving the conversation forward.

I’ve always called this pleasant peninsula home, and have always felt a duty to be a respectful guest, to leave this place more magnificent for future generations. For those of us privileged to call ourselves children of this great place, we have no greater obligation than to leave this land and its many opportunities open, intact, and accessible for our children. I’m up for the job, and I really hope you will join us!

Bobby Dorigo Jones is the new Policy and Outreach Coordinator at Michigan’s Children. When he isn’t working, he’s either following Detroit sports, trying out drink recipes, or playing Gordon Lightfoot on his six string.

What Do We Expect For Our Vote?

May 12, 2017 – We live in a representative democracy — a republic.  We put a few things up to a full vote of the people, but those things are few and far between, and typically only happen if proposed change requires that we adjust our State Constitution.  Otherwise, we vote for people to represent our best interests, and as I’ve said so very many times before, we then work to make sure that they understand what is in our best interest and how their actions support or fail to support those things.

I’m not entirely sure why this year’s state budget process has been more frustrating to me than in year’s past.  Some of the things that have been happening that severely limit the public’s opportunity (and even the full Legislature’s opportunity) to weigh in on these most important decisions are not new and have been moving in this direction for several years now.  I think that part of my frustration has been how the Legislators themselves have been talking about it.

Chairs of several Appropriations Subcommittees, where the real nuts and bolts of budget decision making is done, have publicly talked about how their work is not the “end” of the budget process, that many of these issues are still “being discussed.”  They have also expressed frustration with the current process.  While they may feel that way, they did not take steps to continue that discussion among anyone but the very small, and rapidly decreasing, number of legislators who will be serving on budget conference committees to hash out the differences between the House and Senate versions of how we spend the billions of dollars under our control.

So, I for one don’t think that what has happened in the budget process so far is worthy of our votes.  Here’s what we expect and yes, what we must demand, for our support:

  1. An ability to share our thoughts and concerns.
  2. A path to understand the actions of our elected officials.
  3. A voice in important decisions about priorities.

If those who represent us, at the state and federal level, are not working hard to make sure that we have all three of those things, they are not worthy of our vote.  Of course, if we aren’t taking advantage of the opportunities that they are providing, then that is on us.

This state budget process provided virtually no opportunity for the public to comment on proposed spending priorities other than the Governor’s recommendations.  The House and Senate revealed their versions of the budget in subcommittees and voted them out of those committees in the very same meetings.  During the full appropriations committee meetings and on the floor of the chambers, steps were taken to limit amendments and discussion, even amongst the Legislators themselves.

This is not what we expect from those who we’ve elected to represent us.  We need to demand better.   There is still some time to express your state investment priorities to your elected officials.  But, keep in mind that the messaging now has to be how all legislators must champion their constituents’ priorities with the small number of their colleagues who will finish those decisions in the next month.  There is always time to express your expectations to your elected officials, and make sure they are well aware of what it takes to win your vote and the votes of many others in their communities.

– Michele Corey

Volunteer Your Time and Your Voice for Action

April 24, 2017 – National Volunteer Week is being acknowledged this week to celebrate the people who volunteer their time to make their communities better places to live.  Primarily, when people think about volunteering, they are thinking about connecting directly with someone or something – reading to a 3rd grader, mentoring a teen.  These things are important, and I do these things in my volunteer time too.  They change the circumstances of individual children, youth, families and communities – critically important work.

However, everyone who has done these things, read to a 3rd grader or mentored a teen, has also reflected on the barriers faced by the children and youth they are helping, barriers beyond what is possible to impact by doing those things alone.

What circumstances led to the 3rd grader not reading at their grade level?  It may have had to do with their family’s inability to access Early On services for a developmental delay that was then not caught or treated until the child was in kindergarten.  It may be that their family’s literacy levels are not adequate to help their children excel, and with limited language spoken or read to the 3rd grader as a young child, they began school behind.  It may have had to do with their family’s inability to access quality afterschool and summer learning programs, leaving the 3rd grader either home by themselves or without educational supports outside the school day.

What circumstances led to the youth needing mentoring?  It may be because the young person is in the foster care system, and has yet to find a home that lasts for more than a few months.  It may be that the young person’s parents had untreated mental health or substance abuse issues that resulted in the removal of the child from their family in the first place, and preclude their return.  It may have been that the adverse experiences (or ACEs) that the young person had in their earlier years exhibited in behaviors that proved difficult to teachers, social workers and foster parents, resulting school suspension or expulsion or multiple placements in care.

The volunteer actions taken in both of these situations are powerful for individual children and youth, improving their skills and giving them someone to count on and offer guidance toward success.  But, both of these stories lead us to wonder about the many others in similar circumstances.  What might be done to improve the odds for all children youth in these situations?  What might be done to prevent the 3rd grader from getting behind in school?  What might be done to prevent the family from losing custody of their child?

In both of these examples, there are evidenced investments that could have helped these two young people and many more like them.  In Michigan, often, there are great programs and initiatives that used to be funded, but aren’t any more; or that are funded for some, but aren’t available to every family around the state.  Elected officials at the state and federal level can change that situation.

Right now, discussions are taking place determining how we are investing our state and federal tax dollars.  Now is the time to invest a little more of our volunteer time to share what we know with the people having those discussions.  We are willing to take the time to volunteer our time to make individual life outcomes better.  Policymakers need to know that we are also willing to volunteer our time to let them know how to improve life outcomes for more children, youth and families in our communities.

Read more about Michigan’s Children’s budget advocacy, and commit some volunteer time this week to take action.

– Michele Corey

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