Speaking For Kids

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

Child Abuse Prevention Awareness and Action

April 10, 2017 – During the month of April, in honor of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, people across the country come together to raise awareness about the need to better focus resource and initiative on child abuse and neglect prevention.

Child abuse and neglect are two of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) identified by the CDC as contributing to a variety of poor outcomes including costly future health problems. Get ready for the brain science segment of this blog. When young children experience adversity or trauma, their brains make more neural connections in the areas of the brain that control fear, anxiety and impulsiveness and they make fewer connections in the areas that control reasoning, planning and behavioral control. In effect, ACEs are wiring children’s brains to be more apt to respond to life circumstances impulsively through fear and anxiety rather than reasoning and control. This manifests in behaviors in adolescence that often lead to increases in school and community discipline and school failure. In adulthood, the stress on the body from this physical reaction to trauma results in increased risks of serious health problems like diabetes and heart failure.

Whew. Seems like it would make a lot of sense to try to stop these adverse experiences, including child abuse or neglect, from happening in the first place. Saving not only social costs for children, families and communities, but real dollars in the educational, justice and health systems. The cost-avoidance research is convincing and growing.

In fact, many people are already convinced. The fields of child welfare, mental health and juvenile justice have been working on better recognizing behaviors borne of trauma and building interventions that address those behaviors more appropriately for many years. Communities around Michigan, led by initiatives spearheaded by the United Way, Easter Seals and others are working to improve system responses to trauma as well.

The Michigan Association of Health Plans launched the Michigan ACE Initiative in late March intending to support current efforts by building more public awareness of the impact of ACEs, our ability to counteract them with proven interventions and the urgency of devoting more public and private resources to prevent them. Michigan’s Children co-chairs the Initiative’s advisory committee and is excited to re-affirm hard work around the state and help to mobilize more champions to marshal resources necessary to prevent ACEs and intervene more effectively when they do occur.

We are also glad to be working closely with our Prevent Child Abuse America Michigan co-chapter lead, the Children’s Trust Fund and other local partners on Child Abuse Prevention Month activities, messaging and action. Despite unparalleled evidence of the costs of failing to act, Michigan has disinvested almost entirely from abuse and neglect prevention programs.

Join us in celebrating Child Abuse Awareness Month by taking advantage of new opportunities to build champions for ACE prevention work at the community, state and federal levels and to let Michigan policymakers know that our lack of resource commitment is unacceptable. Supporting community initiatives and investing in proven practice is what is required to avoid the costly results of ACEs.

– Michele Corey, Vice President for Programs, Michigan’s Children

Keeping Family Voices in the Budget Conversation

April 5, 2017 – Michigan’s Children helped to facilitate two FamilySpeak opportunities at the State Capitol in February, continuing our long tradition of helping policy makers learn directly from the experiences of youth and families.

Families spoke about their need to improve their basic literacy and other skills in order to be able to help their children successfully navigate education and life.  Another group of families came to share their heart wrenching experiences trying to care for children and youth in the child welfare system.

I admire the people who speak about their experiences and cannot thank them enough for taking time from their families and their jobs to build the kind of understanding that leads to improved public investment and policy.  And, honestly, I admire the policy makers who prioritize listening to them over all else that they have on their busy agendas.  The challenge, as always, is about how we make sure that the families were listened to and that their advice doesn’t get lost in the policymaking din.

Our role continues to be to connect the dots between what families are saying and current policy conversation.  We have followed up with legislators, reminding them of what was discussed; we have distributed information about the FamilySpeaks in our e-bulletin; and have had several follow up conversations with Departmental staff since the events about issues that were raised.  So, why blog now?  Because we are in the middle of the state budget process, and because Legislators are spending time over the next two weeks at home in their districts.

The families who talked about the critical importance of raising their own basic skills in order to help their kids – they are out of luck in the current year’s budget recommendations so far, which don’t increase adult education, and don’t include family literacy as a strategy in recommendations for improving 3rd grade reading.  But they could.   Appropriations subcommittees from both the House and Senate gave their recommendations for the School Aid budget last week.  They still have plenty of time to recommend some additional funding.

The families who talked about how they, as foster and adoptive parents, needed more training and support, have a couple of things to be glad about in the current budget recommendations, including some additional investment in new staff for foster parent recruitment.  However, the issues that were raised about lack of timely services and difficulties with the court system are not part of any recommended investments.   Appropriations subcommittees looking at the Department of Health and Human Services didn’t finish their recommendations before they left for their spring break.  They need to keep recommendations moving in the right direction and still have time to add things that are missing.

My favorite part of FamilySpeaks and KidSpeaks is the opportunity for policymakers to make commitments to work toward better policy and practice directly to people who have participated.  We all have this opportunity over the next couple of weeks while Legislators are at home to share your stories and get commitments of your own.  We are here to help, now is the time.

– Michele Corey

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