Speaking For Kids

Secretary Duncan, You Missed An Awesome Opportunity

Monday afternoon, early childhood advocates and fans filled a room at the Perry Preschool in Ypsilanti to hear from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan discuss President Obama’s Early Learning Proposal, Governor Rick Snyder on his efforts to expand preschool, and other experts on the value of early childhood education.  While Washtenaw County residents made-up a significant portion of the folks in the room, early childhood advocates from Detroit, Lansing and other communities also were in attendance to learn more about what Secretary Duncan had to say about the President’s historic effort to expand early learning opportunities across the prenatal through age five spectrum.

While the excitement around preschool is much deserved and grounded in solid research, I can’t help but feel that Secretary Duncan missed an opportunity to promote the comprehensive nature of the President’s Early Learning Plan.  For starters, the President’s plan doesn’t focus purely on four-year-old preschool, but rather encompasses the entire early learning experiences that are needed prenatally through age five.  Specifically, Obama’s plan calls for investments to expand evidence-based voluntary home visiting programs that support pregnant women and families with infants and toddlers, investments in high quality Early Head Start – Child Care partnerships that serve young children from birth through age three, high quality preschool for four-year-olds, and full-day kindergarten for five-year-olds.  This is what a comprehensive early learning plan looks like.  Unfortunately, much of the conversation yesterday revolved around preschool with only one mention to home visiting.

When Secretary Duncan was sitting next to Governor Snyder, I wish he had emphasized these other critical components to the early learning plan.  Preschool is a critical component and one that we know helps reduce disparities in school readiness.  We also know that for the children and families who are struggling the most in Michigan, more comprehensive services beginning prenatally that connect to a high quality preschool program ensures that more children will be better prepared for kindergarten.

And while we’re at it, there was quite a bit of discussion about universal preschool, with talk by Washtenaw residents who volunteered to pilot a universal preschool model in their county.  I would argue that this is antithetical to the early childhood system, which was created to serve the most challenged children and families.  In fact, all of the research supporting the return on investment for high quality early learning experiences is based on programs that serve very low-income children whose families often faced multiple challenges.  Rather than jumping to four-year-old preschool for all children, Michigan should first build a comprehensive early childhood system similar to the President’s proposal so that more kids are ready to succeed at kindergarten and beyond.  In Michigan, we need to expand access to voluntary home visiting and other services prenatally through age three, bolster our child care system (which is one of the worst in the nation), at the same time that we expand access to preschool for low-income children.   This is how we prevent the school readiness gap, prevent the achievement gap that we see in K-12, and ensure that we get the greatest return on our taxpayers’ investment – not by providing preschool for all children.

As Secretary Duncan continues to travel the country to promote Obama’s Early Learning Proposal, I would urge him not to shy away from discussing the details of the President’s plan.  He had a great opportunity this week in a room full of early childhood advocates who understand that the early childhood system doesn’t begin with preschool – he can help us move the public discourse towards a more comprehensive early childhood system.

-Mina Hong

Medicaid Expansion Matters to Michigan Children

Governor Rick Snyder made a huge step in a healthier direction for the state when he proposed to expand Medicaid access to Michigan residents by taking advantage of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Under the ACA, states can choose to expand Medicaid to uninsured individuals living at 133% of the federal poverty level (FPL) or below, $31,322 for a family of four.  This expansion would not cover additional children under the age of 19 since they are already covered by Medicaid or MIChild up to 200% FPL.  However, it would have a significant positive impact on the well-being of Michigan children from cradle to career.

One major group of young people who will benefit from the Medicaid expansion is young adults – young people between the ages of 19 and 24 would make-up one-quarter of the individuals covered by the expansion.  There are many young adults who work beyond the traditional four years toward completing their high school diplomas – 18% of low-income students in Michigan utilize a 5th or 6th year of high school to graduate, and are unlikely to have access to workplace health insurance during this time.  Expanding Medicaid will allow young adults to continue to work towards their high school credential while having access to affordable health care and can continue to have access to health care as they transition into the workforce, expanding those options.

Additionally, many young adults in the 19 to 24 age range are also parents of young children.  Medicaid expansion would improve more young parents’ health and subsequently their ability to keep consistent employment and provide for their children.  Currently, the Michigan Medicaid program covers parents below 50% FPL, leaving many low-income parents without access to care.  Yet studies show that insured children with insured parents are more likely to receive check-ups and other health care than insured children with uninsured parents.  And for those young adults without children, having access to health insurance means access to family planning services to plan for their futures and behavioral health services to assist them in their success.  This includes planning for future pregnancies and ensuring that they are healthy before becoming pregnant so that they can have healthier pregnancies and healthier babies.  In a nutshell, expanding access to health insurance for parents and young adults leads to better health outcomes for Michigan families.

So what’s the status of Medicaid expansion in Michigan?  Neither the House nor Senate has included this expansion in their budget proposals for fiscal year 2015.  However, the Senate Appropriations Committee is continuing to discuss the possibility of including Medicaid expansion in their version of the Department of Community Health budget bill before they pass it out of committee.  Now is the time to reach out to the Senate Appropriations Committee members about the importance of Medicaid expansion for you, your children, your family, and your community.

Learn more about Medicaid expansion and what it means for Michigan children in our Budget Basics fact sheet.

-Mina Hong

Child Abuse Prevention Month ≈ Month of the Young Child

This month, child advocates across the country are promoting awareness around two very important issues.  April marks the national Child Abuse Prevention Month and the Month of the Young Child.  Coincidentally, these two topics have a lot of overlap since young children are more likely to be victims of abuse or neglect than older children, particularly infants.  In fact, almost 5,000 Michigan babies were determined to be victims of maltreatment in 2011 according to the latest Michigan Kids Count Data Book.  And unfortunately in Michigan, child maltreatment has been on the rise since 2005, mainly through the rise of neglect cases.  This is directly correlated to Michigan’s rising child poverty rates as evidenced by data – young children under the age of five who are receiving food assistance has also been on the rise from 24 percent in 2005 to 37 percent in 2011.

Unfortunately in Michigan, much of this rise in child maltreatment has been the result of the state’s disinvestment in family support programs.  Ensuring that families have the supports they need to provide a safe, healthy, and nurturing home environment is a strategy that improves outcomes for children, particularly those most challenged by their circumstances.  However insufficient access to basic needs like adequate employment, housing, food, clothing, and health care have resulted in unacceptable disparities in family and child well-being that continue to grow over a child’s life, including child maltreatment.

The good news is that the best time to prevent child maltreatment is to target families with young children.  Child maltreatment typically results from parents who struggle to adequately provide for their children physically, mentally, developmentally, and emotionally.  Supports like home visiting programs and other child abuse prevention programs give parents the tools they need to provide a nurturing and safe home environment to be their child’s first and best teacher while saving taxpayer dollars.  But as a state, we have struggled to provide these critical supports.  While funding to comply with the Children’s Rights Settlement has increased support to foster care and child protective services, funding to support child abuse/neglect prevention has not kept pace.  At the same time, Michigan has put additional stress on the lowest-income families with stricter lifetime limits to the Family Independence cash assistance program, reductions in the Earned Income Tax Credit, almost complete elimination of the clothing allowance for Michigan’s poorest children, and stricter eligibility requirements to access the Food Assistance Program.  Pulling out critical safety net programs from under Michigan’s most challenged families has a detrimental impact on the well-being of young children and increases the already unacceptable disparities in child outcomes.  Reversing some of the damaging changes to basic needs programs while expanding access to child abuse prevention programs are essential to ensure that all children are safe, healthy, and ready to succeed in school and life.

As part of Child Abuse Prevention Month, the Michigan Children Trust Fund is hosting its annual Prevention Awareness Day on Tuesday, April 16th on the Michigan Capitol Steps.  This event is a time to recognize Child Abuse Prevention Month and honor all the children and families in our state.  It’s also a great time for child welfare advocates across the state to talk to legislators about the importance of prevention programs and basic needs programs and how they benefit your family and your community.  As legislators negotiate the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year, hearing about the immediate family and child benefits as well as the long-term savings to the state that child abuse prevention programs provide is critical.  Equally important for legislators to hear about are the detrimental child outcomes that result from family stressors related to income insecurity, inadequate health care, and the like.  Will you take part in Prevention Awareness Day activities on behalf of Michigan’s most vulnerable children?

More information about Prevention Awareness Day is available on the Children’s Trust Fund website.

-Mina Hong

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