Speaking For Kids

Opportunities Toward Empowerment

In the last two months as Michigan’s Children’s new intern, opportunities toward empowerment have surfaced as a main theme that permeates the work I have witnessed here.

One of Michigan’s Children’s key advocacy strategies is to participate in the education of constituents and community leaders all over Michigan. On our webpage we offer budget breakdowns, arrange overviews on gaps in educational and racial equity, and provide resources for contacting legislators.  We create opportunities for empowerment of youth voice such as our annual KidSpeak© event, which brings youth to the Capital and provides a space for their perspective and opinion to be heard by legislators.

We also meet with community groups or organizations and present on a variety of topics concerning children’s issues.  In a recent meeting with The Coordinating Council of Calhoun County (TCC), a community group centered on promoting optimum well-being of all people in their county, the dynamics of cooperation, knowledge and collaboration give way to an impressive response.

During a presentation by Mina Hong, our senior policy associate, TCC was encouraged to gather into groups and create an advocacy strategy.  From a knowledge that only comes with an eagerness to be involved in the multiple issues facing their community, TCC members identified key issues, they came together and brainstormed multiple people in power that they could influence, and they identified community members with strengths that could be effective at communicating. What I saw that morning was a group of community leaders come together, cooperate, communicate and build on one another.

After a couple of weeks of observing policy being created and interviewing mothers of disadvantaged children (stay tuned for a publication based on those interviews in the following weeks), it can be easy to feel a little weighed down by the inherent complexity of advocacy work and the stories of struggle of some of our most vulnerable children. But of course, as we often find out, these are not the only stories being told in Michigan.  TCC demonstrated that and I learned a valuable lesson, that there is a wealth of strength and power in our communities and in our people.

This brings me back to my reflection on our work, that through the encouragement and provision of information to constituents, we have the opportunity to build upon what was already there: strong people doing hard things for the benefit of their neighbors. 

-Ben Kaiser

Ben is a BSW student at Cornerstone University completing his practicum with Michigan’s Children

Will Michigan Leaders Rise to the Sequestration Challenge?

I know, I know.  We are all a bit fatigued by the Sequestration conversation.  The word itself is too complicated and irritating, and the public is so fed up with reports of partisan bickering and inactivity in Washington, DC that they just expect that our elected officials won’t reach any solution to yet another stage of our country’s ongoing fiscal crisis.  However, on the day that without further action, the federal government will remove millions of dollars directly from Michigan coffers, I felt the need to talk about it one more time.

We rely so heavily in Michigan on federal funding, particularly for the programs that do the most to promote equity in our state – those that directly target disparities present by race and ethnicity, by income, or by other characteristics like speaking English as a second language or needing Special Education services; and others that don’t specifically target particular populations but still successfully reduce the equity gap.  In the face of a future workforce set to be its most diverse yet, Michigan leaders have spent the last decade or so disinvesting state resource in the kinds of programs that are proven effective in closing equity gaps – resulting in deeper and deeper reliance on federal funding.

The State Budget Director reflected his concerns about the potential cuts in assistance to poor families, low-income pregnant women, young children – really the most vulnerable among us.  He also reflected that the state is in no position to offset federal reductions to these and other engines of economic recovery, like education, job training and college scholarships, which we all would have surmised.

As the Legislature discusses the Governor’s proposal for how we finance operations in the state of Michigan, they aren’t basing their priorities on the changing Federal playing field, but they really need to start.  I can point to several places where we will need to rise to this unprecedented budgeting challenge that will be faced by everyone, but faced more acutely by the children and families who experience the greatest challenges themselves.  You’ve heard all of these from Michigan’s Children before:

  • reinstating the Earned Income Tax Credit to fiscal year 2012 levels;
  • increasing investment for family support services that reach struggling families with infants and toddlers; and
  • include equity building strategies of preschool, after-school and more time for high school graduation in any education reform and financing decisions.

Unfortunately, I can point to only one strategy where they are discussing the kind of investment necessary – the proposed increase in the state’s proven effective preschool program.  This increased funding is more important today than it was even yesterday, but it is certainly not enough.

Now is not the time to bury our heads in the sand.  The impact of sequestration cuts will have devastating effects on our state’s budget and on the state’s ability to close equity gaps in income, health and educational success.  We have to keep talking to our Congressional Delegation about the impact of federal funding in this state, and remind them that they still have an opportunity to reverse the sequester cuts in budget discussions for the remainder of the federal fiscal year.

We also have to demand that our Governor and State Legislature step to the plate to increase investment in the programs that matter to the future of Michigan.

-Michele Corey

Why Health Insurance Matters to an Equitable P-20 System

Here at Michigan’s Children, we recently switched our health insurance plan, and I’ve been dealing with the headaches associated with it.  Mainly, finding a new physician (that the customer service folks at the health insurance company had confirmed twice was in-network) and then finding out that my doctor isn’t actually in-network when it came time to pay the bill.  Basically, meaning that I have to cover more of the doctor visit out-of-pocket rather than being covered by my insurance.  (Don’t worry, I’m still battling this one.)

While I’ve been navigating the hassles of our health insurance system, I can’t help but think about how fortunate I am to be able to deal with this frustration.  I consider myself to be well-educated (read: I know how to use health insurance lingo), squarely in the middle class (read: if I absolutely had to, I could pay for the out-of-pocket costs), and my workplace gives me the flexibility to spend far too much time on the phone with the customer service agents at my health insurance company since, of course, they’re only open during regular business hours.

And then of course, since I am me, I think about how my experience relates to my work.  At Michigan’s Children, we focus on strategies that reduce disparities in child outcomes.  That means we’re talking about low-income families and families of color who may not understand the health insurance lingo nor have flexibility during working hours to deal with 9-5 frustrations.  When a system is built to work against the average citizen (read: me), it can only create larger barriers for the most challenged children and families.

My health insurance frustrations also make me thankful that the Governor is proposing to take advantage of the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid for low-income adults up to 133% of the federal poverty line, despite criticisms from his colleagues in the Legislature.  Sure, more people in Michigan will have to struggle with navigating Medicaid, just like I’ve been struggling for the past couple of days.  But in the end, being uninsured is far worse than dealing with the hassles of health insurance, and this expansion is a much better deal for Medicaid recipients and taxpayers alike.  And for adults of child-bearing age, having access to adequate health care is crucial to ensuring a healthy planned pregnancy and that all babies are born healthy – the first steps in a P-20 education system.

Governor Snyder’s proposed Medicaid expansion is one step towards improving outcomes for Michigan’s most struggling families.  Expanding access to preschool is another strategy towards reducing the achievement gap.  As a state, we must also focus on equity-promoting strategies across the P-20 continuum to truly reduce disparities in child and family outcomes.  These include strategies that support families with young children from birth through age three, and ensuring that students have access to the supports they need to succeed in school like high quality out-of-school opportunities.  We must focus on reducing disparities across the entire continuum, from cradle to career.

Learn more about the Governor’s budget and whether it’s promoting equity to ensure that all Michigan children can thrive.

-Mina Hong

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