Speaking For Kids

The Elections are Over. Now What About the Babies?

November 17, 2016 – As you know, in our wonderful and imperfect democracy that we call the United States of America, citizens recently had the opportunity to vote for elected officials who will make decisions on our behalves.  Many, many decisions.  And in our imperfect democracy, half of us are excited and half of us are concerned about what the future holds, but it is clear.  The government isn’t working for many many individuals and families.  And now is the time that we all need to take action.

Policymakers report hearing from only about 10 to 20% of their constituents.  That means that very few of us are holding our elected officials accountable for the decisions they are making that impact the lives of Michigan families, even though we, the people, are their bosses.  And then we wonder why policymakers make choices that we don’t agree with…

This is where democracy only works as well as we are willing to put into it.  This is where you come in.

I would bet that at best, perhaps one person in the State Legislature understands infant mental health.  Maybe a few understand the importance of social-emotional well-being.  Maybe a few more understand the foundational importance of the first three years of life.  If the vast majority of policymakers don’t understand the importance of those first three years, the importance of safe and secure attachment of babies with caregivers, and how various programs and services throughout our state aim to promote a strong social-emotional foundation for babies and toddlers, how can we expect them to make informed public policy decisions based on evidence and research that you know to be true?

Voting is just one step in the democratic process of an engaged electorate.  Now is the time for you to make sure that those victorious candidates – and those who weren’t up for re-election and will continue to serve in the next legislative session – understand that the social-emotional well-being of babies and toddlers is incredibly important.  They, like all of us, need to be asking themselves, “What about the babies?”  And while they certainly don’t need to become experts, policymakers should have a foundational understanding and know that they can turn to you when they have questions and need more information.

So what can you do?

Get to know your policymakers.  Sign-up for email bulletins from your State Representative and your State Senator and follow them on Facebook.  Visit them at their local coffee hours or request to meet with them when they’re home in their districts (Fridays through Mondays).  Invite them to visit your program, join you for a home visit, or engage them in other ways to speak to families who have been assisted by your services.  Now is the time to begin educating them and building a relationship with them so they turn to you when they have questions about the needs of Michigan families with babies and toddlers and can start making informed public policy decisions.

Learn more on how to strengthen your advocacy skills on our website.

-Mina Hong

This blog was originally written for “The Infant Crier,” the newsletter of the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health.

Staff adjusted this post to address other priorities, and it has appeared in the following partner bulletins:

Fostering Success Michigan

Michigan After School Partnership

Turning Frustration Into Opportunity

November 9, 2016 – As disheartened as I am with the rhetoric of this year’s presidential campaign, the results clearly point to the extraordinary level of frustration on the part of people around the state and nation that our public systems are not working for them. That frustration was let out at the ballot box, as it should be.

The trickier task for me, as an advocate for better public policy investment in what really works to improve the lives of children, youth and families, is to tease out the reality from the rhetoric – from the winning candidates as well as from the voters. Frustration is borne of situations where you believe you are getting a bad deal, where you believe that something different should be happening. The frustrations that came out during this presidential election had to do with feeling left behind in the current economy and the impact of those economic losses on quality of life. They also had to do with feeling like the political construct of this nation was being led by people who don’t understand lived experience.  Some of the frustration came out as fear.

I would never justify any of the statements made over this election season that were, honestly, horrifying and unbelievable in their disrespect of women, of Muslims, of immigrants, of Latinos, of differently abled people, and of others.  And now, we need to move forward. We must harness the frustration that has spilled out and work together in creating opportunity to change the things that need changing.

I have worked my whole professional life to help people realize that there is a path for their frustration. That we own this democracy, this state and this country. That the decisions that have disenfranchised us and failed to support us can be changed. As we move forward, Michigan’s Children and many others will be working hard to listen to the frustrations expressed around the state and help to redefine those frustrations into policy strategies. We will continue to provide opportunities for people to express their frustrations directly to decision makers and use those conversations to build relationships that support champions for change.

We are frustrated too. Let’s use it to move Michigan children, youth and families forward.

– Michele Corey

Youth Lead, Candidates Follow

October 28, 2016 – On Tuesday, October 18, Michigan’s Children partnered with Ingham Academy and Peckham Inc. to facilitate Michigan’s Children’s 2nd 2016 youth-led candidate forum in Lansing. The youth who spoke at the forum were youth currently or formerly involved with the juvenile court system, who attended Ingham Academy and programs through Peckham Inc. The young people had a lot of great questions to ask the candidates present running for the 67th Michigan House district, and Ingham County Sheriff and Prosecutor.

This forum was particularly interesting because the youth were able to stand and ask candidates who make decisions regarding their lives questions about some of the things they have experienced firsthand. The youth asked about topics from foster care, substance abuse services, transitional programs, human trafficking, and community violence, to mental health and holistic practices for sentencing youth in juvenile court. The candidates responded to the youth placing an emphasis on enhancing the relationships between the county officials and the community, along with community policing, and advocating for the allocation of funds for programs that the youth need in their communities. Through their stories and questions, the youth were able to utilize the forum as a safe space to advocate for a better, more-resourced community environment. Personally, it is truly refreshing to see so many youth communicate the needs of their communities in such a strong way to the candidates. It is equally as refreshing to see the candidates take time out of their busy schedules during this election season to hear the youths concerns, and learn more about the issues that are pertinent to the communities that they are hoping to serve for the next several years.

The forum elicited many spectators who were from local non-profit organizations, the Lansing courts, and other interested community members, family, and friends of the youth. The size and strength of the audience illustrated community support for the youth, which clearly boosted their confidence as they told their stories and asked their questions. It was refreshing to hear the youth claim and embrace their journey as they provided support for the importance of their questions by sharing their own life experiences. As an audience member, I can only hope that the candidates take all of these personal stories into consideration after the election. For the winners: as they create and advance their agenda once in office; for the others, as they continue with other opportunities to serve the community. The candidates offered solutions, and even though complete answers could not be provided to every question, the youth stated that just by putting their concerns on the table they felt as if they made a difference in their communities.

As an advocate for youth voice, and including the practical experiences and knowledge from youth about their communities and schools in policy change decisions, I could not have asked for a better response from the youth. It is my hope that the youth continue to grow, and create and participate in spaces for dialogue about the changes in their communities as they continue through their educational and life endeavors. The youth in this forum had great perspectives and the candidates made sure the youth felt heard which made for yet another successful forum.

– Briana Coleman
Briana is an MSW intern at Michigan’s Children.

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