Speaking for Kids

Cast Your Vote for Children, Youth and Families

November 3, 2014 – I came away from our youth-led candidate forums this fall feeling pretty optimistic about our democratic process. The candidates who attended our four forums around the state were well prepared, articulate, respectful and willing to prioritize the intense demands of an election season to spend 2-3 hours with groups of young people, their parents, the organizations supporting them and members of the communities where they live. Despite the fact that many of the young people weren’t of voting age, these candidates recognized that they were future voters and that their parents and other community members were voters or potential voters. The candidates also recognized, and articulated to us, the media and the young people themselves, that they had something to learn from the experience that would help them in the election and beyond.

That said, there are differences between the candidates for office. They have different opinions about the solutions to the concerns raised by the young people at our forums. They have different opinions about the role of government to be part of those solutions, and how much public resource should be invested. They have different priorities for their own work if elected, and different ways to keep in touch with their constituents to make sure that they are prioritizing what works.

I want to thank our local forum partners, who supported the young people in their preparation, facilitated the forum location, and helped Michigan’s Children convince the candidates to come and the media to cover the forums. We will be working with these partners after the election as well, to help the winners better understand critical issues and workable solutions, and to hold them accountable to make sure that their actions once elected match their commitments made.

I also want to personally thank the candidates who spent time with us at our forums. While I’m not endorsing them individually or as a group, we do want to recognize their participation. Many candidates who were invited did not participate, and those who did deserve our respect. The time that they took was so impactful to the young people involved, and helped their communities better understand their commitment to children, youth and families in our state.

Tomorrow is election day. As Matt Gillard said in his recent video on our Sandbox Party website, we are all tired or seeing all of the campaign ads, and getting the endless stream of fliers in our mailboxes and phone calls. However, decisions that will be made by the share of registered voters who show up at the polls to cast their vote will determine the path of our state for years to come. Don’t let those decisions be made by someone else, make sure that you are part of the process.

Find out more about the youth-led candidate forums, and about how you can get more information about your candidates.

Then, of course, come November 5, join us as we use our influence as voters and constituents to help and to guide the winners toward decisions that point us toward a better Michigan for children, youth and families.

– Michele Corey

The Importance of Two-Generation Programming

October 24, 2014 – Last week, Michigan’s Children, in partnership with the Policy Committee of the Black Child Development Institute – Detroit, organized a FamilySpeak forum focusing on two-generation strategies.  This FamilySpeak featured organizations in Detroit and Wayne County that serve families with children in a holistic manner and included the following organizations:

The Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS);

Families on the Move, which supports foster and adoptive caregivers;

Stand Up Parents! Great Start Wayne County Parent Coalition; and

Wayne Children’s Healthcare Access Program (WCHAP).

These organizations brought parents to talk about the challenges they have faced and how these programs have assisted them.  We heard from parents who discussed challenges being in domestic violence situations, parents with diagnosed mental illnesses and the challenges they faced parenting, parents who have struggled with their children’s health issues, former foster care kids who are now adoptive and foster care parents themselves, and more.

This FamilySpeak forum made clear some opportunities to better support more of Michigan’s challenged families through better investment in two-generation approaches.  What the families told us is that traditional programs serving them are essential, but in many instances may not be enough.  Existing two-generation programs that Michigan’s Children has advocated for a long time include Head Start and Early Head Start, evidence-based home visiting, high quality child care, and adult literacy and education.  What families shared at our FamilySpeak forum was that the programs they were connected to went above those traditional two-generation programs by also addressing a particular struggle they were facing.

For example, several women discussed being in domestic violence situations and their challenge with leaving that unsafe environment included being financially dependent on their abuser.  One of the women spoke about the program that she was connected to giving her the opportunity to leave that unsafe environment by connecting her to basic needs like shelter, clothing and food.  Additionally, her children were able to attend a high quality child care while she worked to stabilize her mental health struggles, secure permanent housing, and obtain family-supporting income.  She epitomized a success story coming out of a two-generation program.  Unfortunately, too many other families do not have access to these types of programs due to insufficient programmatic resources for the two-generation strategies that exist, and limited connectivity between those strategies and other needs that families may have.

All of the programs at our FamilySpeak forum exemplified two-generation approaches that help children thrive while parents move ahead.  We are so thankful to the organizations that assisted us in recruiting families, and to the adults who were brave enough to share their very personal stories to ensure a successful FamilySpeak.  Fortunately we weren’t the only one’s hearing the information.  The families were speaking to a listening panel of local, county, and state-level policymakers.  Michigan’s Children is committed to continuing to make family voices heard after the election, and we will all need to hold elected officials accountable for decisions to support two-generation strategies.

Read this brief recap of the FamilySpeak and the policy implications coming out of that forum.

-Mina Hong

It IS About Changing the World

October 20, 2014 – My daughter Sarah is nine, and like many nine year olds, is not that interested in my job. It seems that I just sit around in front of a computer screen all day, and despite our conversations about our roles and responsibilities in a democracy, she has never really understood it – go figure. It isn’t as if I was a fire fighter, a nurse, a teacher or even a restaurant owner, like my husband. This policy advocacy thing has not been something that any of my three children have easily grasped.

Last week, she went with me to the Parenting Awareness Month Conference in Marquette. And much to her chagrin, had to come to my “Policy Advocacy 101” workshop there as I talked about the importance of getting more involved in public policy to a great group of parents and services providers.

Honestly, that kind of thing is a lot of what I do – talking to people about how much it matters to take 5-10 minutes out of their jobs and their lives to influence public policy on behalf of children, youth and families. Michigan’s Children believes that when more people are involved in the policymaking process, particularly people who are directly impacted by the policies themselves, the result is better policy. We blog about it all the time, and work to produce tools and opportunities for that to happen.

Workshop attendees were really engaged in the discussion, and it was clear that the workshop had been impactful. While it seemed like Sarah was paying some attention – she had said that she was just going to read the whole time, but now and then I caught her eye as she was listening to me and to others in the room – we didn’t talk too much about it afterward, and just went on about our travels.

The day after we got home, however, her grandma was asking her the usual stuff, how the trip went, how did she like our hotel, that sort of thing. Then, my mom asked what she thought about my presentation. Sarah turned to me and said rather accusingly, “I thought that your work was about kids, Mom. It is about changing the world!”

Indeed, it is about both. All of our work is about making sure that those who represent us, those who decide how our tax dollars are spent, have everything they need to make the best decisions that they can, understanding the impact of those decisions on us all. The election season is winding down, and we will soon be deciding who those people will be for the next couple of years and beyond. We will try to make the best choices that we can, and then we all have to stand ready to help those we have elected. Help their work be about making public policies that move us to a better Michigan for children, youth and families – those that change the world for kids in our state.

– Michele Corey

Lights On Afterschool Advocacy

The following blog was originally posted by the Michigan After-School Partnership.

10/10/14 – Lights on Afterschool is a nationwide event on October 23rd to celebrate afterschool programs and all of the benefits they bring to the lives of children, particularly children who struggle the most in school. But it also offers another opportunity – an opportunity to elevate the importance of all high quality expanded learning options – before- and after-school programs, summer learning programs, credit recovery programs and other options to expand learning beyond the school day and year with our elected officials.

Why does it matter that we talk to policymakers about expanded learning? Our elected officials are charged with making decisions about a range of topics – many which they know little to nothing about. It’s impossible for one person to be well-versed on education, health, energy, insurance, the justice system, tax code, veteran’s affairs, natural resources, transportation, and all of the other domains under which our elected officials make decisions. As a former state legislator, I know this to be true. Elected officials need you to help them stay informed on the issues that are important to Michigan’s children, youth and families.

So, how do we help them make the best decisions that they can? How can we get involved in policymaking?

  • It can be something that you occasionally dabble in – like contacting your legislator when there’s a timely issue that the Legislature is debating. You can stay informed on timely issues related to children, youth and families by signing up for Michigan’s Children’s electronic communications.
  • You can become a stronger advocate by getting to know the people that represent you and building and maintaining a good relationship with them. Attend your legislators’ coffee hours in your communities, sign-up for their e-bulletins, and communicate with them regularly to keep them informed on topics that you care about.
  • Or you can take it even a step further and invite them to you – to your programs in your community. If you run an afterschool program, invite them to take a tour and visit with the children. If you are a member of your PTA, invite your legislator to come to a meeting and hear the concerns of fellow parents.

Ensuring that policymakers are educated so that they can make informed decisions about afterschool – particularly when it comes to decisions on funding high quality expanded learning opportunities – is critical. I don’t need to tell you about the benefits of high quality expanded learning – you already know that these programs can help students stay academically on-track and can help those who are already behind to catch-up. But your elected officials may not know that. And it’s our jobs to make sure they do.

– Matt Gillard

The Questions No One Else is Asking

September 29, 2014 – The comment that struck me the most at the first of our series of youth-led candidate forums last week in Kalamazoo was echoed by all five candidates in attendance: questions they were being asked by the young people that night had not been asked so far on their campaign trails. The candidates were excited about this, and commended the young people on their thoughtful and thorough articulation of the issues that concerned them most.

There is probably no race in the state that is having more public forums, debates and other opportunities to hear from the candidates than the 20th Michigan Senate District. All three candidates for that office were present at our forum at Mt. Zion Baptist Church last Thursday, as were the two major party candidates running for the 60th House District. All were incredible – articulate, respectful and generous with their limited time.

The reason that these questions were unique is because Michigan’s Children is working with local youth partners to both develop and ask the questions of candidates at our four forums around the state. In Kalamazoo, three groups of young people were involved: Jeter’s Leaders, Calling all Youth at Advocacy Services for Kids, and the newly formed Douglass Youth Advisory Council. These groups developed and prioritized a series of questions that they were interested in hearing the candidates articulate. Then a group of about a dozen of their young people stood up in front of the forum audience and put those questions to the candidates.

The reason we decided to conduct a series of youth-led forums during this election season was to remedy the fact that we don’t often hear candidates talking about issues that really matter to children, youth and families. Turns out, it did the trick. The young people asked questions about access to services, including behavioral and reproductive health; they asked about candidate plans to address high school dropout and high unemployment of young people and their families and their perspectives on basic needs programs that serve families when they are at their most vulnerable. They asked how young people could get more informed about how our government works and how if elected, how the candidates would get consistent and substantive feedback from young people before they made decisions. Each of our five candidates was given equal time to answer each question, and answer they did.

If you can, join us for one of the remaining three forums in Grand Rapids, Lansing and Mt. Clemens. Get more information about the forums themselves, the candidates and our partners on the Sandbox Party website. And don’t forget to attend candidate forums in your area, we have our own questions for candidates on our What’s At Stake page. The general election is only a few weeks away – take all the opportunities you can to hear about what your candidates for office are saying and if they aren’t talking about the issues most important to you, take the opportunity to ask.

– Michele Corey

A New Public Forum for Michigan’s Children

September 19, 2014 – For nearly two decades, Michigan’s Children has organized our trademark KidSpeak® forums in Lansing and around the state.  These KidSpeak® forums provide an opportunity for young people to speak before a Listening Panel of policymakers, community leaders, and other decision-makers on the issues they have struggled with and how programs and services have assisted them.  Michigan’s Children has purposefully recruited young people who have encountered particularly challenging circumstances whether it be young people who have dropped out of school, become teen parents, struggled in the foster care or juvenile justice systems, or faced other significant barriers to their success.  Their perspectives are critically important as children and youth continue to struggle in our state, particularly children and youth of color and from low-income families who face more barriers to succeed in school and in life.

Connecting the experiences of young people directly with policymakers has provided Michigan’s Children with firsthand knowledge of the challenges and opportunities that plays a key role in our policy priority setting.  In addition, linking powerful stories of young people directly with policymakers themselves has proven to be an effective advocacy strategy.  Young people have been the best messengers for key issues like foster care and educational success.  Their voices have changed the trajectory of policy conversations and have resulted in additional champions for youth-driven solutions in the Legislature, state departments and other policymaking bodies.

With the success of our KidSpeak® forums, Michigan’s Children is looking to expand these opportunities to also capture the voices of families with young children to ensure that public policies take a multi-generation approach to ensure that families can succeed.  As the importance of the early years continues to gain recognition, and as the educational attainment and opportunities facing parents and the impact that has on their children is well documented, policymakers must hear from families on how they can best be supported.  This year, for the first time, Michigan’s Children is organizing two FamilySpeak forums to do just that.  Modeled after our signature KidSpeak® forums, FamilySpeak will provide a venue for families who have struggled for a variety of reasons to speak before a listening panel of policymakers and decision-makers.  These FamilySpeak events will focus on two-generation strategies that take into account the needs of children and their parents to ensure that families can thrive.

Our first FamilySpeak forum will be on Monday, September 22nd at the Michigan Association for Community and Adult Education (MACAE) annual conference and will be held in partnership with MACAE and the Goodwill Industries of Southwestern Michigan.  This particular FamilySpeak will highlight an innovative program in Kalamazoo and Allegan Counties called the Life Guides Program, a program of Goodwill.  We are excited that this FamilySpeak will be showcasing this innovative, long-term program – modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone – that works to move low-income families to economic self-sufficiency.

Our second FamilySpeak forum will be on Monday, October 13th at the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI) annual conference in Detroit and will be held in partnership with NBCDI and their Detroit Chapter.  That FamilySpeak will highlight multiple two-generation programs that serve families – ranging from programs that focus on health needs, mental health needs, human service organizations, and others.

To learn more about the FamilySpeak events, feel free to email Mina Hong.

-Mina Hong

Join the #InvestInKids Twitter Rally Today

September 10, 2014 – I try to play the social media game but I honestly feel like I can’t keep up.  I’m just beginning to dabble in the use of #hashtags and still struggle to get my message across in 140 characters or less.  What can I say?  I’m a policy person… trying to get something down to one-page is hard enough!  But, I do recognize that social media can be an effective strategy to move public policy priorities.  And to that end, I urge you to fight any possible social media hesitations – or embrace your love for social media – and participate in today’s #InvestinKids Strong Start Coalition Twitter Campaign from 2-3pm or anytime today if you’re unavailable during that hour.  The purpose of the Twitter storm is to let members of Congress – and I would add our state legislators and candidates for public office – know that investing in young children is a top priority.

The Strong Start Coalition is focusing on expanding access to early childhood opportunities – an issue that Michigan’s Children is prioritizing this election season via the Sandbox Party.  With our state’s significant focus on preschool over the past two years, it’s now time to focus on our littlest Michigan residents.  We must expand funding for programs that serve young children prenatally through age three through a variety of evidence-based services including home visiting, early intervention for developmental delays, and high quality child care.  These are all parts of Michigan’s early childhood system – particularly Early On Early intervention – that have received significantly less attention than preschool.

Michigan’s Children is glad that the importance of home visiting has expanded over the past several years in Michigan, with some increases in state and federal funding for evidence-based home visiting services and through the Governor’s Partners for Success opportunity.  And, we’re glad that the need to increase access to high quality child care is being worked on by the Administration through Michigan’s Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant.  But I would argue that both of these parts of the early childhood system still have quite a ways to go to ensure access to all families who are eligible for these services.  At the same time, Early On continues to be left behind.  An Auditor General’s report that came out last year highlighted some significant challenges with the Early On system – many which are the result of historic underfunding of the Early On system for decades.  In a nutshell, opportunities for our youngest Michigan residents continue to fall far behind.

I hope you will join many other early childhood advocates across the nation today by participating in the #InvestinKids Twitter action.  In addition to targeting our members of Congress, please consider tailoring your message to candidates running for public office.

To learn more about Michigan’s Children’s election efforts, visit www.michigansandboxparty.org.

-Mina Hong

Starting School and Staying There

September 2, 2014 – Here we are, the day after Labor Day, with all eyes toward young people returning to school.  Now that they are back, we need to keep them there – making sure that they aren’t losing opportunity because of multiple absences, and making sure that they stick it out until high school graduation and beyond.

September is national Attendance Awareness Month and the noteworthy Attendance Works national organization released today a study about the impact of attendance, or lack of attendance, on educational success in Michigan and around the country, titled Absences Add Up: How Attendance Influences Student Success.  As the report authors discuss, and Michigan’s Children has discussed many times in our blogs and elsewhere, it has never before been so essential that we move all of our young people to educational success.  One of the barriers to doing this is when young people aren’t getting all of the learning opportunities that they could.  This happens during the summer, it happens during the 80 percent of waking hours that children and youth aren’t in school and it happens when they are absent.  Bottom line:  they miss out and have limited opportunity to catch up.

So, not surprisingly, what Absences Add Up reports is that in Michigan and around the country, your assessment scores have EVERYTHING to do with how often you are absent.  Being present in school matters to academic performance for each grade and subject studied, for every group of children and in every locality.  The report states that “in many cases, the students with more absences have skill levels one to two years below their peers. While students from low-income families are more likely to be chronically absent, the ill effects of missing too much school hold true for all socioeconomic groups.”

In Michigan, there was a 15 point difference in average math assessment scores between 4th graders with no absences in the past month and those who missed at 3 or more days.  Similar gaps are seen in 4th and 8th grade reading.  The largest gap in Michigan is the 23 point difference for 8th grade math.  I see the impact of the cumulative nature of math instruction with my own kids, which is clearly hampered by multiple absence.

What are the keys to keeping kids in school?  Ah, that is the complication.  There are many reasons why children and youth are absent from school, some of which are under the control of the school system and some that are not.  The State Board of Education and the Michigan Department of Human Services recently staffed a Truancy Task Force with the purpose of building a common definition for truancy that could be utilized across the state.  In the course of that discussion, what was also apparent is that there are as many reasons for absence as there are absences themselves and a myriad of ways that local school systems both report and deal with absence.  So if it is this complicated, what can be done?

  1. Support integrated services in schools.  When schools are able to connect families with other community resources, there are more chances to find and address the causes of school absence – be they related to physical and behavioral health issues, unstable housing, bullying or disengagement by parents or students.
  2. Support expanded learning opportunities.  There is ample evidence documenting the impact of quality afterschool and summer learning programs on in-school attendance.  When expanded learning opportunities are utilized to engage and re-engage young people in their learning, they are more likely to engage and re-engage with school as well.

As we’ve been saying over and over again, this election season gives all of us a platform to see what the candidates for office suggest we do to keep kids in school and learning.  When kids miss school, they miss opportunity.  They can’t afford it and neither can we.

Child Care Tax Credits Part 4 – Supporting Michigan Businesses

August 21, 2014 – This is the fourth and final blog in a series about opportunities to improve the quality of Michigan’s child care system through tax credits.  This week, I’m going to blog more in-depth about Louisiana’s tax credits for businesses and what a similar model could do for Michigan.

In Louisiana, businesses are eligible for a tax credit in several ways – one for contributions to Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, and another specifically for business who support employees’ child care needs.  I’m going to talk a bit more about the business credit that helps employees.  Employers can support their employees’ child care needs in three ways:

  1. By making payments directly to a child care facility for employees’ children;
  2. By purchasing child care slots provided or reserved for employees’ children; or
  3. By constructing, renovating, expanding, or repairing a child care center, purchasing equipment, or maintaining or operating a center.

Businesses can receive a tax credit as a percentage of their child care related investments based on the quality rating of the facility that they are investing in.  Because high quality child care costs are so expensive, shifting some of this financial burden off low-income working families will provide a significant benefit to both employees and employers.  For businesses, this type of tax credit will have significant benefits for them as it relates to their day-to-day operations and ultimate success.  With more women in the workforce than ever before and low-income families reliant on all adults in the household working to make ends meet, the needs of working families must be addressed to ensure that businesses can thrive.  We know that inconsistent child care results in more missed work days by parents, which is particularly problematic for low-income parents who struggle to afford consistent child care.  Offering on-site child care or a child care benefit to a high quality program will ensure that staff have reliable child care that will allow them to be more productive at work.  And, offering a child care benefit will allow businesses to attract and retain quality staff.  Additionally, a tax credit for donations made for infrastructure improvements of already existing child care programs provides an enticing incentive for businesses to invest in those quality improvement efforts.

For families, this business tax credit will increase access to higher quality, reliable child care that supports their children’s learning and development.  High quality child care can ensure that young children are building the foundational base they need to succeed in school, and help school-aged children stay academically engaged and on-track. In short, a business tax credit will lead to more productive employees whose children are in high quality child care settings, which will ensure that businesses thrive today and that the workforce of tomorrow will be prepared for Michigan’s global economy.

If high quality child care is something you, your family or your neighbors struggle to access, please consider talking to candidates running for public office about this issue.

Learn more about opportunities through child are tax credits in our Issues for Michigan’s Children publication.

-Mina Hong

Child Care Tax Credits Part 3 – Supporting Child Care Teachers and Directors

August 13, 2014 – This is the third in a series of blogs about opportunities to improve the quality of Michigan’s child care system through tax credits.  This week, I’m going to blog more in-depth about Louisiana’s tax credits for child care teachers and directors and what a similar model could do for Michigan.

In Louisiana, child care teachers and directors are eligible for a tax credit if they work for a licensed child care facility that participates in the quality rating system and are enrolled in the Louisiana Pathways Child Care Career Development System.  The voluntary Pathways system is a mechanism for training and education for child care professionals that provides scholarships and tracks training received.  The refundable tax credit is based on the education level attained ranging from $1,606 to $3,212.  In essence, this tax credit is a wage supplement or salary bonus since the credit is provided directly to the child care teacher or director.

Here in Michigan, like the rest of the country, our child care professionals are sorely underpaid for the invaluable work they do.  We know that, across-the-board, programs struggle to pay child care professionals a livable wage.  For teachers working in programs that serve children in the state’s child care subsidy program, this issue is exacerbated.  A child care tax credit for professionals similar to the Louisiana model would provide an opportunity for our child care teachers and directors to continue on a path of professional development – increasing the quality of the care that Michigan children are in – while also providing some salary boost to support those personal investments.

Michigan has a structure set-up to help child care professionals achieve higher education credentials through the TEACH scholarship program.  The TEACH scholarship covers the cost of tuition – whether it be for a single early childhood education course or for individuals seeking a Child Development Associate, an Associate degree, or a Bachelor’s degree – as well as the cost of books and a travel stipend.  However, TEACH does not provide any ongoing salary bonuses for teachers and directors who have attained higher education levels.  A child care tax credit similar to Louisiana would provide an opportunity for teachers and directors to seek professional development opportunities and allow for some financial incentive to support those efforts, better supporting Michigan’s child care professionals and improving the quality of child care.

If high quality child care is something you, your family or your neighbors struggle to afford, please consider talking to candidates running for public office about this issue.

Learn more about opportunities through child are tax credits in our Issues for Michigan’s Children publication.

-Mina Hong

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