Speaking for Kids

Better Supporting Early On Michigan

March 24, 2015 – This is the second blog about an opportunity that Michigan’s Children had this month to strategize action around some very important services that touch the lives of families with babies and toddlers.  In partnership with the Early Childhood Investment Corporation and the Early On Michigan Foundation, Michigan’s Children organized a session to bring together allies and stakeholders to begin to build improvements to the Early On system.  Early On is our state’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) – Part C program that provides early intervention services to families with young children from birth to age three who have developmental delays or disabilities.  Currently in Michigan, the main source of funding for Early On comes from the federal government, which is sorely inadequate to provide appropriate services.  The intent of the session earlier this month was for participants to gain a shared understanding of IDEA Part C and those federal requirements, Early On in Michigan and its ability to appropriately serve eligible children and their families, and to begin identifying opportunities to bolster the system.

The Early On session was one of the first times in recent years that a room of state-level early childhood advocates, staff from the Michigan Departments of Education and Community Health, and local Early On providers had the opportunity to talk about how to advance that system.  It was clear that folks were glad to be having the conversation because it’s not often that you get a room of 45 busy individuals staying to the last minute of a 3-hour long meeting and even sticking around afterwards to continue some conversations in smaller groups.  It was clear from that session that ensuring young children and their families can access appropriate early intervention services across the state was a high priority for those from inside and outside the Early On system.  It was also clear that adequate and equitable services are currently not available and that this must be remedied with additional state investment.  While the group heard from one local community about their fairly robust early intervention services being supported by a sizeable local mileage, local support for Early On varies widely across the state with many communities having no local investment to support early intervention.  And given that there is no state investment for the majority of Early On eligible children and their families, the significant disparities in the adequacy of services available continues to persist.

One of the action steps identified by this group was for the state to look into maximizing federal Medicaid funds to support aspects of the Early On system – much like many other states do but not in Michigan.  While all kids who receive Early On services aren’t Medicaid recipients, a good portion of them are, making this resource a viable option to support some intervention services such as physical or occupational therapy.  Michigan’s Children is leading efforts to explore this option.    However, drawing down Medicaid funds isn’t possible without a match, reinforcing the need for a state appropriation for Early On.  Michigan’s Children in partnership with the Early On Michigan Foundation and others will continue to pursue this route in the FY2016 budget being debated and into the future.

Learn more about Early On by reading our Issues for Michigan’s Children publication.

-Mina Hong

Addressing the Risk and Taking the Opportunity

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

March 23, 2015 – It is such an exciting time in Michigan for expanded learning. The recent recognition from the Governor’s Office that expanded learning is part of the answer to our 3rd grade reading dilemma was step one (and a result of many discussions and great partners.) In his budget proposal being discussed now by the Legislature, he included $10 million to expand learning opportunity for kids in K-3. In addition, the Governor proposed some serious increases in At-Risk funding for local districts to help them serve their most challenged students – specifically those who are having trouble reading by the 3rd grade and those eventually either not graduating at all, or graduating with limited college and career readiness, which could also open the door for more resource for evidenced expanded learning programming.

Unfortunately, this good news is seriously tempered by the challenge before us in Congress. Michigan has relied almost entirely on federal funds to support our expanded learning efforts through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) program. This has been invaluable, in that it has allowed us to do a whole bunch of research, so we know a lot about what works in expanded learning. One thing that works is to make sure that there is a consistent level of quality for programs that are funded, and that those programs have access to technical assistance and support. That happens because CCLC funding is specifically targeted toward that program – it comes with some strings attached, and that’s a good thing. Those strings have allowed our expanded learning programs to grow their evidence and improve their practice. At this point, Congress is talking about eliminating specific funding for CCLC, and best case scenario, rolling it back into grants that would go to local educational agencies to spend on any number of priorities. Not pulling out that money specifically for CCLC, which results in quality, evaluated, supported before- and after school and summer learning programs is the wrong approach.

We need a strong CCLC program to help grow stronger state investment for expanded learning – both depend on the other. Join Michigan’s Children, others in the Michigan After-School Partnership (MASP) and many advocates across the country in talking with your U.S. Representative and our U.S. Senators. Let them know that there is value to the CCLC program the way that it is, and if you are a CCLC grantee, invite them over and show them why. OR, if you aren’t a grantee, invite them over and show them what could be done if there was more funding for that program to go around.

Also join us in talking with your Michigan Representative and Senator. Let them know that it is high time that Michigan put some state investment in evidenced practice, like yours. Invite them over and show them how your program helps kids read by the 3rd grade, and helps families help their own children learn. Have them talk with students who can tell them directly how your programs are working with their schools so they will be more college and career ready.

– Matt Gillard

Read our recent Issues for Michigan’s Children: Expanded Learning Opportunities are Critical to Improve 3rd Grade Reading.

A Much Needed Conversation about Child Care

March 16, 2015 – Last week, Michigan’s Children partnered with the Early Childhood Investment Corporation and several other state advocacy partners to organize opportunities to strategize action around some very important services that touch the lives of families with babies and toddlers.  With national assistance from Zero to the Three, The Ounce of Prevention Fund, and the IDEA Infant Toddler Coordinators Association (IDEA ITCA), the sessions focused on the current landscape of the home visiting, child care, and Early On systems in Michigan, and engaged attendees in identifying necessary steps toward improvement.  Today, I’m going to talk a bit more about the session focusing on child care and some of what that means for Michigan’s Children’s work in the coming months.

First and foremost, a state-level conversation about how to improve the child care system in Michigan hadn’t taken place in years, which is evidenced by the significant challenges faced by that system; and participants, including Michigan’s Children, have felt that the discussion was long overdue.  A significant part of the conversation included reframing child care from a welfare and low-wage workforce support to an early education priority.  The Governor’s third grade reading proposal included child care improvements, reflecting this shift within the administration that many view as a victory for child care, but the connections are not often recognized by other policymakers.

At Michigan’s Children we believe that child care is an essential part of two-generation strategies to help children thrive while their parents can get ahead in life; and that talking about child care from an education perspective – knowing that decades of research tells us that children’s success is strongly connected to their parents’ success – is critical.  To take it one step further, this also means that we need to be supporting parents’ education.  This means allowing parents to access child care assistance while in adult education programs (think, family literacy), as well as allowing adult education to be an allowable activity for families to receive cash assistance.  But I digress.

Another key piece of any discussion to improve child care in Michigan is the need to restructure the child care subsidy system to better match market demands.  This would mean a shift from the current hourly reimbursement rates, which have not enabled consistent care, to part-time or full-time payment rates.  If we want to get serious about child care being an education program, then we must support what research consistently shows us impacts child outcomes in child care – quality interactions between the teacher and child which is dependent on continuous, consistent, quality care.  This type of care is not sustainable with an hourly payment structure – we can’t keep paying child care subsidies like we would a babysitter, but rather pay for it the same way we pay for preschool and k-12 education.

Fortunately, the Governor’s FY2016 budget includes some improvements to the child care system that will support what the research shows us.  And fortunately three of the four recommendations were already approved by the Legislature via supplemental budget to begin implementation in the current fiscal year.  His proposals include:

  • Funding to allow families to access 12-months of continuous child care subsidy that supports the research showing that consistent care matters for children and families and essential for child care providers trying to maintain their businesses.
  • Additional tiered reimbursement acknowledging that higher quality child care is more costly.
  • Allowing families to maintain their subsidies as they begin to earn a little bit more money to not have to suddenly shoulder expensive child care costs on their path to economic stability.
  • Funding to hire additional licensing consultants to ensure that child care programs are maintaining basic health and safety standards. This is the only recommendation that was not included in the supplemental and must be included in the FY2016 budget.

To learn more about the Governor’s budget recommendations including the third grade reading details and child care, read our Budget Basics.   And stay tuned for a future blog on the Early On session.

-Mina Hong

Kids Count Offers an Important Resource for Boosting Your Advocacy Skills

March 9, 2015 — There’s a popular adage about the use of data and how to apply facts when advancing a particular cause or agenda. It is: While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, no one is entitled to their own facts.

In Michigan and across the nation, we are fortunate that the facts that child and family advocates rely on to spark conversation and foster public decision-making are a product of the Michigan League for Public Policy’s Kids Count in Michigan Data Book. Released early each year, the report gives us a reliable annual review of child well-being with a profile of every county and the city of Detroit.

We use it throughout the year to track progress and shortcomings, and point out where public resources should be focused and public support galvanized. Due to Michigan’s long recessionary struggles, it comes as no surprise that our state’s bleak experiences with child poverty has been one of the main yearly talking points and in particular as cited in the 2015 report, which found a 35- percent increase in child poverty over the past six years. The report also references disturbing trends in the numbers of children identified and confirmed as children of abuse and neglect. With economic stressors comes family instability, often accompanied by incidences of domestic violence, substance abuse and behavioral health problems, which can be connected to child maltreatment.

The information compiled in the Kids Count report has been used by policymakers, journalists, advocates and the public at large to detail and discuss the enormity of poverty and poor child outcomes at home and across the state. At Michigan’s Children, the report has served to influence recommended state policies in areas of economic security, child health, family and community life and education.

Staff here routinely answers press inquiries to examine local data against the effectiveness even availability of programs serving children and families. Working with one Northern Michigan journalist recently, Vice President for Programs Michele Corey advised taking a hard look at a local rise in foster care rates which appeared to run counter to a decline in those rates across the state. What’s behind the numbers? Are family supports lacking locally that could improve family stability? What could account for this change?

Long-time health officer Marcus Cheatham, formerly with the Ingham County Health Department and now lead officer with the Mid-Michigan District Health Department in Stanton, says Kids Count’s value arrives from helping to drive needed public conversations that can lead people to care and make a difference.

“It’s a chance to show policymakers what those of us in human services see all the time: that the most vulnerable among us have the fewest resources and are often left behind,” Cheatham said.

Using specific county-by-county data to drive difficult community conversations is critical, he said. “People are often surprised that Michigan has so much rural poverty — it’s not just a Flint thing,” he added. “Also, many people don’t think their community has issues — they think its somewhere else. So showing them can get them going.”

Cheatham’s insights highlight the value that Kids Count data has when used by community activists and average citizens, too. Unless we become familiar with what the data shows about our own communities, and use it to spark conversations with those who can make policy changes, the information won’t do what it’s intended to do – make a positive difference in the lives of our children and their futures.

So arm yourselves with the latest facts here. Check out our Issues Brief, “Kids Count in Michigan Data Book 2015: Using data to Inform Current Policy Priorities,” and explore our “Take Action” pages for tips on becoming an effective advocate.

Then contact your elected representatives to educate them about the state of child well-being at home. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper about what the data says in your community. Talk to your friends, neighbors and family about what the information tells us. Start a conversation that could lead to making a difference in the future of all of our children. In this way, the value of Kids Count will linger long after the report is released.

– Teri Banas

What Children, Youth and Families Need in the New State Superintendent

March 10, 2015 – The search for the new Superintendent of Schools is in the homestretch. Six candidates have been identified.  All but one have led local and intermediate school district work in Michigan, the other is a deputy in Massachusetts’s education department.

This choice has enormous implications for Michigan, particularly in how we build educational success with the most challenged among us. Clearly, we can assume that the candidates are steeped in education pedagogy expertise, and know what they are doing running a classroom and a school building during the school day. The job requires that expertise and more as they face Michigan’s big challenges – some of the largest achievement gaps in the nation; consistently poor showing compared to other states on education measures; and limited improvement on state assessments.

Current Superintendent Flanagan is certainly leaving a legacy. He helped to facilitate the enormous expansion of 4-year old preschool, and has been an outspoken advocate for the importance of the early years for later educational success. Under his watch, the state committed to closing gaps in educational outcomes for African American boys, resulting in shifts in Department practice, and support for local system efforts. In addition, he helped to facilitate several public/private task forces that looked closely at some of the critical issues feeding these gaps including truancy and school discipline practices.

There also have been enormous strides to broaden our methods of attaining, measuring and documenting college and career readiness skills. Partnerships have begun to form with employers, post-secondary institutions and community partners who provide learning opportunities outside the school day. This work points to the need for significant changes in our system that will not only benefit all kids in K-12 schools, but would be a game changer in skill building and credit accumulation for the most challenged young people in this state.

The new Superintendent will need to redouble all of that work. And to be successful, they will need to skillfully collaborate – not only with the Governor and the Legislature (both of whom hold the purse strings), but with the leaders of other state departments, with the rest of the education and workforce continuum, and with other community resources. They will need to capitalize on the broad recognition that what happens beyond the school doors impacts educational success, and call on resources beyond their own purview to help.

Beyond continuing support for current initiatives, what are some specifics priorities for the new Superintendent?

  1. Better address the educational needs of parents. The most consistent predictor of educational success for children remains the educational success of their parents – the research couldn’t be clearer on that. If we want to improve 3rd grade reading and college and career readiness, we not only have to look earlier than kindergarten and bolster children’s experiences beyond the school doors, we also have to look at our support of adult literacy through our adult education system. This system has not successfully served the most challenged adults for quite a while, many of whom are the parents of the most struggling learners.
  2. Focus investment on expanding learning options for children, youth and families beyond the traditional school day. At this point, Michigan relies almost entirely on uncertain federal funds to support before- and after-school and summer programming evidenced to cut equity gaps. In addition, fully coordinating community services through evidenced integrated student services models needs to be given priority.
  3. Extend leadership in improving care for young children beyond pre-school. While Michigan has taken and made strides in improving the quality of our child care system, we’ve done that with fixed federal rather than state investment, limiting our ability to drastically improve access to high quality care. Our subsidy system for the poorest working families consistently ranks us at the very bottom in the nation.  A few years ago, Michigan brought the state’s child care system under the auspices of the Office of Great Start, and additional strides to improve that system are needed.
  4. Develop consistent ways to engage young people in reform strategies and priority development – particularly those experiencing the most challenging educational and life circumstances. This is not easy, but could be done with the help of partners, including Michigan’s Children.
  5. Lead cross-department efforts.  Early on in his 1st term in office, the Governor developed a strategy to connect the dots between state departments by establishing what he termed, the “People Group.” This group is comprised of the directors of the Departments of Human Services, Community Health, Civil Rights and Education. The new State Superintendent is ideally suited to lead that group, in light of the transitions occurring with the merger of DHS and DCH, and the space to focus the group’s work on building college and career success.

Whew!  They have their work cut out for them and we have our work cut out for us.  We realize that this is a lot to ask of the next state Superintendent, but there are a lot of public and private partners available to help, if they can take advantage of them.

– Michele Corey

Michigan’s Children Sandbox Party Powered by You!

February 12, 2015 – Thomas Jefferson famously remarked that a well-informed electorate is a prerequisite for democracy. Extending that thought, we know that staying well-informed is essential for people like you who are willing to stand up and speak out for our children and families.

Toward that goal, the Sandbox Party reinvented itself in 2014 as the election-arm of Michigan’s Children, the only statewide independent voice working to ensure that public policies are made in the best interest of children from cradle to career and their families. As Michigan’s Children Sandbox Party we delivered important information to voters about the 2014 mid-term elections in which significant changes happened in governmental leadership in Lansing and Washington, D.C. We also helped inform candidates by strategically engaging teens to share their perspectives before state Legislative hopefuls in a series of youth-led candidate forums we sponsored across the state.

Now we’re gearing up to do it again, and provide you with the child-and-family focused information you need to make the right call in the state’s upcoming May election. On May 5, 2015 voters will consider a one-cent hike to the 6 percent sales tax for funding state roads and bridges that will also bring changes to education funding and increase the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit. If the sales tax proposal fails, this will have serious consequences on our state budget for years to come as the Legislature and Governor will need to identify alternative ways to fix our roads – ways that will likely result in cuts to child and family programs.

There is no doubt that much is riding on this next election. No doubt there will be a sizeable impact on schoolchildren and families. Credible information will be needed to put this all in focus, particularly as different interest groups begin weighing in and campaigning for and against.

There is also no other organization than Michigan’s Children with a breadth of understanding about public policies that impact the most challenged children, youth and families in order to ensure that all children have the supports they need to succeed in school and in life.

You’ll want to check back with us in upcoming months for elections-specific information about this May ballot proposal. And if you haven’t yet signed up, check out our twice-a-month “Speaking for Kids” e-bulletin. You can automatically expect to receive it if you’ve previously signed up for either of Michigan’s Children Action Alerts – via the Graduate Michigan Action Network and the Early Childhood Action Network — or the Sandbox Party e-bulletin.

In fact, if you haven’t yet subscribed to either action networks, you can easily do that today by linking to the Michigan’s Children website “like” us on Facebook, too.

Together we can amplify all our voices and make change happen. Join us and be informed and be heard!

— Teri Banas

Note to Gov. Snyder: Look Out for Kids and Families in New Budget Year

February 10, 2015 – Applying the imagery of a “River of Opportunity,” Gov. Rick Snyder outlined the importance of using public resources to help people in his State of the State address last month. We couldn’t have been happier to hear that. This week, we’ll learn how he plans to support the “needs of people, rather than programs” when he delivers his FY 2015-2016 budget address.

On Wednesday, we’re counting on the Governor to prioritize kids and families and the critical programs that ensure their well-being – particularly as he’s pressured to fix a $325 million hole in the state budget. In that vein, here’s where Michigan’s Children believes investments should focus.

The governor’s recognition of the importance of “pre-natal through 3rd grade (P-3) as one of the important metrics in someone’s life” is right on. We agree with him when he says there’s nothing to be proud of when 30 percent of our children can’t read for understanding by the 3rd grade. We also expect to see strong investments in proven strategies to reduce 3rd grade reading disparities – strategies that don’t focus solely inside the school walls.

So, first, let’s start with our youngest children.

We’ve started by investing in 4-year-old preschool. The governor’s commitment in recent years to the Great Start Readiness Program, the state’s preschool program for low-income children, has made great strides, and we should continue to build on them.  Now we need to see important investments even earlier. We know that investments in babies and toddlers do have significant impact towards reducing the “achievement gap” and also saving taxpayer dollars on necessary intervention programs needed over time when children fall behind.

These investments are supported by research. Research tells us that gaps in literacy skills are evident in children as young as 9 months old. The weight of this important information should underscore the need for remedies that address the gaps early and throughout children’s school-age years. Opportunities matter. Before- and after-school and summer programs as well as services geared to family support go a long way toward strengthening learning by the time a child reaches 6th grade.

If we were Gov. Snyder, we’d also put some of our political muscle into working with the state Legislature to improve school funding in the K-12 years, as well. Have we ever seen a time when so many school districts have become busted, broken and in debt? It’s no surprise their problems have followed reductions in school funding and in other programs supporting children, youth, families and communities that support learning.

As a start, we do hope the Governor takes action to build a more equitable model for funding education for our kids. One element of this equity conversation is to acknowledge that more and varied resources are required to educate the most challenged learners. The recent $40 million increase in the state’s At-Risk categorical is a start, but much more needs to be done. We hope that a portion of any increases in that fund will be targeted toward specific, evidence-based practices that leverage community and other resources beyond School Aid.

On Wednesday, therefore, take out your scorecards and let’s see how Gov. Snyder’s budget plan adds up on that “River of Opportunity” for children, youth and families on the dashboard for children, youth and families.

– Matt Gillard

Youth Voice Improving Public Policy

February 6, 2015 – Last week, we gathered a group of 18 young people who were either still in the foster care system, or who had been served by that system, to share their experiences with a group of more than three dozen local, state and national decision makers at the 2nd annual Oakland County KidSpeak®. The policymakers heard about challenges and recommendations for change directly from the people whose care is the state’s responsibility, and who experienced how our systems worked to support their success, or created barriers to that success.

Michigan’s Children has been creating opportunities like Monday’s for young people to share their stories, concerns and suggestions directly with policymakers since 1996. Their voices have changed the trajectory of policy conversation and have resulted in additional champions for youth-driven solutions in the Legislature, state Departments and other local policymaking bodies. But still, the challenges continue. We have a long way to go. In fact, the KidSpeak® testimony given has already been referenced by a member of the House Families, Children and Seniors Committee meeting this week, as legislators asked the director of the Departments of Community Health and Human Services why it appears that those departments are still failing to shift policy and practice to address needs brought up by young people in foster care.

That gives me hope. We know that we have a group of Legislators on key committees who have heard the challenges of the system, and are interested in doing something about them. I’m also hopeful that the Governor means what he says about adjusting public service delivery to be about people rather than programs. A great place to start would be in services for the young people under our guardianship. While improvements to that system have been made, the young people themselves continue to ask for more from our care, including more stability, better resources for transition, and opportunities to direct their own life planning.  We’ve highlighted more details about these on-going concerns and policy recommendations to address them in our recent Issues for Michigan’s Children, Critical Issues in Foster Care.

A recurring, and often heartbreaking theme through much of the testimony this year was about the barriers they had faced to be part of their own life planning, including their attempts to keep in touch with their siblings and other members of their birth families. Michigan’s Children will be working with officials to determine what might be done to improve this situation.

While progress has been made to extend supports beyond 18 for young people in foster care, the testimony last week clearly illustrated that it isn’t enough. Michigan’s Children will be supporting efforts to require documented stability before removing young people from the foster care rolls, regardless of age and providing certain types of needed assistance, like legal help, much longer than is currently the norm.

The young people also talked again about being punished for behaviors born of disappointment, isolation and anger directly impacting the stability of their homes, their education and career. Michigan’s Children, as part of our work with the Children’s Trust Fund as the Prevent Child Abuse America Chapter in Michigan, has joined the national effort to better understand the impact of adverse childhood experiences. Efforts toward trauma-informed care are underway, and need to be an essential component of the services we provide to children and youth in foster care.

As we’ve said time and time again, current outcomes for young people who have been involved in the foster care system are unacceptable. Multiple sectors – health, mental health, education, human services – must work together to make sure that under our care, young people are better able to rebuild what has been lost and move successfully toward supporting themselves and their own families now and in the future.

We have the experts at our disposal to help. We will be working to make sure that we have the resources and the champions to move forward.

-Michele Corey

The State of Early Childhood

January 26, 2015 – Last week, Michigan residents got to hear two speeches from our political leaders – one from Governor Snyder with his State of the State Address, which was followed by President Obama’s State of the Union Address.  Families with young children should’ve heard opportunities in both of the men’s speeches as it relates to early literacy, service delivery, and better supporting families with young children through two-generation strategies.

In Governor Snyder’s address, I was pleased that he spent some time talking about Michigan’s challenges with third grade reading and how to best tackle this issue.  Instead of repeating last year’s punitive approach, he not only called for a commission of folks outside of state government to identify solutions to get more children reading proficiently, but he also mentioned that he would be recommending greater early childhood investments – beyond the Great Start Readiness preschool investment – to tackle the third grade reading issue with appropriate early interventions.  And if we know anything about the decades of research about early childhood and brain development and the emergence of the achievement gap in infancy, we know that early interventions should start at birth (or earlier) and focus on providing tools to parents to be their child’s first and best teacher – a two-generation approach to tackling literacy.  Given that our state’s revenues are down, I am glad to hear Governor Snyder continue to talk about supporting early learning and look forward to the details in his budget recommendations to be released on February 11th.

Additionally, Governor Snyder talked about merging the Departments of Community Health and Human Services.  I am sure that we will see ways to streamline efforts through this merger, and I hope that any cost-savings from service delivery is reinvested in two-generation approaches that simultaneously provide opportunities for young children to thrive while their parents get ahead in life.  We know that many families qualify for two-generation services provided by these departments that they cannot currently access due to insufficient state investment – this includes evidence-based home visiting, child abuse and neglect prevention services, family-focused mental health interventions, and other critical services that ensure young children are healthy, developmentally on-track, and that their families are on paths towards stability.  I hope we will see more of this type of holistic people-focused services coming out of the new department.

At the national level, we heard President Obama talk about a critical two-generation program in his State of the Union address.  He stated, “In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality child care more than ever.”  Child care is a key component to two-generation programming and without child care, we cannot expect parents who are trying to obtain a GED or complete a workforce training program to obtain family-supporting employment without child care assistance as they work towards family self-sufficiency and success.  Obama’s child care plan will require a big lift to get approval from Congress, and Michigan’s Children will work with our Congressional delegation to ensure this issue remains a priority; and at the same time, we will continue to fight for reforms to our state’s child care system to ensure that more low-income working families can access high-quality child care.

Hearing both our Governor and President talk about better supporting families is encouraging.  Both of them – whether intentionally or not – have identified clear ways to better support young children and their parents through two-generation strategies.  Michigan’s Children will continue to lift up examples of best practice that utilize two-generation approaches and will continue to advocate for good public policies – starting with the state budget next month – that best support parents and their children simultaneously.

-Mina Hong

How Can We Best Direct The Flowing River?

January 21, 2015 — Michigan families can be glad that the Governor talked so much last night in his 5th State of the State address about public resources helping individuals, rather than funding programs. Of course, this is what local service providers have been doing for a long time – often under very difficult circumstances – sorting out how to best address the multiple sets of challenges that children, youth and families face. We all know that treating single symptoms doesn’t actually provide opportunity. Service providers have been working in coalition and through collaboration to bring services together in ways that best serve families accessing them, so that the funding stream, eligibility criteria or administration aren’t apparent to the families themselves. But collaboration and coordination take time and resources to do well, and for service providers who have seen many cuts to their programs and often operate on a shoestring budget, they can prove difficult.

Michigan’s Children and others have advocated for years that public programs need to work better together, need to share data with one another, need to make things easier for organizations that know how to impact change in their communities and for the children, youth and families who are trying to move forward. Now, of course, as many people have said over the last 12 hours: the devil is in the details for the Governor’s proposals. It is clearly unnecessary to actually combine state departments or create commissions to make services work better for people, but if it these initiatives move Michigan closer to doing that, it will be a win for the most challenged among us.

Regardless of how things shake out with how public services are administered in Michigan, we will be doing what we can to help decision makers make investment decisions based on the following:

  1. What young people and families are saying about the barriers to their own success, and what they think might assist them.
  2. What research and evidence suggests about initiatives that work for children, youth and families in the most challenged circumstances.
  3. Consistent and sustainable availability of quality services throughout the state, regardless of the private economic or service infrastructure of individual communities.
  4. No gaps in services – making sure that there is seamless coordination across age groups, issue areas and eligibility criteria.

I have to admit that the “river of opportunity” image that the Governor used often in his address carries a connotation for me of a bunch of cool stuff flowing by children, youth and families that they can try to fish out, but not necessarily an intentional strategy to assess individual challenge, provide opportunities and evaluate the effectiveness of interventions.  We will work toward a “river of opportunity” with efficiencies that simplify access to holistic services for children, youth and families.  We will also work toward a river that transfers any costs-savings from those efficiencies to actual, high quality service delivery since we know that services for children, youth and families continues to fall far short of what is actually needed for all families to succeed.

In this Legislative session and beyond, Michigan’s Children continues to challenge the Governor and members of the Legislature to make sure that the budget that will be proposed next month and debated over the next several months includes resources adequate to build effective public programs that result in what we all want: generations of highly educated, skilled, creative children and young adults who will attract jobs, raise healthy families and support strong communities. Join us!

— Michele Corey

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