Speaking For Kids

It’s the Michigan We Make This Election Season

September 8, 2016 — Should anyone think that their vote doesn’t matter, please take a look at what just happened in the Michigan primaries. In the 2nd Michigan House District in Detroit, Bettie Cook Scott won her Democratic primary by 17 votes over her closest competitor in the race. That’s right. So if nine people had voted a different way, another candidate would have won. How many times have we been in conversations with more than nine people? How many times have we been able to find nine like-minded people? And, as we’ve talked about many times before, in many districts around the state, including those in the city of Detroit, the primary run determines the winner in November.

So, what do we take from that? We are in charge of the Michigan we make. We can change our state where it needs changing, we can stay the course where we need to. Seem like a leap? No way. Nine people literally made the decision about who was going to represent the 85,000 people in the 2nd district. Wow, what power! I have many more family members than that around my dinner table on a regular basis. I have many more neighbors than that gathered in the backyard on many summer evenings.

But with this power comes responsibility.

  1. We have to understand what the candidates are saying about the issues that we care about – and not just in the November run-offs, but in primaries, too. That is true from the Presidential race to local races for township positions and everywhere in between. The great thing is that the election season is the EASIEST time to hear about the issues from policymakers, and it is the easiest time for them to hear from us. Even when they don’t have a competitive general election race, they are still around, building additional support and getting the bell weather on constituent issues and concerns.
  2. We have to treat the election as the BEGINNING of the process, not the end. As we are connecting with candidates over the next two months, we need to make sure that they know that we are paying attention to what they are saying, and that we will be holding them accountable for promises they are making – those that we like, and those that we don’t.
  3. We have to make friends with decision makers. Remember what Mark Twain famously said, when you need a friend, it is too late to make one. Huh? As we all know, and as I hammer on ALL THE TIME I know, lawmakers – like the rest of us humans – are more likely to turn to people they know and trust for advice. People they have built a relationship with are more likely to be the ones they turn to when they are trying to find out more information about an issue or trying to decide how to vote on something. We know that we all do it. Nothing like a campaign season to make sure that your candidates know who you are, and see you as a resource for their later work.
  4. We have to take responsibility for outcomes in our Democracy. If we aren’t voting, we have given up our power right there. If we aren’t sharing what we know with lawmakers, we can’t expect that they will make the right decisions once elected. If we aren’t paying attention to what they are saying and doing, we are not the ones who will be holding them accountable. Are we all doing the best we can to make sure the people who represent us are well informed, well-prepared, well-supported when they do the right thing, and facing consequences when they don’t.

I feel compelled to raise these issues in election years because it’s honestly that simple – and that darn essential to our lives at home, across the state and nationally. Talk with candidates about what is going on in your own life – what are you seeing in your community, what you think they should do to help. As when you are talking to a friend, be respectful, be honest, be clear, be willing to clarify if you need to. Candidates don’t know what we know! If you want some thoughts about possible questions to ask, take a look at our election issues pieces that include some and other talking points.. You can talk with them directly, or you can talk with them publicly – through all sorts of media. They pay attention to letters to the editor in local papers, they pay attention to social media, they pay attention to people who come to opportunities to meet with them.

Thanks for joining Michigan’s Children and countless other advocates for children and families as we work through this election and beyond to make the Michigan we want and need for children, youth and families everywhere.

– Michele Corey

Michele is the Vice President for Programs at Michigan’s Children

Join With The Voices of Young People This Fall

August 26, 2016 – A couple of weeks ago, Michigan’s Children joined the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), University of Michigan Blavin Scholars Program, Eastern Michigan University MAGIC Program, Michigan Youth Opportunities Initiative, Enterprising Youth Program, Center for Fostering Success, Western Michigan University, Wayne State University, and the Student Advocacy Center in sponsoring the 2016 Michigan Young Leader Advocacy Summit, a gathering of about 70 young people who have experienced the foster care system, their supporting agencies, and decision-makers interested in building a better understanding of critical issues facing them. It was one of the most impactful days I’ve been a part of.

The Summit proceedings raised familiar issues about the barriers to young people “aging out” of foster care that are completely fixable:

  1. Our services are based on arbitrary ages and arbitrary designations (foster care, adoption, guardianship), instead of making sure that no young person is leaving the system (or coming in and out of the system) without adequate support.
  2. Work and education requirements don’t always fit the lives of young people facing the most challenges as they move into adulthood. Requirements need to be flexible enough to work for all young people under a variety of life circumstances that will likely shift over time.
  3. There are so many changes in the people responsible for helping young people as well as the services available to assist them as they move from traditional to voluntary foster care, as they move from county to county (as we would expect young adults to do.)

The fact is that we wouldn’t place arbitrary age or location requirements on our own children. If they faced similar barriers, we would work to help them remove them, for as long as it took, in as many different ways as we could. These children are also our own.

I am inspired, as always, by the knowledge I gain from these conversations, and the energy of the young people.  This fall, there are many ways for us all to utilize that knowledge.  The Michigan House and Senate need to agree on and pass the Assurance of Quality Foster Care legislation before the end of the year, or that process will have to start over again next Legislative session.  This legislation would require some additional diligence to make sure that our foster care, education and other systems are working well for all young people in the foster care system.   Summit attendees committed to take action to make that happen.  See our Act Now page for more about how you can join them.

In addition, most candidates running for office around the state have limited experience and expertise with the child welfare or foster care systems, but we think they need to build some knowledge there if they want to be elected. Take the time to find out where your candidates are going to be, get there, and ask some questions to at least raise your concerns and offer yourself as a resource.

— Michele Corey

Read more about the Summit from Fostering Success.
Read more about services for youth transitioning out of care from MDHHS.

Stories Lend Strength To Advocacy

August 18, 2016 – On Monday, August 5, Michigan’s Children held our third KidSpeak event in partnership with Wayne State University’s Transition to Independence Program (TIP). Youth ages 16-24 stood bravely and told the stories of their experiences in the foster care system to a group of panelist made up of policy makers from various organizations. The youth provided their emotionally-driven testimonies in a way in which they were advocating for change within the foster care system to impact generations to come. While some youth were still involved in the system, many had aged out and are now pursuing post-secondary degrees from Wayne State University or other Michigan institutions. Youth spoke about topics including their safety in their placements and the community, educational and mental health resources, mentorship, and the importance of remaining connected with their siblings upon separation. All of the youth’s stories gave compelling reasons as to why policy makers need to make revisions to the foster care system in Michigan.

As a listener at this event, I was moved by not only the stories of the youth but by their confidence in standing and communicating how their experience, or the experiences of their friends in the foster care system, shaped their goals and where they are now. As an advocate for systemic change for youth, I enjoyed being a part of an event where youth can be an advocate for themselves with the support of those around them. Moving forward, I challenge myself and my colleagues at Michigan’s Children to keep hearing from young people through events such as KidSpeak, while also being a voice for youth who are not presented with the opportunity to have their stories heard. Additionally, in listening to the uniqueness of every youth’s journey in that room and how they were individually effected, I would encourage policy makers to take both the commonalities and the differences that they heard in each story into consideration when advocating for policy change.

A major part of the conversation was the lack of awareness of the availability of higher educational resources available to youth in foster care upon graduating high school. Youth also spoke about the need for mental health and counseling resources in their high schools. As a strong advocate for equity in schools and for youth being able to access a higher education, both of these conversations stuck with me. They inform my current work to better explain to policymakers what trauma-informed education looks like for foster youth, or any youth experiencing adverse experiences in their school, familial, or community lives. The testimony reminded the panelists of the importance of considering whole-child approaches when making policy decisions about the educational structure, opportunities, and resources for foster youth.

The KidSpeak event seemed to have resonated with many of the panelist as well as the audience, and I hope it encouraged the youth to continue to tell their stories so that society understands the complexities of the issues that these youth are facing.

– Briana Coleman

Briana is an MSW intern at Michigan’s Children.

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