Speaking For Kids

Moms’ Mental Health Matter

February 3, 2016 – Last week, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force updated its recommendations on depression screening to include all adults and specifically all pregnant and postpartum women.  The recommendation also states that “screening should be implemented with adequate systems in place to ensure accurate diagnosis, effective treatment, and appropriate follow-up.”

The national recommendation for universal depression screenings for pregnant and postpartum women makes perfect sense.  We have known for some time that moms who are depressed will have a harder time bonding with their babies to support optimal development.  We have also known that maternal depression is a significant risk factor for child maltreatment and that children growing up with a family member with an untreated or poorly treated mental illness are more likely to struggle into adulthood.  In fact, many adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that might stem from maternal depression are closely linked to the Centers for Disease Control’s ACE score and poor adult health outcomes stemming from those experiences.  This leads to long-term health costs down the road.

The well-being of parents has lasting consequences on the well-being of their children, positive and negative.  During the earliest years of life, a parent’s emotional capacity to provide the nurturing care their children need for optimal development is crucial.  I recently had the opportunity to collaborate with some infant mental health experts at the University of Michigan School of Social Work and learned a tremendous amount about how early life experiences influence brain wiring for life.  While advocates have known this for a while, what has not been as widely discussed is the parent-child relationship which creates those experiences.  When you stop to think about this, it’s clearly a no-brainer (no pun intended).  It is those early parent-child interactions that build the foundation for healthy social-emotional development from which all other learning and experiences stem from.

Unfortunately, current public services for young children have not consistently included appropriate support for parents and other caregivers who may struggle with mental health issues, creating potential barriers to a strong parent-child bond.  Our expectation of new moms returning to work after just a few weeks is reflected in a lack of paid leave at many low-wage jobs, as well as the two-month work exemption from Michigan’s Family Independence cash assistance program, making it more difficult for low-income moms to be their child’s first and best teacher.  Michigan has increased public investment in evidence-based parent coaching and support programs through home visits that would target new moms with certain risk factors, yet we still only reach about 20% of eligible families.  And while these programs may be effective in looking for symptoms of mental health concerns, they are not equipped to provide those more intensive services when depression is identified.  Instead, we rely on access to public and private mental health services to provide necessary intervention and treatment for moms and children – services like infant mental health that focus on eliminating barriers to a strong parent-child relationship like parents’ mental health issues – yet those services continue to be inadequately funded and supported in both the public and private sectors.

The research is clear.  Children of moms with depression face more challenges, and our systems that provide mental health services to children and families with the most risk factors must do more.  Investing in the emotional health of women is truly one of those early investments that will pay-off in the long-term for them and for their children.

-Mina Hong

Meet Leann, the Newest Member of our Staff

Hi! My name is Leann Down and I’m excited to begin my year-long internship with Michigan’s Children. After receiving my Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Michigan State University in 2008, I worked in Bozeman, Montana as a youth case manager for A.W.A.R.E., Inc. Working with families to navigate the labyrinth of mental health and developmental disability systems fostered an interest in policy and systems-level change, as I was able to see how federal- or state-level decisions affected my clients. Also, this experience shaped how I view the interconnectedness of systems, from education, health, and mental health to substance use, developmental or physical disabilities, and housing. After five years in Montana and a growing interest in systems-level change, I returned to my home state of Michigan to pursue dual master degrees in public policy and social work.

I am currently in my second year of graduate studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Since matriculating in 2014, I have had the opportunity to work at the Curtis Center in Ann Arbor as an evaluation assistant, where I gained practical knowledge in program evaluation. Additionally, I worked as a public policy intern at the Center for the Study of Social Policy in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 2015, where I focused on issues of inequity for LGBTQ youth and youth of color in the child welfare and early childhood education systems across the US.

I have always had in interest in health outcomes and family systems, especially as it relates to social policy and safety net programs. As my experience in mental health grew, I came to realize the social determinants of health can affect many other areas, as well. The longterm, human impacts of funding decisions are often forgotten, overly discounted, or considered too uncertain to include in basic determinations for many programs and policy areas — until it’s too late. Through engagement in policy research and advocacy, I hope to provide further support for public investment in targeted, early interventions for marginalized communities.

Michigan’s Children will offer an ideal learning environment to practice these skills. Over the next year, I will have the opportunity to advocate for children and families in Michigan through contributing to research, issue briefs, and more. I am excited to join the team, and look forward to what the year will bring!

– Leann Down

Michigan’s Children is proud to welcome intern Leann Down to our staff. You will hear more from her throughout her year at Michigan’s Children, and can get in touch with her via email.

The ESSA Needs Our Help to Make Every Student Succeed

December 11, 2015 – In previous blogs, we’ve outlined the federal role in education policy falling squarely on promoting quality and innovation and promoting equity – mitigating the impact of students’ learning challenges on eventual educational success. After years of discussion and somewhat rare bi-partisan work in Congress, the Every Student Succeeds Act was signed by the President yesterday, again setting the path for federal policy and investment in K-12 education. So, what do we see?

  1. Proven equity-building strategies remain intact. Investments that provide access to pre-school, integrated student services and expanded learning opportunities will continue. The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program that supports after-school and summer learning programs is well researched and provides evidence for this strategy that requires school-community partnership and goes well beyond just expanding hours in a school day or days in a school year. Newly titled, “Community Support for School Success” continues investment in full service schools and Promise Neighborhood grants. The use of Title I and Title II dollars for early childhood education beginning at birth is more explicit and requirements to improve school stability for young people in foster care are strengthened.
  2. New priorities reflect new evidence and recognition of specific needs. Despite opposition, the law expands requirements to track how different groups of students are doing and on what. Understanding what groups are doing well and which not so well is the first step toward building more equitable practice. States will now, for the first time, be required to consistently track and report outcomes for kids in the foster care system. It has been difficult for advocates to move better educational investments in that population without adequate information that could point to better strategies for practice and investment. States and districts will also have to start tracking critical outcome indicators beyond achievement scores like school climate and safety and student and educator engagement, improving their ability to address student needs.
  3. Some strategies proving ineffective are discontinued. What has been termed a “cookie cutter” approach to improve struggling schools has not served to improve very many of them, and this bill recognizes that there need to be a broader scope of possible strategies that are much more targeted toward local needs. We continue to contend that building investment in equity-promoting strategies have a stronger evidence base than simply removing school leadership and punishing educators for the woes of all systems that serve children, youth and their families.
  4. Additional state and local flexibility in other programs COULD increase equity in Michigan. Read on…

So, what are some of the early takeaways?

  1. Evidence and advocacy matter. Some positive shifts were the result of coordinated, strong advocacy efforts in Michigan and around the nation, like the coordinated efforts to maintain the 21st CCLC program and supports for integrated student services, as well as expanding initiatives before kindergarten. Some negative shifts were too, but those who were talking with their elected officials had definite impact on the final negotiations.
  2. Funding will obviously matter – this law outlines what COULD be funded by Congress. We still don’t have an actual federal funding bill for the current fiscal year, and continue to operate under resolutions that maintain FY2015 spending levels. This has avoided the disinvestment proposed by some conservative members of Congress, but also avoids any conversation about shifting or increasing investment strategies.
  3. Engagement at the state and local levels will matter more than ever before. For example, Congress increased the ability to address learning challenges early by allowing a variety of funding to be used for activities before kindergarten. Additional flexibility was added for the Title 1 program, which provides consistent and significant investment in the most challenged schools. There is always risk and opportunity in this flexibility to avoid taking resource from evidenced programming for one group of students to pay for expanded programming for others.

At this moment, Michigan’s Children and others are engaged in the Superintendent’s call for suggestions on how to move educational success in our state over the next decade. With more flexibility in federal education spending, being a part of state priority conversations becomes more important than ever. And, of course, we have already begun another state budget conversation where we will need to continue to fight to keep and build critical state investments while still not seeing education funding levels return to where they were before the recession in 2008. And with other budget pressures resulting from continued disinvestment in our most challenged school systems and spending decisions mandated by road funding compromises, our voices are critically important to ensure that our state is providing equitable educational opportunities for all students.

– Michele Corey

Additional Resources

More on Early Learning: Every Student Succeeds Act and Early Learning
More on Expanded Learning: Senate Passes ESEA, 21stCCLC: Sends to President for Signature 
More On Foster Care: President Obama Reauthorizes ESEA, Affording Groundbreaking Provisions for Children in the Foster Care and Juvenile Justice Systems 
More On Integrated Student Services: Community School Prominent in Every Student Succeeds Act 
More on Equity Building Strategies: ESEA Reauthorization Shows Promise
More on Accountability: The president just signed a new ed law that teaches the naysayers a thing or two
More on Local Decision Making: President Signs ESEA Rewrite, Giving States, Districts Bigger Say on Policy 

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