Speaking For Kids

Bold Steps Force Improvements in Our Child Care System

March 17, 2016 – On March 8th, my family welcomed Emmie to our lives as we grew to a family of four (technically five if you count Hobie the cat).  Now with two children under the age of three, we have been preparing for what this means for our child care needs when I return to work from my maternity leave.  It also has me thinking about the state of our child care system here in Michigan – much like I did just over two years ago when we were getting ready to send Lennon to child care.

Some things have shifted for the better in the past two years when it comes to our child care system.  At the end of 2014, Congress reauthorized the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) for the first time since 1996!  We know quite a lot has shifted in terms of how child care is seen in our society since the ‘90s when it was primarily a work support for low-income working moms.  Now integral and important not only for parents as a work-support but also as a critical partner in their children’s development, CCDBG reauthorization aims to improve the quality of care while also best supporting the needs of working parents.

CCDBG Reauthorization has been an important trigger, forcing states to look at their child care systems to figure out how to comply with these new regulations.  Michigan took some important steps last year even before we had to begin complying with this new federal law.

First, we began providing 12-months of continuous eligibility regardless of whether or not parents’ income shifted during that time or experienced temporary job loss – an important shift for Michigan.

We also increased the income eligibility exit threshold meaning that now families don’t face an immediate child care cliff if they begin to make a little bit more money.  Instead, families can continue to access the state’s child care subsidy until they hit 250 percent of the federal poverty level allowing families to experience some economic stability before losing their subsidy.

And finally, we began providing tiered reimbursement rates starting at 2-star rated programs, continuing to further incentivize families to access higher quality care and for higher quality child care programs to accept subsidized families.

Michigan also hired additional child care licensing consultants responsible for ensuring programs meet minimum health and safety requirements, though Michigan’s licensing consultants’ caseloads continue to remain higher than the national recommendation.

All of these important changes, however, were made because Michigan continued to experience declining child care caseloads and continued to have unspent federal child care money that we would have otherwise lost.  While all of these shifts are important, there are two things that Michigan continues to struggle with that need to be prioritized.  First, and thankfully this will need to be addressed due to the new CCDBG requirements, is our hourly reimbursement rate.  Michigan continues to be just one of three states that provides the child care subsidy in hourly form.  Not only does this make it challenging for families and child care providers alike, it does not align with the private child care market which CCDBG requires.  Like the vast majority of states, we must shift away from this archaic practice to one that meets the needs of families and providers – either a full-time/part-time rate or one that is based on monthly, weekly or (at a minimum) daily rates.

Second, something that is a Michigan-specific problem is our declining child care caseloads.  While the nation on average has seen declining caseloads of families accessing the child care subsidy, Michigan’s has declined much more rapidly and dramatically than other states.  This decline cannot be solely the result of higher than average unemployment, declining population, and the elimination of fraud within the child care system.  There is something more going on, and we cannot continue to accept this to be Michigan’s trend.  Efforts must be made to ensure that families who need support to access high quality child care are receiving that support to best meet their needs as working parents and their children’s needs as our next generation of workers.

At Michigan’s Children, we’re glad that CCDBG Reauthorization is forcing states to improve their child care systems.  We’re also glad that the Michigan Department of Education is currently taking the time to get input from stakeholders across the state on how our child care system can best meet the needs of working families.  2016 is the year for Michigan to make some bold movements forward to shift our child care system for the better.

– Mina Hong

When Parenting Extends Beyond Mom and Dad: Many Deserve to be Valued, Supported when They Step up

March 4, 2016 — Cradling my first child hours after her birth in a haze of sleeplessness and awe, I was overcome with the responsibilities of raising a new human being. A difficult birth left her under close medical watch for five days, and I spent many hours wondering over the unknowns, and if I would be up to the task. With each mistake and triumph in the months and years to come, I learned to parent aided with knowledge from others around me – my own parents, spouse, child care professionals, teachers and pediatricians. I learned parenting a child often involves an entourage – a team made up of various supporting specialties with mom/dad the quarterback calling the plays.

Parenting, like many disciplines, is both learned and a fine art. Over time, we grow as they grow. In March we observe Parenting Awareness Month in Michigan with the knowledge that this work is seldom effortless or accomplished without support from others. Parenting, as we know, often extends beyond mom or dad, to extended family, adoptive and foster families, even the state. “The village” in which our children are raised include schools, child care facilities, institutions and organizations we rely on and hope are also up to the task of supporting the growth of healthy and happy children, including and especially the most vulnerable among us.

Through March, Michigan’s Children is spotlighting a variety of parenting issues and partners we’ve worked with to highlight the critical nature of raising children with the community supports and services necessary to meet the challenges of 21st Century life. Our advocacy and work is rooted in improving our communities to do that with policies made in the best interest of children, youth and families. We believe supporting parents – a child’s first and best teacher – as they become the best parent they can be is a major part of public policy that results in stronger families, stronger communities and a more prosperous Michigan.

You will read about the importance of parents improving their own literacy and academic skills through adult education programs that recognize not just the economic benefits of a high school diploma and advanced training, but that parent literacy is a major factor in 3rd grade reading skills and a child’s own success in school and life.

We will spotlight the need for expanding services with additional state revenues for Early On Michigan, an early intervention program designed for families with children birth to 36 months who have developmental delays or medical conditions that can result in developmental delays. This home-based program has had great success in working with parents and their children for better outcomes.

Other pieces will describe the necessity for improving supports for foster, adoptive and kinship families in a state that has not invested adequately in those caregivers. Improved mental health services for children who have experienced trauma and better access to services in general are two issues we hear families discuss at our sponsored FamilySpeak events. It’s a timely topic as new foster care legislation is working its way through the state Legislature. Additionally, we will look at pilot programs aimed at family reunification that will help parents become better parents for their children.

Take this journey with us this month. It’s our hope parenting Michigan’s children gains new advocates not just this month but year-round.

Parenting Awareness Month is a Michigan initiative to promote awareness, education, and resources – through state outreach and local efforts – emphasizing the importance of effective parenting in nurturing children to become healthy, caring, and contributing citizens. Parenting Awareness Month is unique to Michigan and has been celebrated since 1993.

Teri Banas is a communications consultant working for Michigan’s Children.

Advocates See Opportunity in Changing Media Climate

February 22, 2016 – Personal experience often generates the most compelling arguments for change. The real challenges ordinary people face provide the human connection that resonates strongly with the public, policymakers including elected officials and the media.

That’s what makes Deb Frisbie an effective advocate for kinship care and grandparents raising grandchildren in her adopted hometown in Northern Michigan. (See related article.) Forthright and open, Frisbie, her husband and two grandchildren recently became the subject of a front-page news article in Traverse City that explored the rising trend of grandparents raising grandchildren.

As a former newspaper reporter, I know how powerful these real-life stories can be. Made public, stories such as Frisbie’s also have the power to reach others who are fighting similar battles and offer them the courage to come forward to seek help. And equally importantly, they have the ability to grab public attention and grow support for changing policies that help families.

The downsizing of traditional journalism in the past decade has left far fewer staff with the time and expertise to ferret out stories to tell. But with change, opportunity arises. For those of us who work on behalf of the children, youth and families in our communities and state, it is even more important than ever to reach out to local media, and bring attention to relevant stories that could help improve the policies and investments that matter to our children and families.

Michigan’s Children has a strong tradition in helping raise up authentic voices to spotlight the needs of children, youth and families, whether caregivers such as Frisbie, young adults from foster care, or students needing a second or third chance at a high school diploma. We’ve seen how outspoken advocates build needed public awareness. We’ve learned that personal stories matter and that their lessons tend to stick with policymakers who have the authority to provide new investments or system changes that assist families. Equally important, we’ve seen how personal experiences shared by advocates such as Frisbie offer expertise to an issue.

There’s no mystery to becoming a voice for change in the media. Post views on social media and in letters to the local newspaper. Write opinion pieces. Lawmakers look to the media for information and pay attention to what their constituents are saying there.

Frisbie’s article in January has been a boon to her work, leading to other media inquiries to spread the word about grandparent issues in Northern Michigan. Her article also led to a follow-up opinion piece from Michigan’s Children published in that same paper, helping us to connect the dots between Frisbie’s conversation and current policy work.

Know that being an advocate means using all tools at your disposal, whether it’s reaching out through social media postings through professional organizations or getting to know the media who cover your community. Seeking the journalists in your community to educate them about what’s important to those we represent is a valuable service. Be a great source of information about kids and families in your community – and a source for change.

Teri Banas is a communications consultant working for Michigan’s Children.

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