Speaking For Kids

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

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