Speaking For Kids

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

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