Speaking For Kids

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

The State of Early Childhood

January 26, 2015 – Last week, Michigan residents got to hear two speeches from our political leaders – one from Governor Snyder with his State of the State Address, which was followed by President Obama’s State of the Union Address.  Families with young children should’ve heard opportunities in both of the men’s speeches as it relates to early literacy, service delivery, and better supporting families with young children through two-generation strategies.

In Governor Snyder’s address, I was pleased that he spent some time talking about Michigan’s challenges with third grade reading and how to best tackle this issue.  Instead of repeating last year’s punitive approach, he not only called for a commission of folks outside of state government to identify solutions to get more children reading proficiently, but he also mentioned that he would be recommending greater early childhood investments – beyond the Great Start Readiness preschool investment – to tackle the third grade reading issue with appropriate early interventions.  And if we know anything about the decades of research about early childhood and brain development and the emergence of the achievement gap in infancy, we know that early interventions should start at birth (or earlier) and focus on providing tools to parents to be their child’s first and best teacher – a two-generation approach to tackling literacy.  Given that our state’s revenues are down, I am glad to hear Governor Snyder continue to talk about supporting early learning and look forward to the details in his budget recommendations to be released on February 11th.

Additionally, Governor Snyder talked about merging the Departments of Community Health and Human Services.  I am sure that we will see ways to streamline efforts through this merger, and I hope that any cost-savings from service delivery is reinvested in two-generation approaches that simultaneously provide opportunities for young children to thrive while their parents get ahead in life.  We know that many families qualify for two-generation services provided by these departments that they cannot currently access due to insufficient state investment – this includes evidence-based home visiting, child abuse and neglect prevention services, family-focused mental health interventions, and other critical services that ensure young children are healthy, developmentally on-track, and that their families are on paths towards stability.  I hope we will see more of this type of holistic people-focused services coming out of the new department.

At the national level, we heard President Obama talk about a critical two-generation program in his State of the Union address.  He stated, “In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality child care more than ever.”  Child care is a key component to two-generation programming and without child care, we cannot expect parents who are trying to obtain a GED or complete a workforce training program to obtain family-supporting employment without child care assistance as they work towards family self-sufficiency and success.  Obama’s child care plan will require a big lift to get approval from Congress, and Michigan’s Children will work with our Congressional delegation to ensure this issue remains a priority; and at the same time, we will continue to fight for reforms to our state’s child care system to ensure that more low-income working families can access high-quality child care.

Hearing both our Governor and President talk about better supporting families is encouraging.  Both of them – whether intentionally or not – have identified clear ways to better support young children and their parents through two-generation strategies.  Michigan’s Children will continue to lift up examples of best practice that utilize two-generation approaches and will continue to advocate for good public policies – starting with the state budget next month – that best support parents and their children simultaneously.

-Mina Hong

How Can We Best Direct The Flowing River?

January 21, 2015 — Michigan families can be glad that the Governor talked so much last night in his 5th State of the State address about public resources helping individuals, rather than funding programs. Of course, this is what local service providers have been doing for a long time – often under very difficult circumstances – sorting out how to best address the multiple sets of challenges that children, youth and families face. We all know that treating single symptoms doesn’t actually provide opportunity. Service providers have been working in coalition and through collaboration to bring services together in ways that best serve families accessing them, so that the funding stream, eligibility criteria or administration aren’t apparent to the families themselves. But collaboration and coordination take time and resources to do well, and for service providers who have seen many cuts to their programs and often operate on a shoestring budget, they can prove difficult.

Michigan’s Children and others have advocated for years that public programs need to work better together, need to share data with one another, need to make things easier for organizations that know how to impact change in their communities and for the children, youth and families who are trying to move forward. Now, of course, as many people have said over the last 12 hours: the devil is in the details for the Governor’s proposals. It is clearly unnecessary to actually combine state departments or create commissions to make services work better for people, but if it these initiatives move Michigan closer to doing that, it will be a win for the most challenged among us.

Regardless of how things shake out with how public services are administered in Michigan, we will be doing what we can to help decision makers make investment decisions based on the following:

  1. What young people and families are saying about the barriers to their own success, and what they think might assist them.
  2. What research and evidence suggests about initiatives that work for children, youth and families in the most challenged circumstances.
  3. Consistent and sustainable availability of quality services throughout the state, regardless of the private economic or service infrastructure of individual communities.
  4. No gaps in services – making sure that there is seamless coordination across age groups, issue areas and eligibility criteria.

I have to admit that the “river of opportunity” image that the Governor used often in his address carries a connotation for me of a bunch of cool stuff flowing by children, youth and families that they can try to fish out, but not necessarily an intentional strategy to assess individual challenge, provide opportunities and evaluate the effectiveness of interventions.  We will work toward a “river of opportunity” with efficiencies that simplify access to holistic services for children, youth and families.  We will also work toward a river that transfers any costs-savings from those efficiencies to actual, high quality service delivery since we know that services for children, youth and families continues to fall far short of what is actually needed for all families to succeed.

In this Legislative session and beyond, Michigan’s Children continues to challenge the Governor and members of the Legislature to make sure that the budget that will be proposed next month and debated over the next several months includes resources adequate to build effective public programs that result in what we all want: generations of highly educated, skilled, creative children and young adults who will attract jobs, raise healthy families and support strong communities. Join us!

— Michele Corey

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