Speaking For Kids

Failing Michigan’s Youngest = Failing Michigan’s Future

Since its inception, Michigan’s Children has focused on children’s well-being from cradle-to-career – a concept that aligns with Governor Snyder’s P-20 education continuum.  With Executive support for this continuum; as a state, Michigan must put its money where its mouth is.  While the state has made efforts to support preschool-aged children through the Great Start Readiness Program, the state’s half-day preschool program for four-year-olds at-risk of school failure, we have failed as a state to provide consistent support for Michigan’s youngest learners – those three years of age and younger.

It is well documented that the first 1000 days of life are critical for the healthy development of young children – a time when the brain is developing rapidly and early literacy and foundations for lifelong success can be solidified.  More importantly, the first three years of life are critical to prevent large racial, ethnic, and economic-related disparities that begin to emerge as young as nine months of age and continue to grow throughout life.  Disparities in child outcomes, particularly educational disparities, have huge consequences such as:

  • kindergarten teachers needing to spend more time with students who aren’t ready for school;
  • students repeating grades in K-12;
  • more students needing access to special education services;
  • disparities in on-time graduation rates; and
  • disparities in college and career readiness.

These outcomes combined will in the long run, take a toll on the state’s economy as we will not have a workforce prepared to take jobs of the future. Long-term disparities in educational success and their economic, social and fiscal consequences are profound.  However, taking advantage of the first three years of life by supporting families with young children to be their child’s first and best teachers can help reduce future taxpayer burdens associated with disparate child outcomes.

Michigan’s Children’s key priorities for the fiscal year 2013 budget are to improve educational outcomes and close equity gaps.  Creating a sustainable funding stream for children from birth through age three would provide the foundation for that improvement.  High quality supports for infants, toddlers and their families can help reduce and prevent equity gaps directly linked to the Governor’s Dashboard including infant mortality, child poverty, 3rd grade reading, and college readiness.

The State of Michigan used to support families with young children through the 0 to 3 Secondary Prevention Program.  0 to 3 Secondary Prevention supported community-based collaborative programs that fostered positive parenting skills, improved parent-child interactions, promoted access to needed community services, increased local capacity to serve families with young children, improved school readiness, and supported healthy environments.  It’s funding peaked at $7.75 million in 2001 before complete elimination in last year’s budget debates.  It is critical that Michigan reinvest in young children from birth through age three by creating a consistent source of funding for infants, toddlers and their families to truly realize the P-20 education continuum.

Check out Michigan’s Children’s website to learn more about our early childhood priorities.

-Mina Hong

Mental Health Coverage: From a Parent’s Perspective

Case studies and personal testimonies have an incredible impact on policy decision-making. This strategy is crucial for many families who are not able to self-advocate or are underrepresented in the process because they are marginalized by poverty, geography, language barriers or by caring for a child with a disability.  At Michigan’s Children we seek these voices and want to bring them forward.

Prior to my MSW Internship at Michigan’s Children, I spent a great deal of time advocating for families in the special education system.  By far the most challenging families were those from foreign, non-English speaking countries, low-income families of color, and migrant families.  Advocating for children with disabilities with Individual Education Plans (IEPs) was hard enough, but adding poverty, language and cultural barriers to the equation, made the work even more challenging.  These families needed wrap-around support, education and coaching, but instead often watched as their child was shuffled from school to school or classroom to classroom, because no one could accommodate their child in their current placement or home school. As a result, many students face multiple challenges including differential school discipline, connections to the juvenile justice system, and being at-risk of school dropout.

Three bills are before the Senate Committee on Health Policy that would mandate health insurance coverage of autism spectrum disorders (ASD).  SB 414 and SB 415 provide the comprehensive language specifying the age parameters and treatment modalities, among other aspects.  SB 918 is a new bill, tied to the two others, which would create a fund to reimburse insurers for these expenses, as an incentive.

There is critical need for this coverage, which has been legislated in 29 other states to date.  At issue however, is whether this legislation should be a stand-alone policy that affects the estimated 15,000 Michigan families currently impacted by autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or if it should be an all-inclusive policy that would provide insurance coverage for all families with children with mental health issues.  43 out of 50 states currently have mental health parity (excluding  Michigan) and most of the legislation passed on autism coverage occurred after mental health parity was passed into law (25 out of 29).  ASD is commonly associated with other disorders (otherwise known as co-morbidity), including ADHD, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and/or Seizure Disorders, often developing as children mature and reach the age of puberty. It seems like we are creating a disparity  even within the ASD population. These autism bills will cover children up to age 18, but because we do not have mental health parity, older individuals with ASD will not be covered for either their primary disability, or any co-morbid conditions.

As a parent of a son with ASD, managing the care of a loved one with a disorder or disability is a long and exhausting road that never ends.    Finding physicians or mental health professionals with experience in working with children with disabilities can be a challenge all by itself.  With mental health parity, it would seem very likely that the pool of experienced practitioners would increase in Michigan. This, in and of itself, would be a welcome by-product of mental health parity law and even the current autism bills under discussion.

-Ann Telfer

Ann is an MSW student from the University of Michigan School of Social Work completing her field placement with Michigan’s Children.

Education for All

Coinciding with his State of the Union address, President Obama released a Blueprint for An America Built to Last. This blueprint contains several education based initiatives to “give hard-working, responsible American’s a fair shot.” Among these suggestions are:

  • Forging new partnerships between community colleges and businesses to train and place 2 million skilled workers;
  • Attracting, preparing, supporting, and rewarding great teachers to help students learn; and
  • Keeping students in high school, which challenges all states to require all students to stay in school until their 18th birthday or they graduate.

In addition, Mr. Obama was in Ann Arbor last month to discuss his plan for keeping college affordable and within reach for all Americans. Included are plans to reform student aid to promote affordability; and more federal support to assist students, such as keeping interest rates on student loans down and increasing the number of work-study positions. The plan also calls on colleges and universities to keep costs down and colleges that can show they provide students with long-term value, would be given additional funds to help grow enrollment.

The President’s plan also includes a Race to the Top for College Affordability and Quality that would invest $1 billion to give states the incentive to:

  • Maintain adequate funding levels for higher ed to address long term causes of tuition increases;
  • Better align entry and exit standards with K-12 education to facilitate on-time completion; and
  • Revamp how states structure higher ed financing.

On their face, these sound like great plans to help keep tuition costs from rising astronomically, help teachers prepare students for post-secondary education, and give students the best bang for their educational buck. In addition, these initiatives, when taken together, encourage students to stay in school and move into post-secondary education.  However, even when states have tighter compulsory school requirements and tuition increases are small, many students, especially low-income students and students of color, end up over-aged and under-credited when it comes to high school graduation and need non-traditional pathways to graduation, as evidenced by data included in Michigan’s Children’s Building Michigan’s Future Workforce brief.

Additionally, Michigan law already pays to educate students up to age 20, but districts don’t consistently offer programs that re-engage dropouts, nor are they consistently developing and maintaining options for older students.  These options work best when they are built on community college and workforce partnerships which often lead to students earning a post-secondary credential. We know these programs work and there are examples of these innovative partnerships throughout the state.

Overall, President Obama’s goals of attracting and rewarding great teachers, keeping students in high school, keeping tuition low and thus, getting more students into and completing college are noble. However, unless all students, regardless of income or district which they are enrolled, are allowed multiple pathways to graduation and encouraged to achieve a post-secondary education, far too many low-income students and students of color will still be left behind, and with a rapidly diversifying child population, do we really want our children of color, who will be the workforce of the future, unprepared for family and community sustaining employment?

-Jacqui Broughton

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