Speaking For Kids

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

The Budget, A Tool for Equity?

The state budget is the single most powerful expression of the state’s priorities.  Where public taxpayer dollars are spent tells a whole lot about what public programs and services our state-level policymakers think are worth supporting.  And where the state chooses to invest public dollars can help increase or reduce racial/ethnic disparities.

With the next workforce set to be its most diverse yet, Michigan needs to allocate its scarce resources in ways that ensure that ALL children can thrive – from cradle to career.  And we know what children need to thrive:

  1. To be born healthy and have continued access to high quality health care services.
  2. To be raised by parents or caregivers who have the supports needed to be their child’s first, consistent and best teachers.
  3. To be assured a high quality education that begins in early childhood, extends through a career, and leads to economic self-sufficiency.

So how did the Governor’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposal promote equity in these key areas?  He offers a mixed bag.

There are some positive areas such as an expansion of the Healthy Kids Dental program, which increases access to dental care for Medicaid-eligible children.  However, some of his proposals offer mixed results such as a small expansion of funding for infant mortality prevention – a funding increase that will be inadequate to truly address the massive disparity in infant mortality, particularly among African American babies.

The Governor does nothing to restore last year’s harmful changes to critical family support programs such as the Family Independence Program, the Food Assistance Program, and the Earned Income Tax Credit though he does recommend small increases in child abuse/neglect and family support programs, but not nearly enough to offset the deep cuts these programs have suffered over the last decade.

And finally, he offers a mixed bag in the P-20 educational continuum.  The Governor reduces funding for the child care subsidy program as a result of anticipated caseload reductions and fails to invest those savings into quality improvement initiatives – quality improvements that can ensure the healthy development of young children and prepare them for school.  And while funding for early childhood education programs are maintained, he doesn’t provide additional resources to those programs that have shown to reduce the educational equity gap that emerges before children reach kindergarten.  And after a decade of disinvestment, the Governor provides no further funding increases for programs that build educational equity, including extended learning programs and opportunities for the 5th and 6th year of high school.

As Michigan continues to face increasing poverty rates and increasing disparities in child outcomes, failing to restore huge cuts to public programs that work to reduce and ultimately close these gaps will be detrimental to the future of Michigan children of color and low-income children.  With ever increasing need, working to close disparity gaps is a critical component of the state’s economic recovery.  Adequately funding public programs that strengthen opportunities and capabilities of ALL of Michigan’s future leaders and workers is vital.  Unfortunately, the Governor’s budget fails to do so.

See Michigan’s Children’s latest brief on the Governor’s proposed fiscal year 2013 budget and how it may impact equitable outcomes for children.

– Mina Hong

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