home visiting

Counting Our Successes and Fixing Our Failures

March 21, 2016 – As another annual Michigan Kids Count Data Book is released, it gives us several opportunities.  First, using county profiles available in the Data Book each year is a great way to draw attention to the status of children, youth, families and communities.  How are things improving or declining?  Why is that happening in your community?  It is also a great opener for conversation with local policy makers.  Sometimes, they really aren’t aware of some of the facts, like how much of their income people pay for child care, or how many births are to mothers without a high school credential.  Or whether or not their communities are improving or worsening on key issues like prenatal care for moms or child abuse and neglect.   Local advocates can use the Kids Count information to help position themselves as a resource to their policy makers – a helpful thing during a state budget season, an election year and beyond.

Secondly, it is important to examine the Data Book every year to scrutinize how our current investment and other policies are impacting the lives of families in our state.   The annual report offers us a chance to renew attention to long-standing needs, examine how our efforts have paid off, and expand discussions.  Here are just two critical examples:

  1. Family Literacy. With fully one in seven births in Michigan to moms without a high school credential, increased investment in adult education and other literacy initiatives remains imperative.  Our support of teen moms, while those rates continue to drop, must also include high school completion, post-secondary and career opportunities.
  2. Expanded Learning. Increasing poverty rates, costs of child care, and the majority of Michigan students not proficient on highlighted standardized tests make new state investment in learning opportunities outside the school day and year even more of an imperative.  By the time they reach the 6th grade, kids in poor families have received 6,000 fewer hours of assisted learning than their wealthier peers, mainly due to a lack of affordable and quality opportunities outside of school.

Michigan’s Children joined the Michigan League for Public Policy and local partners in Ingham County today for a release of the Data Book to local media around Lansing.  We did this to help highlight how state policy and investment needs to do better at supporting local innovation.  This community intertwines resources available through different entities and targets families with different kinds of needs to try to make sure that parents are supported in the care of their children, that any physical or developmental delays are caught early and that the best services are made available to assist.

It is quite amazing what local communities do with limited resources, but their innovative and effective practices are often stymied by a lack of state and federal investment in necessary programs.  One example that is highlighted in this year’s Data Book is the share of families with children ages 0-3, who participate in Early On.  In Michigan and in Ingham County, that share is less than 3 percent.  Nationwide, estimates are that fully 8 percent of that population qualify for early intervention services, so we are well below that mark.  This is due in part because Michigan fails to invest state funding in that program, unlike the vast majority of the states.

Building on the disaster in Flint this spring, Michigan legislators invested state dollars for the very first time to support Early On in Flint, recognizing that it is a critical part of the intervention and investment that will be needed for years to come to deal with that human calamity.  But, the Data Book points to the need for Early On investment around the state.

Take the time to review the Data Book for key insights into your community, and use its findings to make your best case for local, state and federal investments in children and families where you live.  We are here to help.

– Michele Corey

Post-Election Work for Michigan’s Young Families

November 11, 2014 – Like many of you, I’m happy that the seemingly endless political ads are finally over.  Now that voters have decided who will be representing us in Lansing and in Washington, D.C. next year, it’s time to help these newly elected officials focus on the issues.  Though our state Legislature will look decidedly more conservative next year, I do not take that to mean that “nothing will get done” as some of my liberal peers might.  We can’t forget that the historic increase in funding for our state-funded preschool program – the Great Start Readiness Program – happened with bipartisan support under Republican leadership (and was, in fact, the largest prek investment nationally).  So, what does the GSRP program have that made it appealing to both sides of the political aisle?  It has a strong evaluation that demonstrates its child-outcomes that advocates knew existed for decades.  The evaluation helped public officials understand the equity-promoting nature of the GSRP program that serves four-year-olds with a high quality program that promotes school readiness and reduces the achievement gap.  And, legislators could understand the ROI that came from reduced special education costs, fewer kids repeating grades, more students graduating on time, and higher earnings as adults.

But the GSRP program isn’t the only program that has a strong evaluation and ROI.  Many programs that serve families with very young children – beginning at birth or prenatally and into the toddler years – also have strong evaluation findings and ROI.  And if we want to get the most bang for our GSRP buck, we must ensure that young children don’t start preschool so far behind that they’re just playing catch-up during that one school year.  While we know that a school readiness gap exists, preschool teachers know that there is a preschool readiness gap as well.  With the achievement gap emerging well before four years of age, making investments targeting young children from birth (or even prenatally) through age three is critical.

Fortunately, Michigan can build upon its momentum to continue to strengthen our early childhood system.  Opportunities to expand evidence-based home visiting services will ensure that more young families can benefit from these voluntary parent coaching programs that help parents become their child’s first and best teachers.  Bolstering our Early On early intervention program that targets infants and toddlers with identified developmental delays will help reduce special education costs down the road while more children access individualized services to address their own developmental needs.  And increasing access to high quality child care options – particularly for families with infants and toddlers when high quality care is most expensive – can ensure that young children receive developmentally appropriate early learning experiences they need to be preschool and kindergarten ready.

While these issues will likely get little play this lame duck session, now is a great opportunity to start talking to our newly elected officials about these issues.  Now is the time to congratulate your state legislators and invite them to visit your programs, meet them for coffee, or have an informal exchange with them to talk about what matters to families with very young children.  That way, they can hit the ground running when they get sworn into office in January.

-Mina Hong

Join the #InvestInKids Twitter Rally Today

September 10, 2014 – I try to play the social media game but I honestly feel like I can’t keep up.  I’m just beginning to dabble in the use of #hashtags and still struggle to get my message across in 140 characters or less.  What can I say?  I’m a policy person… trying to get something down to one-page is hard enough!  But, I do recognize that social media can be an effective strategy to move public policy priorities.  And to that end, I urge you to fight any possible social media hesitations – or embrace your love for social media – and participate in today’s #InvestinKids Strong Start Coalition Twitter Campaign from 2-3pm or anytime today if you’re unavailable during that hour.  The purpose of the Twitter storm is to let members of Congress – and I would add our state legislators and candidates for public office – know that investing in young children is a top priority.

The Strong Start Coalition is focusing on expanding access to early childhood opportunities – an issue that Michigan’s Children is prioritizing this election season via the Sandbox Party.  With our state’s significant focus on preschool over the past two years, it’s now time to focus on our littlest Michigan residents.  We must expand funding for programs that serve young children prenatally through age three through a variety of evidence-based services including home visiting, early intervention for developmental delays, and high quality child care.  These are all parts of Michigan’s early childhood system – particularly Early On Early intervention – that have received significantly less attention than preschool.

Michigan’s Children is glad that the importance of home visiting has expanded over the past several years in Michigan, with some increases in state and federal funding for evidence-based home visiting services and through the Governor’s Partners for Success opportunity.  And, we’re glad that the need to increase access to high quality child care is being worked on by the Administration through Michigan’s Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant.  But I would argue that both of these parts of the early childhood system still have quite a ways to go to ensure access to all families who are eligible for these services.  At the same time, Early On continues to be left behind.  An Auditor General’s report that came out last year highlighted some significant challenges with the Early On system – many which are the result of historic underfunding of the Early On system for decades.  In a nutshell, opportunities for our youngest Michigan residents continue to fall far behind.

I hope you will join many other early childhood advocates across the nation today by participating in the #InvestinKids Twitter action.  In addition to targeting our members of Congress, please consider tailoring your message to candidates running for public office.

To learn more about Michigan’s Children’s election efforts, visit www.michigansandboxparty.org.

-Mina Hong

Mother’s Day Reflections

May 12, 2014 – Yesterday was my first Mother’s Day as a mom.  While I’ve been a mom for just under six months, there are so many supports that I am grateful to access that have helped my family.  Some of these same supports, unfortunately, too many moms in Michigan cannot access because our public policies and budget-making do not prioritize them.

First, I was able to access family-planning services prior to getting pregnant that allowed me to plan for my pregnancy; and when I did become pregnant, I was able to access comprehensive prenatal care.  A healthy start in life begins well before babies are born – with women being healthy prior to conception, having the appropriate support to plan for their families, and then to access comprehensive prenatal care when they do become pregnant.  Passing the Healthy Michigan Plan last year was an excellent first step for our state to ensure that more low-income adults can access health care.  And we know that more investments are needed to support family planning and prenatal care outreach, particularly for Michigan’s most challenged women.

Additionally, and I’ve talked about this before, three days after my son was born, I received a home visit by a registered nurse.  Fortunately, our policymakers recognize the value of evidence-based home visiting services, particularly for the challenged families who benefit the most from these programs.  Congress provided funds supporting evidence-based home visiting services in Michigan’s most challenged urban communities; and the State Legislature is set to provide a $2.5 million expansion of home visiting services to rural Northern Michigan and the U.P.  However, even with this investment and already existing funds for voluntary evidence-based home visiting, we continue to serve only a fraction of eligible families.

And finally, upon my return to work, we’ve been utilizing a combination of high quality child care – with my son spending a couple days a week at a five-star rated child care center and several days a week with his grandmother, who also happens to be a former early childhood educator.  Unfortunately, too many families cannot access high quality child care that promotes early learning and development.  Michigan is making steps in the right direction to improve its child care subsidy program for very low-income families.  First, the state has been awarded the federal Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant that has a focus on improving quality among home-based child care providers.  Like me, this is an option chosen by many families.  And the Legislature and the Governor support  child care subsidy program improvements to better serve Michigan’s lowest-income families.  Supporting high quality child care will ensure that more kids are kindergarten-ready and can reduce the academic achievement gap.

These are just a few of the supports that I was particularly thankful for this Mother’s Day – supports that our state is working to expand for Michigan’s most challenged moms.  Unfortunately, in many areas, Michigan continues to fall short.  The policy changes that were made to the Family Independence Program (cash assistance) and Food Assistance Program (food stamps) have made it more challenging for low-income families to provide financially stable homes, and the children are suffering.  Child poverty continues to be on the rise in our state.  And, child abuse and neglect prevention programs have been significantly underfunded as evidenced by the unacceptable rise in child maltreatment over the past decade.  As legislators wrap up the fiscal year 2015 budget and head back to their communities to campaign for the upcoming elections, we must ask them and all candidates to prioritize the needs of Michigan’s struggling children and families.  We must hold them accountable so that all children can have a great start in life.

-Mina Hong

Doc-Fix Bill Add-Ons Good for Michigan Children

April 11, 2014 – April is Child Abuse Prevention Month – a time to raise awareness on this issue, which is important for Michigan since child abuse and neglect is on the rise as evidenced by the 31 percent increase in confirmed victims between 2005 and 2012.  Coincidentally, April is also Month of the Young Child which aligns very well with Child Abuse Prevention Month since data tells us that young children are more likely to be victims of maltreatment.  Thus, focusing on preventing child abuse and neglect among this age group is critical to change the unacceptable trend we see in child maltreatment.

Coincidentally, this falls right after Congress approved the Protecting Access to Medicare Act of 2014, which was signed into law on April 1st.  Also known as the doc-fix bill, this legislation focuses on Medicare changes but also includes some specific provisions that will benefit challenged families with young children and help prevent child abuse and neglect.  Specifically, the doc-fix bill included funding to extend the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV) until March 31, 2015; and it included support for community behavioral health clinics.

In terms of MIECHV funding, this was essential for the State of Michigan since we rely on these dollars to support voluntary home visiting programs in our most challenged urban communities.  These high quality, evidence-based home visiting programs help families connect to health, mental health, social, and early childhood services needed to support a healthy pregnancy and a healthy start in life for their infants and toddlers.  Evidence-based home visiting programs not only improve birth outcomes and young children’s development and learning, but they have also proven to cut child abuse in at-risk families by as much as half.

Also included in the doc-fix bill was support for a two-year, eight-state pilot program based on the Excellence in Mental Health Act to fund community behavioral health clinics.  These clinics would receive an enhanced Medicaid rate to provide comprehensive mental health services to low-income families and children.  We know that parents with untreated mental health issues face greater challenges when it comes to supporting their children.  This is only exacerbated if the same parents are also struggling financially to make ends meet.  Providing additional supports to mental health clinics to comprehensively serve challenged families is essential to ensure a stable and safe home environment where children can thrive.

Please take time to thank Michigan’s Congressional delegation for the passage of the doc-fix bill – particularly Senator Debbie Stabenow who championed the mental health provision, as well as Congressman Camp, Congressman Upton, and again Senator Stabenow who ensured that MIECHV was included in the final legislation.

-Mina Hong

Resolve to Better Serve Michigan’s Youngest

January 8, 2014 – As gym membership purchases skyrocket and cookie sales take a hit, there’s nothing like the start to a new year to have folks think about all the hopes and wishes they have for a new year.  While I’m not a new year’s resolution kind of gal, I do have some hopes and wishes for young children in Michigan.  And 2014 is a year where much progress can be made with the help of your advocacy efforts as well as Michigan’s recently awarded Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant.

At Michigan’s Children, we’ve long been advocates for the state’s young people who face the greatest barriers to opportunities that promote education and life success – children who are disproportionately disadvantaged like children of color and children from low-income families.  And we know the greatest avenue to success is to focus on prevention efforts to mitigate the disparities that emerge early and can persist over a lifetime.  As a state, we’ve clearly made great progress in this arena as evidenced by the significant expansion of the Great Start Readiness Program.  However, we know we have to start before preschool since disparities in cognitive development – which leads to the achievement gap – can emerge as young as nine months of age.  When we provide services for young children prenatally through age three coupled with a high quality preschool program like the Great Start Readiness Program, we can make significant strides towards ensuring all children are prepared for kindergarten while preventing the achievement gap.

As we ramp up preschool services for four-year-olds, Michigan must expand services to families with very young children prenatally through age three. Two key opportunities for bolstering services for this population are to strengthen the subsidized child care system and to expand evidence-based home visiting services.  In essence, ensuring that very young children have the best environments for their learning and development in the two places where they spend their days – at home and in child care while their parents work.  At the same time that the federal government has improved access to home visiting by increasing available funding, Michigan has bolstered the quality of home visiting services by mandating that publicly funded programs be evidence-based or promising programs.  Now, the state must also take responsibility for expanding access to these services since they still reach only a small fraction of the families who are eligible.

Additionally, our subsidized child care system continues to be one of the worst in the nation with woefully low reimbursement rates that are paid on an hourly basis.  And, with infant and toddler care being the most expensive, accessing high quality (read: 5-star rated programs in Great Start to Quality) is next to impossible with the current subsidy structure.  But opportunities to strengthen the child care system exist – especially with Michigan’s Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) Grant award.  With our RTT-ELC grant, Michigan will focus on bolstering child care services to the most challenged families.  For infants and toddlers, a scholarship will be available to families in high needs communities, which will allow more young children access to the highest quality care that promotes healthy development and eliminates the school readiness gap.  While these scholarships are a great model that Michigan can replicate across the state, the RTT-ELC grant will only provide scholarships to a small fraction of the thousands of infants and toddlers who currently receive subsidized care.

More broadly, Michigan will use its RTT-ELC grant funding to provide incentives for more child care providers to participate in Great Start to Quality so that parents can be better informed about the quality of care they select for their children.  And, Michigan will make a concerted effort to support both licensed and unlicensed home-based child care providers to increase the quality of their care.  This is a significant step in the right direction since we know that many families – particularly families with very young children – opt for home-based care for many reasons including affordability, trust, cultural alignment, and convenience.  These opportunities will support parental choice so that parents can make the best possible decision about the care they purchase for their children.

While we have a ways to go to better serve Michigan’s youngest children, I am encouraged by the efforts we have already made and the plans we have laid out in our RTT-ELC grant.  While it would be overly optimistic to say that I hope the state’s “new year’s resolution” is to provide all young children prenatally through age five with the high quality services they need to be prepared for kindergarten, 2014 will prove to be a year where we can make great strides towards this goal.  Won’t you join us in these efforts?  The Governor will be unveiling his state budget proposal for the next fiscal year in February and shortly thereafter, the Legislature will be building the state’s budget.  Now is the time to talk to your legislators about how we can better support Michigan’s struggling children even before they reach preschool – by increasing access to evidence-based home visiting services and expanding and embedding opportunities available through the RTT-ELC into state policy.  2014 must be the year that we make significant strides so that all of Michigan’s most challenged young children can have access to opportunities that will help them thrive.

Learn more about Michigan’s Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant on the Michigan Office of Great Start website.

-Mina Hong

Those Precious First Days

Two weeks ago, I welcomed my son – Lennon – into this world.  Being my first child, I must admit that I was less anxious about the actual labor and delivery process and much more anxious about those first few days at home with him and figuring out how to keep this little person alive.  While we’re a fortunate family to have both of Lennon’s grandmas living in the same town as us and many supportive friends (including those who are already parents) that we could lean on for support, it still felt a bit daunting to have this little human being completely dependent on us for his survival.

Even with our vast network of support, one of the great things we got to experience on our second day at home with Lennon was a home visit by a registered nurse.  That’s right.  Though our family doesn’t qualify for any specific home visiting service for more challenged families, the University of Michigan hospital where Lennon was born provides a home visit to all families after they go home.  This was such an amazing opportunity to ask the many questions that we were having both about Lennon’s health and well-being as well as my own recovery.  The visit provided an opportunity for us to ask about what’s normal infant behavior, offer guidance on nursing, sleeping, and other developmental questions we had about our three-day old baby, and offered guidance to my partner and me as we navigated this whole new world.

As I mentioned earlier, we have a great network of support but having a trained person come to our home to provide guidance and expertise early in Lennon’s life was extremely helpful.  It made me think about the evidence-based home visiting services that are available in our state that target the most challenged families.  How exciting yet daunting it is to care for a newborn baby.  Yes, the love is overwhelming and I know all mothers are willing to do whatever it takes to do the best by their child.  But to have other stressors in one’s life may make it significantly more challenging to tend to the needs of a newborn while also recovering from one’s own physical experience of delivering a child.  These voluntary home visiting programs have demonstrated improved outcomes for both mom and baby in terms of baby’s health and development and mom’s ability to provide a stable home for baby.  Based on the one home visit that I experienced, I could see how they can be extremely beneficial – to have a trained professional to talk about specific baby challenges and to have a support person to lean on when times are rough.

Here in Michigan, the Governor and the Legislature are gearing up to build the fiscal year 2015 state budget.  Michigan has high quality home visiting programs that already exist around our state.  Unfortunately, these programs are vastly underfunded, only reach a fraction of the families that are eligible for services, and rely far too heavily on federal dollars to support them.  At Michigan’s Children, we hope to see these home visiting programs expanded using sustainable state funding, and have been working with key partners towards this endeavor.  In the meantime, won’t you talk to your legislators about the challenges that new parents face and how home visiting programs can support our state’s most challenged new parents?  Learn more about home visiting programs in Michigan by visiting the Michigan Department of Community Health website.

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-Mina Hong

Supporting Michigan’s Poorest Families with Young Children from Birth to Age Three

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released its 2012 data on poverty rates across the country and the data was bleak for Michigan.  While our child poverty rate did not increase from the previous year, it remained stagnant, demonstrating that children and families continue to struggle during Michigan’s economic “recovery”.  One out of four Michigan children continue to live in poverty and we know that even higher shares of our young children from birth to age three are more likely to be living in poverty than older children.  What’s even more dire are that young children of color are still more likely to be living in poverty than white children.  The consequences of childhood poverty – particularly in the first few years of life – have long been established and we know that the outcomes are not acceptable.  With racial and economic disparities in cognitive achievement (aka the beginnings of the achievement gap) emerging as young as nine months of age, focusing on prevention efforts that mitigate the harmful effects of poverty are essential to ensuring that children are ready for school and life.

Business leaders and economists have become particularly effective advocates for high quality early childhood programming.  The Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan played a vital role in securing Michigan’s $65 million expansion of the Great Start Readiness preschool program (GSRP).  Nationally, a group of business leaders organized by ReadyNation is carrying a similar message in Washington, DC.  And earlier this week at the ReadyNation Summit, Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman presented on the return on investment from high quality early childhood programming and reiterated that the greatest returns are seen from programs that start the earliest – programs that are targeted prenatally and during the infant and toddler stages.

Michigan is well poised to support its lowest-income young learners.  We can do so by maximizing our GSRP investment to reap the greatest return by bolstering our efforts that begin before four years of age.  We already have the infrastructure in place to expand voluntary home visiting services, thanks to the federal Maternal, Infant, Early Childhood Home Visiting program and Public Act 291 which requires the state to only support evidence-based or promising home visiting programs that are backed by research.  Now, we must focus on expanding home visiting services to reach more of Michigan’s very challenged families, since we know that home visiting programs not only provide significant benefits for young children in terms of their healthy development and learning but also supports parents on a path towards economic stability.  Furthermore, we have the infrastructure to bolster our child care program through Great Start to Quality – the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System.  Continued efforts to strengthen the child care subsidy system can ensure that parents can maintain stable employment to support their families while supporting children’s learning and development in high quality child care settings.  These are two clear tools that Michigan can better utilize to mitigate the harmful consequences of poverty that, as James Heckman has said, provide the greatest return on taxpayer dollar.  So what are we waiting for?

-Mina Hong

Secretary Duncan, You Missed An Awesome Opportunity

Monday afternoon, early childhood advocates and fans filled a room at the Perry Preschool in Ypsilanti to hear from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan discuss President Obama’s Early Learning Proposal, Governor Rick Snyder on his efforts to expand preschool, and other experts on the value of early childhood education.  While Washtenaw County residents made-up a significant portion of the folks in the room, early childhood advocates from Detroit, Lansing and other communities also were in attendance to learn more about what Secretary Duncan had to say about the President’s historic effort to expand early learning opportunities across the prenatal through age five spectrum.

While the excitement around preschool is much deserved and grounded in solid research, I can’t help but feel that Secretary Duncan missed an opportunity to promote the comprehensive nature of the President’s Early Learning Plan.  For starters, the President’s plan doesn’t focus purely on four-year-old preschool, but rather encompasses the entire early learning experiences that are needed prenatally through age five.  Specifically, Obama’s plan calls for investments to expand evidence-based voluntary home visiting programs that support pregnant women and families with infants and toddlers, investments in high quality Early Head Start – Child Care partnerships that serve young children from birth through age three, high quality preschool for four-year-olds, and full-day kindergarten for five-year-olds.  This is what a comprehensive early learning plan looks like.  Unfortunately, much of the conversation yesterday revolved around preschool with only one mention to home visiting.

When Secretary Duncan was sitting next to Governor Snyder, I wish he had emphasized these other critical components to the early learning plan.  Preschool is a critical component and one that we know helps reduce disparities in school readiness.  We also know that for the children and families who are struggling the most in Michigan, more comprehensive services beginning prenatally that connect to a high quality preschool program ensures that more children will be better prepared for kindergarten.

And while we’re at it, there was quite a bit of discussion about universal preschool, with talk by Washtenaw residents who volunteered to pilot a universal preschool model in their county.  I would argue that this is antithetical to the early childhood system, which was created to serve the most challenged children and families.  In fact, all of the research supporting the return on investment for high quality early learning experiences is based on programs that serve very low-income children whose families often faced multiple challenges.  Rather than jumping to four-year-old preschool for all children, Michigan should first build a comprehensive early childhood system similar to the President’s proposal so that more kids are ready to succeed at kindergarten and beyond.  In Michigan, we need to expand access to voluntary home visiting and other services prenatally through age three, bolster our child care system (which is one of the worst in the nation), at the same time that we expand access to preschool for low-income children.   This is how we prevent the school readiness gap, prevent the achievement gap that we see in K-12, and ensure that we get the greatest return on our taxpayers’ investment – not by providing preschool for all children.

As Secretary Duncan continues to travel the country to promote Obama’s Early Learning Proposal, I would urge him not to shy away from discussing the details of the President’s plan.  He had a great opportunity this week in a room full of early childhood advocates who understand that the early childhood system doesn’t begin with preschool – he can help us move the public discourse towards a more comprehensive early childhood system.

-Mina Hong

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