September 19, 2014 – For nearly two decades, Michigan’s Children has organized our trademark KidSpeak® forums in Lansing and around the state. These KidSpeak® forums provide an opportunity for young people to speak before a Listening Panel of policymakers, community leaders, and other decision-makers on the issues they have struggled with and how programs and services have assisted them. Michigan’s Children has purposefully recruited young people who have encountered particularly challenging circumstances whether it be young people who have dropped out of school, become teen parents, struggled in the foster care or juvenile justice systems, or faced other significant barriers to their success. Their perspectives are critically important as children and youth continue to struggle in our state, particularly children and youth of color and from low-income families who face more barriers to succeed in school and in life.
Connecting the experiences of young people directly with policymakers has provided Michigan’s Children with firsthand knowledge of the challenges and opportunities that plays a key role in our policy priority setting. In addition, linking powerful stories of young people directly with policymakers themselves has proven to be an effective advocacy strategy. Young people have been the best messengers for key issues like foster care and educational success. Their voices have changed the trajectory of policy conversations and have resulted in additional champions for youth-driven solutions in the Legislature, state departments and other policymaking bodies.
With the success of our KidSpeak® forums, Michigan’s Children is looking to expand these opportunities to also capture the voices of families with young children to ensure that public policies take a multi-generation approach to ensure that families can succeed. As the importance of the early years continues to gain recognition, and as the educational attainment and opportunities facing parents and the impact that has on their children is well documented, policymakers must hear from families on how they can best be supported. This year, for the first time, Michigan’s Children is organizing two FamilySpeak forums to do just that. Modeled after our signature KidSpeak® forums, FamilySpeak will provide a venue for families who have struggled for a variety of reasons to speak before a listening panel of policymakers and decision-makers. These FamilySpeak events will focus on two-generation strategies that take into account the needs of children and their parents to ensure that families can thrive.
Our first FamilySpeak forum will be on Monday, September 22nd at the Michigan Association for Community and Adult Education (MACAE) annual conference and will be held in partnership with MACAE and the Goodwill Industries of Southwestern Michigan. This particular FamilySpeak will highlight an innovative program in Kalamazoo and Allegan Counties called the Life Guides Program, a program of Goodwill. We are excited that this FamilySpeak will be showcasing this innovative, long-term program – modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone – that works to move low-income families to economic self-sufficiency.
Our second FamilySpeak forum will be on Monday, October 13th at the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI) annual conference in Detroit and will be held in partnership with NBCDI and their Detroit Chapter. That FamilySpeak will highlight multiple two-generation programs that serve families – ranging from programs that focus on health needs, mental health needs, human service organizations, and others.
To learn more about the FamilySpeak events, feel free to email Mina Hong.