young children

Reading and Parenting in March

Wow, I have rarely seen so many legislators embracing March as National Reading Month as I have this year. I have seen lots of their newsletters highlighting their trips to their communities’ pre-schools and elementary schools to take the time to read to young children. At Michigan’s Children, we are thrilled with the focus on making sure every child can read, and are glad that so many members of our legislature are having direct, impactful experiences with their constituents focused on this issue.

Appropriately, March is also Parenting Awareness Month – what an amazing intersection. Parents continue to be children’s first and best teachers and their ability to consistently read to their children has certainly been proven over time to make a huge difference in educational outcomes. Along with the classroom scenes, legislators could have had other experiences with parents during Reading Month as well, maybe looking something like this:

  • A mother who had to give up her children to the foster care system was provided the parenting skills, substance abuse treatment, mental health or domestic violence services that allowed her to regain custody of her children. She was then able to read to her children, possibly even for the first time.
  • A parent who was not ever able to read to his or her children before because of low literacy levels themselves was provided adult basic education or services for English Language Learners (ELL) that allowed them to read to their children.
  • A young parent who was struggling with their own educational challenges was given support through an alternative education program that connected their need for a quality early education program opportunity for their child and a quality high school completion program for themselves. Because the services were co-located, the parent could take time to read to their child during their own school breaks.
  • A parent who had been unable to effectively reach their young child with a developmental delay, like speech and hearing, was given skill-building and support through Early On to adjust their strategies and learn how work on their child’s literacy skill-building.
  • A foster or adoptive parent who had not been able to access support for a child with significant trauma was able to access training for themselves and appropriate mental health services for their child and could then employ the parenting skills that they used with other children in their home to read consistently.

All of these parents (and all of their child readers) are impacted by decisions being made over the next few months in the state budget process. Providing adequate funding for those pre-school and elementary school classrooms is, of course, necessary. As are providing resources for family reunification services and all that is necessary to support that work; for adult and alternative education opportunities; for expanded learning; for Early On; for speedy and appropriate mental health services; and for trauma training in all arenas.

Legislators will be spending time with their constituents over the next couple of weeks while they are on their own spring break. It is up to us to make sure that they have a good understanding of parents, families, children and youth in their communities, and the programs that help them.

Find out who they are. Find out where they will be. Find out what Michigan’s Children is talking with them about. Lend your voice to the work of building better investments so that all families can thrive.

– Michele Corey

Famous Foster Care Story Brings International Attention to the Value of Grandparents

Aug. 11, 2016 – By now, those of us tuned into the Rio Olympics have heard of Simone Biles’ remarkable journey as the world’s most celebrated gymnast and as a child from foster care adopted by her grandparents.

As is the case of many great Olympians, the story behind the making of this Gold-medal winner can be as equally powerful and instructive as her athletic performance. Biles’ childhood story has struck a chord with many foster, adoptive and kinship families across the continents because it is so familiar.

After her biological mother and father couldn’t care for her because of their struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, Biles and her sister spent four years in foster homes until her maternal grandfather and his wife, Ron and Nellie Biles, adopted them. By Biles’ own account, the couple created a loving and secure home and one that provided her with opportunities to hone her extraordinary abilities on display before the world today. They also kept the sisters together, an issue raised time and time again by young people in the foster care system at our most recent KidSpeak.

In Michigan, the new role that grandparents assume when their children can no longer care for their own children is far from unordinary. It is estimated that nearly one-third of children in the state’s welfare system are placed with grandparents and many others are cared for by grandparents outside the system. This has become a growing trend in our society for a variety of social and economic reasons. Lack of parental support services to address drug and alcohol addiction, mental health concerns, and financial distresses leading to circumstances unconducive to child rearing continue to upend families and fuel this change in family structure.

Last October we highlighted the experience of one grandparent-turned-mom again, Deb Frisbie from the Grand Traverse area, after she joined other caregivers and policymakers in Lansing and shared what makes their situation work and how our public policies could better support families like Frisbie’s. I returned to Frisbie recently to discuss grandparent needs and found her continuing to work as an advocate for other grandparents and older adults raising young children who are facing foster care or in foster care.

Near or in retirement, older adults who are starting over as parents have financial limitations and frequently health concerns that make child-rearing more than an Olympic feat, even when the desire to raise one’s own kin is best for the children and all involved, Frisbie says. Once children are adopted from foster care, adoption subsidies are non-existent except for children with special needs, and those are often limited. Providing basic needs and health insurance for children often drains retirement accounts leaving adults’ own future well-being at risk. Because of such struggles, it may be advantageous for families to remain as guardians because of new assistance resources available, but those are again inadequate, Frisbie says.

Delays within state systems continue to be raised as a barrier by young people and caregivers. Frisbie has worked with one friend recently who assumed care for her three granddaughters when their mother was imprisoned. She was advised to seek a foster care license in which public support would enable her to raise the girls. After entering the review process six months ago, she continues to wait for that assistance while caring for the children. She’s already drained her savings account and is now worried she won’t make her next house payment.

Another barrier: We don’t have good information about grandparents and other family members raising children. According to Frisbie and other family advocates, better support is needed for the many families who are offering the best, loving support for children, and ultimately saving society the financial and personal costs of maintaining too many children and youth in a system without a permanent caregiver.

But to do that, we need to have a much better sense of who the caregivers are, in the child welfare system and out of it, and know more about their circumstances and challenges. Without a more consistent and reliable accounting of these families and their struggles, we are turning a blind eye to real needs and future solutions.

Teri Banas is a communications consultant working for Michigan’s Children.

Prioritizing Early On

November 20, 2015 – Last week I attended the Early On Michigan Conference and had the opportunity to present to Early On providers and families on how they can get engaged in policy advocacy.  I also got to learn more about the great state-level work and the work local Early On providers are doing to bolster the system. Given that improving access to needed early intervention services through Early On is a priority of Michigan’s Children, it was a great opportunity for me to learn directly from the folks working in the field and to figure out how we can be most helpful.  Here were some of my key takeaways.

First, like any other group of providers serving children and families, this group is very passionate about the kids and families they serve.  In my workshop on policy advocacy (that was competing against other amazing workshops focused on things like parent engagement, trauma experienced by young children, language acquisition, and other incredibly important topics), attendees ranged from folks who had good relationships with their elected officials to folks who had never spoken to an elected official before.  And all were engaged and eager to learn how to build those important relationships to improve public policies on behalf of the families and children they serve.  I am confident that at least a couple of legislators have heard from their constituents since then on the needs of Early On.

Second, I learned a lot about Medicaid in one of the workshops I attended on reimbursement for Early On services.  In the room, there was lack of understanding among services providers of how this can be done most effectively and efficiently, and the workshop was incredibly informative to all those who attended.  It reaffirmed Michigan’s Children’s priority, supported by the Early On Michigan Foundation, to push for a study on how we can better maximize Medicaid resources to help offset costs of early intervention services.

And finally, it continues to become more and more evident that many challenges with the Early On system exist due to the two-tiered eligibility and funding structures.  This results in young children with moderate developmental delays – the majority of Early On children in our state – often receiving inadequate intervention services to address those delays compared to children with more significant delays.  The state must take brave efforts to look at ways to streamline eligibility for this program so that all children and their families can receive the services they need for optimal development.  Not only will this improve outcomes for kids, but it can also reduce the special education rolls in preschool and k-12.  You can learn more about the challenges to the Early On system resulting from this tiered eligibility system in our Issues for Michigan’s Children brief.

This program and the children and families it serves are too important to continue to ignore, as evidenced by these incredible family stories, and we are not sitting idly by.  Michigan’s Children and the Early On Foundation recently submitted a sign-on letter to the Governor requesting he begin investing state funds starting in fiscal year 2017 to address the significant financing challenges that Early On faces.  The letter was signed by numerous entities and stakeholders including the majority of Intermediate School Districts who are responsible for this program.  Over the next year, Michigan’s Children will be working closely with the Early On Foundation and others to promote the need for state investment for Early On while simultaneously working to identify ways to maximize Medicaid funds and to begin addressing eligibility challenges.  We hope you’ll join us in these efforts to ensure all families with babies and toddlers have the services they need to thrive.

-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

Child Abuse Prevention Month ≈ Month of the Young Child

This month, child advocates across the country are promoting awareness around two very important issues.  April marks the national Child Abuse Prevention Month and the Month of the Young Child.  Coincidentally, these two topics have a lot of overlap since young children are more likely to be victims of abuse or neglect than older children, particularly infants.  In fact, almost 5,000 Michigan babies were determined to be victims of maltreatment in 2011 according to the latest Michigan Kids Count Data Book.  And unfortunately in Michigan, child maltreatment has been on the rise since 2005, mainly through the rise of neglect cases.  This is directly correlated to Michigan’s rising child poverty rates as evidenced by data – young children under the age of five who are receiving food assistance has also been on the rise from 24 percent in 2005 to 37 percent in 2011.

Unfortunately in Michigan, much of this rise in child maltreatment has been the result of the state’s disinvestment in family support programs.  Ensuring that families have the supports they need to provide a safe, healthy, and nurturing home environment is a strategy that improves outcomes for children, particularly those most challenged by their circumstances.  However insufficient access to basic needs like adequate employment, housing, food, clothing, and health care have resulted in unacceptable disparities in family and child well-being that continue to grow over a child’s life, including child maltreatment.

The good news is that the best time to prevent child maltreatment is to target families with young children.  Child maltreatment typically results from parents who struggle to adequately provide for their children physically, mentally, developmentally, and emotionally.  Supports like home visiting programs and other child abuse prevention programs give parents the tools they need to provide a nurturing and safe home environment to be their child’s first and best teacher while saving taxpayer dollars.  But as a state, we have struggled to provide these critical supports.  While funding to comply with the Children’s Rights Settlement has increased support to foster care and child protective services, funding to support child abuse/neglect prevention has not kept pace.  At the same time, Michigan has put additional stress on the lowest-income families with stricter lifetime limits to the Family Independence cash assistance program, reductions in the Earned Income Tax Credit, almost complete elimination of the clothing allowance for Michigan’s poorest children, and stricter eligibility requirements to access the Food Assistance Program.  Pulling out critical safety net programs from under Michigan’s most challenged families has a detrimental impact on the well-being of young children and increases the already unacceptable disparities in child outcomes.  Reversing some of the damaging changes to basic needs programs while expanding access to child abuse prevention programs are essential to ensure that all children are safe, healthy, and ready to succeed in school and life.

As part of Child Abuse Prevention Month, the Michigan Children Trust Fund is hosting its annual Prevention Awareness Day on Tuesday, April 16th on the Michigan Capitol Steps.  This event is a time to recognize Child Abuse Prevention Month and honor all the children and families in our state.  It’s also a great time for child welfare advocates across the state to talk to legislators about the importance of prevention programs and basic needs programs and how they benefit your family and your community.  As legislators negotiate the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year, hearing about the immediate family and child benefits as well as the long-term savings to the state that child abuse prevention programs provide is critical.  Equally important for legislators to hear about are the detrimental child outcomes that result from family stressors related to income insecurity, inadequate health care, and the like.  Will you take part in Prevention Awareness Day activities on behalf of Michigan’s most vulnerable children?

More information about Prevention Awareness Day is available on the Children’s Trust Fund website.

-Mina Hong

Healthy Mental Health Starts at Birth

Today is SAMHSA’s National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day.  This year’s focus is how, with the help of caring adults and informed child-serving systems, children can demonstrate resilience following traumatic experiences.  While intervention is crucial to ensure healthy mental and emotional development, a strong socioemotional foundation that begins at birth is critical.  Programs that serve families with young children prenatally through age three ensure that young children are socially and emotionally on-track while reducing exposure to traumatic experiences such as abuse, neglect, or domestic violence.

Why does children’s mental health matter in the early years?  Children with social, emotional and behavioral problems have more difficulty with language development and acquiring the “soft skills” needed to succeed in school and life such as perseverance, attention, motivation, self-confidence, effective communication, and conflict resolution.  Left untreated early in childhood, socioemotional challenges can result in poor educational achievement, long-term mental health problems, and anti-social behaviors that lead to increased school discipline and delinquency.  To prevent these issues, parents and caregivers need access to information and resources to support their child’s social and emotional health in the first three and five years of life; and need resources to maintain healthy relationships and access basic needs to avoid traumatic experiences such as domestic violence and abuse/neglect.

Programs that serve young children from birth through age three and their families often target children who are most at-risk of experiencing social or emotional problems.  According to the 2012 Michigan Right Start report, one in ten Michigan births are to teen moms and one in six are to moms without a high school diploma.  Teen moms and moms of any age who have not been successful in school themselves are typically least prepared to understand the developmental and socioemotional needs of their children and lack the skills to navigate the systems necessary to provide needed interventions.  Many programs that serve children from birth through age three target these challenged families, and provide parents with the foundational tools they need to ensure their child’s healthy development – physically, emotionally, and socially.  These programs ensure that young children have access to early and regular screenings for developmental delays and socioemotional challenges.  Children whose social and emotional problems are identified and addressed early on are more likely to succeed in the early learning programs that have been shown to increase school achievement and later success in the workplace.  In addition, their parents are more likely to be able to participate successfully in education and job training programs, and to maintain employment.

Unfortunately in Michigan, between 10 and 14 percent of all young children birth through age 5 experience social, emotional and behavioral problems; yet most do not receive mental health services—even when their mental health conditions have been identified.  This is due to the vastly insufficient resources available for mental health treatment.  Creating a consistent source of funding for children from birth through age three and their families will not only expand access to the family support programs that serve families with young children from birth through age three but could also expand access to mental health treatment that young children need to succeed in life.

-Mina Hong

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

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