Yearly Archives 2014

On the 2014 Campaign Trail for Michigan Children

June 16, 2014 – I’d like to introduce you to the new Michigan’s Children Sandbox Party website. You’ll notice some significant changes to the Sandbox Party website. First, the Sandbox Party has joined efforts with Michigan’s Children to raise awareness on children’s issues and to ensure that public policies are made in the best interest of children. As a project of Michigan’s Children, the Sandbox Party will shift its focus from early childhood issues to a whole-child cradle-to-career approach. With this shift, you will be gaining a more comprehensive look at children, youth and families with the earliest years as a very important piece of that.

Also, between now and November, the Sandbox Party will be focusing all of its attention on the 2014 elections. This 2014 election season holds the potential for great change in Michigan and with it, the opportunities and possibilities for significantly improving the lives of Michigan’s greatest resource – our children. Our new website will provide a lot of opportunities for you to learn more about the upcoming elections. One page of the website is dedicated to statewide races – highlighting the Governor’s race and the U.S. Senate race – with a focus on what those candidates are saying about children and family issues. You can also find a list of all of the local candidates running for office in your community by visiting the local races section of our website, which also features highlights of some particularly competitive local races.

The What’s Happening section of the website will provide you with a calendar of events in your community as it relates to the elections – whether it be candidate town halls, local candidate forums, or other meet-and-greet opportunities for you to engage with those running for public office.

This entire website is meant to provide you with the information and tools you need to become engaged this election season and ensure that those you vote into office prioritize the needs of Michigan children and families.

Though the general elections are about five months away, many decisions will be made in the primary elections in early August because of the demographics of those districts. In districts where the majority of voters identify with one political party, the winner of the primaries will very likely go on to win the general elections. Thus, making sure that you go out and vote on August 5th is critical.

So, please take a look around our new website, share this resource with your friends and network, and visit us often.

-Matt Gillard

Here’s to the Graduates

June 6, 2014 – A lot of attention is paid at this time of year to all of the young people who are graduating from high school, and that attention is well deserved.  The graduate that most folks picture is the 17 or 18-year old who has progressed through high school at a traditional 4-year clip and is now poised to move forward to college or career.  Michigan’s Children would like to add to that picture our congratulations for the young people who have taken a different path toward their graduation – those who are graduating after spending their 5th or 6th year in high school; those who have returned to a diploma path after having left or been pushed out of high school; and those who have gotten so far behind and had so many life circumstances in the way that they rightly chose to take a GED path to finish this initial credential.  We celebrate the success of these young adults who are also entering into the same job market and post-secondary options as those who took a traditional, consecutive 4-year trek to get to this point.

Recently released data from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce indicates that by the year 2018, 62% of the jobs in Michigan will require postsecondary education.  This confirms that in order to hold self- and family-supporting jobs in the future, the learning trajectory for all young adults is just beginning.  As the Michigan College Access Network suggests, all graduates will need financial accessibility to post-secondary of course; but much more than that, they also need academic preparation, social capital, and knowledge to navigate the process.   We are glad for the attention paid to the need for more accessible post-secondary education, and we support those efforts for the most challenged young people in our state.

For those who will not receive their high school credential this spring, the future trajectory is much more uncertain.  We’ve known in Michigan for many years that once young people fall behind in school, or when they face significant personal and educational obstacles, a traditional high school setting is not always successful in reengaging them, yet few alternatives exist.  Once students have left school before diploma, for whatever reason, they need different options to re-engage.   Not enough young people have been able to take advantage of second and third chance programs for school credential and post-secondary paths because they are not consistently available across this state or consistently accessible for all young people who need them.

Michigan’s Children is interested in taking advantage of the sharp increase in recent attention and resources to improve college access in Michigan and help to better define high school and post-secondary paths for the most challenged young people.  Over the next year we will be developing a fiscal map of current resources that serve the 140,000 Michigan 18-24 year olds without a high school credential to create the best options for policy directions in FY16 state and federal budgets and beyond.  We will continue to utilize existing research to illustrate quality models and communicate that information through multiple channels.  And, we will continue to highlight best practice options for young adults that utilize community, workforce and post-secondary partnerships successfully to serve our most challenged young people, families and communities.

Here’s to the 140,000 potential high school graduates in Michigan.  Let’s build investment in their success.

-Michele Corey

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

Appreciating What Works

May 8, 2014 – This week represents a time that we recognize two important groups of people in the lives of children, youth and their families – it is National Nurses Week and Teacher Appreciation Week.  The connection of these two weeks struck me as perfect, since good outcomes for either are completely interdependent.  In addition, we are bemoaning the fact that in Michigan so many of our high schoolers aren’t passing national reading and math tests, a reason to really talk about what works to improve educational outcomes.

So, there is the obvious that we won’t have a skilled nursing workforce if we don’t successfully educate our young people, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.  The research is also clear on what the most challenged kids need to succeed in school and how we can reduce the achievement gap.  We need to provide more and multiple flexible learning options that can accommodate life challenges; build consistent supportive relationships between adults and students inside and outside the classroom; utilize expanded learning opportunities beyond the school day for remediation, and to help young people better see their own strengths in STEM and other areas; and connect schools with services that are typically outside of the classroom to ensure that students are healthy, well-nourished, and can focus on their education.

State Legislators have the opportunity right now in the current budget conversation to better support two specific evidence-based practices that take advantage of the combination of talent that exists within school staff, who we appreciate, and within those who integrate other services for kids and their families resulting in better educational and life outcomes.

  1. Opportunities for learning outside the school day.  The Michigan House of Representatives included $3 million in the Department of Human Services budget to reinstate some support for quality afterschool and summer learning programs.  This is nowhere near the $16 million that the state used to invest in these programs and the children and youth they serve, but it is a move in the right direction.  The Senate didn’t include this resource.
  2. Opportunities to expand access to mental and behavioral health services for children and youth through school-based and school-linked health centers.  While both the House and Senate maintained consistent support for these centers in their budgets, the House included over $37 million to support the recommendations of the Michigan Mental Health and Wellness Commission 2013 report, which specifically outlined the importance of expanding mental health services in school-based and school-linked health centers.  The Senate didn’t include any additional funding for these services.

As we honor professions and professionals working hard to make sure that our children, youth and families succeed, let’s also make sure that we are  investing in the very initiatives that assist them in that work.  Get in touch with your elected officials today and ask them to talk with their colleagues about supporting what we know can make a real difference for our state.

-Michele Corey

FY2015 Budget: An Opportunity to Address Equity

April 28, 2014 – Previously I blogged about the difference between equity and equality to reiterate the importance of focusing on equity-promoting strategies when it comes to public policy and budget decision-making.  As the Michigan Legislature continues to move the fiscal year 2015 (FY2015) budget proposals along, it’s important to keep track of what budget decisions they are making and how they will reduce disparities in child and family outcomes or increase them.

The House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee both approved their budget proposals for FY2015, which begins on October 1, 2014 and ends September 30, 2015.  The budgets will now head to the House and Senate floors before heading to Conference Committee where differences will be ironed out.  The House and Senate budget proposals include some variations from the Governor’s budget proposal – differences that will affect how this budget impacts equity.

Here are just a few highlights.

  1. Only the House Committee included $3 million for high quality after-school programming, one of the most powerful tools to reduce disparities in educational outcomes.  The Senate Committee did not include this funding.
  2. Both the House and the Senate Committees included the Governor’s recommended $65 million for the Great Start Readiness Program – a program proven to reduce the achievement gap.  Unfortunately, neither include the Governor’s recommended $100 per-slot increase and instead focus on targeted funding for transportation services.  While transportation is a barrier for many challenged families who might otherwise benefit from GSRP, the current slot amount of $3,625 continues to be insufficient to cover the true costs of running this high quality program.  The Legislature should be focusing on increasing the slot amount while also providing additional funds to support transportation.  Furthermore, the Legislature should be looking at ways to support community-based providers so that they too can be a GSRP provider that parents can choose.  While the House included language to provide additional guidance on how Intermediate School Districts work with community-based providers to expand GSRP, the Senate did not include this language.
  3. Both the House and Senate Committees include funding for pilot programs – one for a school-community partnership in Northern Michigan and another for the Michigan Reading Corps to get more kids reading proficiently by third grade.  While both of these are steps in the right direction, instead of minimal funding for small pilots, Michigan needs consistent funding to support what we already know that it takes to ensure that our most challenged students can succeed while reducing the achievement gap – a high quality education experience that partners with communities and families to provide basic, health, mental health, and other services that students need to succeed.
  4. Both the House and Senate Committees include additional funding for non-Medicaid community mental health, recognizing that Medicaid Expansion (aka the Healthy Michigan Plan) wouldn’t result in the savings the Governor’s recommendation anticipates.  This is a step in the right direction because we know that having access to mental health services is not only critical for challenged children and youth but also their parents to ensure a stable and healthy home environment. Unfortunately, the Senate Committee increased funding for non-Medicaid Mental Health but only included a placeholder to implement the recommendations of the Mental Health and Wellness Commission.

See our latest Budget Basics for a full report on how the Governor, House, and Senate budget proposals will work to shrink or increase equity gaps.

-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

Race for Results in the State Budget

April 7, 2014 – Last week, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Michigan League for Public Policyreleased Race for Results – a policy report exploring the role of race when it comes to child well-being in our nation.  The report features the Race for Results index, which compares how children are progressing on key milestones across racial and ethnic groups at the national and state level.  The findings for Michigan are not surprising.  Our African American children fare significantly worse than their national peers, with Michigan ranking as the third worst state in the nation when it comes to the well-being of African American children.  And, African American children fare significantly worse than their peers of other racial and ethnic backgrounds here in our own state.

For this reason – inequitable child outcomes that we know have existed for many years – here at Michigan’s Children we are dedicated to strengthening public policies in the best interest of children who face the most challenges.  We often talk about challenged families being families of color, low-income families, and families who struggle to provide safe and stable home environments – the same families whose children face too many barriers to succeed in school and in life.  The Race for Results findings prove to me and my team that our mission – to be a trusted, independent voice working to reduce disparities in child outcomes from cradle to career through policy change – is right on target as we strengthen public policies that will remove barriers to opportunity and lead to success for all children.

At Michigan’s Children, we focus on three opportunities – improving school readiness, ensuring safety at home, and improving college and career readiness – opportunities where we know that African American children continue to fare worse than children of other races.  We’ve been focused on some key priorities, like increasing state investments to support families with infants and toddlers since we know young families are more likely to be living in poverty and struggling to provide stability for their children.  The Race for Results report reaffirmed this priority, showing that too many African American children in Michigan live in low-poverty neighborhoods.  And because the academic achievement gap continues to be unacceptable – and was another major indicator in this report – Michigan’s Children continues to focus on increasing support for expanded learning opportunities to ensure that students who are behind academically have opportunities to catch-up outside of the traditional school hours and school year.

Right now, the Michigan Legislature is on spring break.  Many legislators are back in their districts listening to the concerns of their constituents.  When they return, they’ll be finishing up the state budget for fiscal year 2015 – a budget that could include increased investments for programs that support Michigan’s most challenged children and families.  One promising opportunity is to increase state funding for high quality after-school programming – a strategy proven to reduce the achievement gap.  Another is a $65 million increase in funding for the Great Start Readiness Program, Michigan’s successful preschool program for four-year-olds.  Please take advantageof the spring break and potential for new money today by letting your legislators know the persistent inequities in child outcomes outlined in Race for Results is unacceptable to you and should be for them.

-Matt Gillard

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

April 2, 2014 – Last year 33,970 children were abused and/or neglected in Michigan. April 2014 is federally designated as well as proclaimed by Gov. Rick Snyder as Child Abuse Prevention Month. It is a time to reflect on that sobering number of abused and neglected children and the work that is still needed to accomplish the goal of every child having an opportunity to achieve his or her full potential within a nurturing and loving environment. However, it is also the time to celebrate the good things communities all over the State of Michigan are doing to promote healthy child development. It is also a time when we can honor each and every child and family within our state.

We have a role to play in healthy child development, and our goal this April is to help others recognize that role and the ways in which we can maximize our impact. When communities throughout Michigan come together to support children and families, we all benefit: our fellow citizens are better educated, employees are more effective and miss less work, and we’ll see a profound impact on the quality of life in the communities in which families live.

To remind all of us about the importance of healthy child development, pinwheels have been established as the new national symbol for child abuse prevention. They serve as a visual reminder that all children deserve an equal opportunity for healthy, happy and care-free childhoods. Beginning April 1 and throughout Child Abuse Prevention Month, nearly 80 pinwheel “gardens” will spring up across our state as visual reminders that we all play a role in ensuring happy and healthy childhoods for all children everywhere.

On April 22 at 11 a.m. the Michigan Children’s Trust Fund, the agency of the State of Michigan whose mission is dedicated to child abuse and neglect prevention, will be hosting its 6th annual Prevention Awareness Day event, a rally, procession and planting of a pinwheel “garden.” The event’s theme, “The Power of One,” serves to remind us that one person, one community, one dollar and one action can help protect our children from abuse and neglect. The event will begin at the Lansing State Capitol steps. The rally portion of the event includes notable speakers and entertainment. Participants will then receive a pinwheel and proceed down Michigan Avenue where they will all plant those pinwheels at the traffic circle garden at Michigan and Washington Avenues. By participating at this auspicious occasion, you and your organization join with others as a positive presence of support in the belief that child abuse and neglect can be prevented. We hope that you will join us in Lansing for this important occasion.

Estimates show that implementing effective policies and strategies to prevent child abuse and neglect can save taxpayers more than $104 billion a year. Imagine the number of children that could go to college with that savings. Please join us in helping make Michigan the best place for children to live, grow and thrive.

To learn more about Child Abuse Prevention Month and Prevention Awareness Day, visit the Children’s Trust Fund website or contact Emily Schuster-Wachsberger via email or at 517-335-0671.

-Emily Schuster-Wachsberger

Emily Schuster-Wachsberger, MA LPC, is the State Local Council Coordinator for the Michigan’s Children Trust Fund.

The Power of Us Parents

March 13, 2014 – March is parenting awareness Month, and there are lots of events and activities going on around the state celebrating Michigan families and highlighting the importance of effective parenting in the lives of children.  It is the perfect time to also celebrate the power of the voices of parents and other caregivers supporting public policies in the best interest of their families.

As we’ve seen in policy conversations about improving the situations of young children in this state, parents are uniquely positioned to bring messages to policymakers about what is important.  Who knows more about how programs that used to work, just don’t work anymore?  Or how those programs work well for certain groups of people, but not for everyone?   Or how there isn’t enough resource to go around and everyone who needs a service can’t always access it?   Too often, the people making the decisions about how we spend our tax dollars don’t hear enough from parents about their challenges and opportunities as they raise their families and try their best to be their children’s first, best and most consistent teachers.

Now is a great time to make sure that policymakers do know these things.  We need to hold policymakers accountable for the decisions that they make, and ensure that those decisions are in the best interest of families.  How can we do that?  We need to talk to them.  They can’t make their best decisions without our help and the help of our neighbors and friends.  Don’t know where to start?  Feel confident that you know what the issues are, and that you are the best person to talk about those challenges and opportunities that mean the most to you.  Tell your elected officials what you see working for your family and other families in your community; tell them what you see putting roadblocks in the way of good parenting and healthy families.

Share the Parenting Awareness Month resources to celebrate families in your community, but also take some time this month to talk with your elected officials about how their decisions can celebrate families as well.  They need to hear from you.

-Michele Corey

Equity vs. Equality and the State Budget

March 6, 2014 – We, at Michigan’s Children, say this all the time because it’s true – the single best predictor of economic prosperity is a state’s success in educating and preparing its workforce.  As Michigan, like the rest of the nation, continues to become a more racially diverse state; focusing on equitable outcomes for all children is essential to ensure future prosperity.  We must be clear that equity is different than equality, which can be confusing to many.  And while the equity conversation typically focuses on the glaring disparities in child outcomes by race and income, Michigan’s Children also looks at equity promoting strategies that support children with other significant challenges, such as those served by the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

From a public policy and programs perspective, equality means that all children have the same access to public services and programs.  Equity, however, ensures that children with more significant challenges can access additional services and programs proven to work for them to help level the playing field.  For example, all children have equal access to a public K-12 education experience.  However, students that experience challenges at home and in the classroom may benefit from additional services such as a high-quality after-school program that helps them with some of the educational challenges they may face, a school-based health center where they can access quality health care, and free- and reduced-lunch.  In other words, programs that work to increase equity provide targeted services to children who face the most barriers to ensure that they can have a similar chance of success as their peers.  Increasing equitable outcomes means that disparities will shrink such that data will no longer show a gap between the outcomes of children of color, poor children, and children shouldering other challenging circumstances than their less challenged peers.

How the Governor and Legislature prioritize spending in its annual budget and how this spending is targeted towards children that face the most significant challenges can shrink or increase disparities by race and income, thus affecting equitable outcomes for children.  Last month, the Governor released his budget proposal for fiscal year 2015 – a proposal that provides a truly mixed bag for equity.  Some of Governor Snyder’s recommendations will improve equitable outcomes for kids such as another significant increase in preschool funding through the Great Start Readiness Program, continued expansion of the Healthy Kids Dental Program, and an expansion of evidence-based home visiting programs to rural communities in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.  However, many of his budget recommendations continue to fall short when it comes to prioritizing Michigan’s most challenged children.  These include the continuation of under-funding programs that work to prevent child maltreatment, no funding for high quality before- and after-school programming including summer learning opportunities, and underwhelming increases to programs that have historically been underfunded or have experienced significant cuts in recent budget cycles.

Learn more about the Governor’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2015 and the potential steps forward, steps backward, and mixed results they will produce for equitable outcomes for Michigan children.

-Mina Hong

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