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This New Year, Let’s Resolve to Improve the Lives of Michigan’s Children & Families

January 5, 2015 — In most ways, the future is written by the individual actions we take each day.

For more than 20 years, Michigan’s Children has consistently acted with one goal in mind: to make a positive difference for children and families. As a result, the policies we’ve researched and promoted were selected with the intent to create a brighter future for all children, especially those from low-income families, children of color, and children, youth and families shouldering other challenging circumstances.

With the start of a new year, we begin to look at the future with a fresh pair of eyes once again. As a child is born prematurely in a Detroit hospital, as an older teen ages out of foster care in Muskegon, as a Saginaw family struggles with mental health issues and economic self-sufficiency, and as a Northern Michigan community strives to re-examine ways to boost third grade reading, we’ll be looking at those issues too, but from the perspective of moving ahead public policies that have the best chance for helping children and families.

Won’t you join us in advancing public policies that give kids and families a fighting chance for success in life this year? Make the choice to keep informed and connected through our bulletins, blogs and reports, follow us on social media, help us bring the voices of youth and families to policymakers through KidSpeak, FamilySpeak and other opportunities, and answer our calls to action when it’s imperative to reach out to decision-makers. Each action matters.

Our public policy agenda is straightforward and detailed on our website under the caption, Policy Opportunities. But here in a nutshell is how we see the future getting better for children, from cradle to career, and their families, if Michigan invests more in its people:

Improving school readiness: It’s now a universal truth that success in school and life begins years before a child enters kindergarten. Scientists have shown that as much as 90 percent of a child’s intellectual and emotional wiring is set in early childhood. A healthy prenatal experience, support when there are developmental delays early in life, and high quality early care and education can make a huge difference in a child’s later school and life success. That’s why we fight every year for strong investments in services such as evidence-based home visiting, Early On early interventions, services that prevent child abuse and neglect, high quality child care and preschool and family supports as their children move toward third grade.

Ensuring safety at home: To grow and thrive, children physically and emotionally need to feel secure and supported in their homes and communities as they mature, move through school and reach adulthood. While Michigan’s poverty has shot up by 34 percent in recent recessionary times, child abuse and neglect cases sadly have risen too. The state can counter the negative impacts on children, however, by offering economic supports to help stabilize families and also offer support for behavioral healthcare when needed. Specifically, mental health services are needed for children in foster care and the juvenile justice system, where children have experienced high incidents of damaging abuse and neglect. We continually need to push for better investments in assessments and intervention, mental health and substance use/abuse, domestic violence prevention and treatments to quell the numbers of children entering both systems. Then as youngsters age out of foster care, transitional services are needed to help them get on their feet, earn a diploma, and find a post-secondary path that leads to self-sufficiency.

Improving college and career readiness: We know Michigan’s future is linked to all children getting ready for a post-secondary education, work and life. Bottom line: Without a high school diploma, today’s youth have little chance for a good outcome. In addition, we know that the achievement gap among poor children and children of color leaves too many of our youths without good prospects for success. Consistent support for integrated services that help students and their families focus on education; providing second and third chances for high school graduation for those who need extra time and different kinds of opportunities to succeed are essential to ensure more young people can obtain their high school credential. If Michigan is to have a strong future, we can’t leave any of our youth behind.

Supporting families: Because the well-being of children is inextricably tied to their parents, we strongly believe in the value of public policies that are based on two-generation strategies. Policies that take into account the needs of both children and parents include education and job training for parents so that they can better provide for their children and high-quality child care and education to help children thrive. Successful two-gen programs often include services such as evidence-based home visiting, Early On early intervention, adult and community post-secondary education, behavioral health services and connections to family and community resources.

Throughout the year expect to hear from us as we monitor Legislative and budget decisions and promote those that can make a positive difference for Michigan’s children and families. Better yet, join us as we promote a policy agenda that promises to do just that! Together we can make a difference.

— Matt Gillard

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