Keeping Family Voices in the Budget Conversation
April 5, 2017 – Michigan’s Children helped to facilitate two FamilySpeak opportunities at the State Capitol in February, continuing our long tradition of helping policy makers learn directly from the experiences of youth and families.
Families spoke about their need to improve their basic literacy and other skills in order to be able to help their children successfully navigate education and life. Another group of families came to share their heart wrenching experiences trying to care for children and youth in the child welfare system.
I admire the people who speak about their experiences and cannot thank them enough for taking time from their families and their jobs to build the kind of understanding that leads to improved public investment and policy. And, honestly, I admire the policy makers who prioritize listening to them over all else that they have on their busy agendas. The challenge, as always, is about how we make sure that the families were listened to and that their advice doesn’t get lost in the policymaking din.
Our role continues to be to connect the dots between what families are saying and current policy conversation. We have followed up with legislators, reminding them of what was discussed; we have distributed information about the FamilySpeaks in our e-bulletin; and have had several follow up conversations with Departmental staff since the events about issues that were raised. So, why blog now? Because we are in the middle of the state budget process, and because Legislators are spending time over the next two weeks at home in their districts.
The families who talked about the critical importance of raising their own basic skills in order to help their kids – they are out of luck in the current year’s budget recommendations so far, which don’t increase adult education, and don’t include family literacy as a strategy in recommendations for improving 3rd grade reading. But they could. Appropriations subcommittees from both the House and Senate gave their recommendations for the School Aid budget last week. They still have plenty of time to recommend some additional funding.
The families who talked about how they, as foster and adoptive parents, needed more training and support, have a couple of things to be glad about in the current budget recommendations, including some additional investment in new staff for foster parent recruitment. However, the issues that were raised about lack of timely services and difficulties with the court system are not part of any recommended investments. Appropriations subcommittees looking at the Department of Health and Human Services didn’t finish their recommendations before they left for their spring break. They need to keep recommendations moving in the right direction and still have time to add things that are missing.
My favorite part of FamilySpeaks and KidSpeaks is the opportunity for policymakers to make commitments to work toward better policy and practice directly to people who have participated. We all have this opportunity over the next couple of weeks while Legislators are at home to share your stories and get commitments of your own. We are here to help, now is the time.
– Michele Corey