Yearly Archives 2018

Vote Like Our Future Depends On It

Sometimes we lose track of the fact that our democracy is just like a hiring process. We look at different candidates for the job of representing our priorities in decisions about how to spend tax dollars and how to best structure the many public systems we depend upon. Then, after the campaign interviews, some of us in the “hiring committee” decide what candidate we want.

Now is the time for the job interviews, when we pay attention to what candidates are saying, and make sure that they are being asked important questions. To that end, we are working hard with partners in eight areas of the state to facilitate youth- and family-led candidate forums. This is some of my favorite work for three reasons:

  1. I LOVE working with our partners. The people we are working with for these forums do amazing things for kids and families in their communities every day AND THEN grace me with their assistance in with these forums, because they are so important. It is inspiring.
  2. I LOVE hearing what questions youth, adult students and other caregivers ask policymakers and those running for office when given the chance. Some confirm what we know to be true about the barriers people face, others are surprising and always informative to our work.
  3. And, of course, I also LOVE hearing the answers and seeing the power of direct interaction between constituent and candidate. We hear time and time again from the candidates involved that these forums are the campaign experiences that they enjoy the most.

After the job interview, we will decide who to hire. One of our staff wrote this phrase in a draft document, “Vote like our future depends on it.” I really like that, mainly because I know that it is true. We all know that decisions we make during this election will determine priorities in policy and investment for the next decade. This month, Michigan’s Children is starting our “Why I Vote” campaign. For me, voting is a huge responsibility, however, we know that many people don’t feel empowered to vote, or just aren’t able to, so we are gathering perspectives on why people around the state are taking that step to participate in the hire.

After the hiring is done, we supervise our new hires. We help them make connections between the decisions they are making and the things they said and learned from the hiring process. We help them better understand the people they are working for and how to do their job well. They need training, like most new hires, and they need support. We are there to give them that.

While I do like the job interview, and I also like the responsibility of hiring, I have devoted my professional life to the supervisory part. I know that all of our new hires (some more than others…) will disappoint us, some will not do what they said they would do during the job interview. And we will be there to gently (and sometimes not so gently) guide them back and make sure that they have all of the resources and backing that they need to help us move the state forward.

We need you to pledge with us to supervise the people we hire, beginning this November until the day they leave office. This is a pledge to follow up our vote with more action, to use our power as their supervisors to help them see the best path forward by connecting them with the most valuable resources that they have at their disposal – US, and the people who we serve.

Take this interview process seriously, vote as if our future depends on it, and then pledge to join Michigan’s Children for action.

Michele Corey is Michigan’s Children’s Vice President for Programs

Meet Ryan, Our Newest Intern: A Quality Education for All

As a child, I was first exposed to the inequities of our society. I grew up in the metro-Detroit area and received a top-tier public education. This paved the way for me to go on to the University of Michigan and earn my bachelors and masters degrees there. Attending a university like U of M gave me the necessary tools to complete an internship at the Democratic National Committee, the White House, and now, Michigan’s Children.

All of this is to say, without the amazing k-12 public education that I received as a child, my life would have turned out to be incredibly different. I would not have been prepared to take on the rigors of a world-class university, which would have made it much less likely that I would end up sitting here writing this blog post. I was lucky. Due to the circumstances of my birth, I was placed in a district that had an abundance of resources for me to draw on. I even got the chance to learn Chinese and go with my 8th-grade class on a trip to China. Just 20 miles down the road, however, kids are receiving an education devoid of the basic resources necessary for them to succeed.

These kids also attend a public school, which does not even have enough textbooks for each student. The ones they do have are outdated. The building is not completely heated in the wintertime. Very few of these kids have ever left their neighborhood, much less the state of Michigan or the country. Worse still, an 18-year-old student is set to graduate, and she cannot spell the name of her own street. Last year, I was an AmeriCorps VISTA working in the Detroit Public Schools, and I witnessed these things firsthand. These kids wanted to succeed so badly, but in these conditions, it was near impossible to do so. How can you do well enough on a standardized test to gain admission into college if you cannot even spell the name of your street? This was a monumental failure on the part of our state, the place where I was born and raised, and the place that I love.

In this great state of ours, how is this dichotomy in public education allowed to persist? By allowing it to continue, we are perpetuating a cycle of class stagnation and hopelessness amongst the most vulnerable amongst us. By depriving so many kids of a quality education, we are stopping them from achieving their true potential. This is not something that I want to stand idly by and watch happen, so I decided to do what I could to ensure that the next generation will not have to experience this same vast dichotomy.

For the summer, I decided to take a research internship with the amazing organization, Michigan’s Children. They are incredibly committed to making a difference in the lives of our state’s children, which is what drew me to them in the first place. As a student of public policy, I know that legislation and advocacy are the avenues by which we can enact truly meaningful change. I’m hoping that my research of how to best provide education funding to impoverished students will assist Michigan’s Children in their advocacy work, and ultimately, lead to a state that provides all of its kids with the necessary resources to succeed.

Ryan Bartholomew is a summer intern for Michigan’s Children. He is currently a master’s student at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy, where he also received his bachelor’s degree. Ryan’s background is in domestic policy and American electoral politics, and he hopes to go on to earn a Ph.D. in political science.

Meet Patrick, our Newest Staff Member: Education: A Cause Worth Fighting For

I am excited to joining the staff of Michigan’s Children in partnership with the Michigan Association of Community and Adult Education (MACAE).

My connection with educational issues was initially emboldened through my early years being surrounded by teachers in my family. It probably also was deepened by my asking (and getting) a file cabinet as a Christmas gift in 5th grade.

Flash forward to college (Go GVSU Lakers!) and I found myself studying secondary education while also serving as an AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps Vista member at the Dominican Literacy Center in Detroit. There on the east side, I had the opportunity to walk with individuals from many different backgrounds and to support them in their educational endeavors. Whether it was tutoring someone in algebra, working with someone to develop their organizational and communication skills, teaching English as a second language or reaching out for community resources, I learned much. So much about the resiliency of people, but also the importance of educational opportunities.

One of the most powerful parts of education is the power of networking and collaboration. My experiences in Detroit led me to working at A+ English as a Second Language in the Lansing area and with a great mentor and friend. I learned so much about organization, leadership, and being an inspiring person from my director, Karyn. I also reaffirmed and deepened my commitment to students and their ability to overcome great hardships- learning English, taking the Citizenship test, finding employment, and caring for their families. This opportunity also afforded the chance to travel to national conferences and share best practices with some of the most talented instructors and administrators from around the country on numerous occasions.

And sometimes there are unique opportunities in education that you didn’t expect. My time teaching AP English and Senior English in high school was one of the most exciting, challenging and worthwhile experiences! Seeing young people come into their own and form informed, intuitive perspectives of the world around them is one of the most inspiring things to witness. Our future is bright when we allow others to learn, and hone their skills and abilities.

What better gift can there be than that?

Education- A cause worth fighting for.

–  Patrick Brown is an Outreach Associate for Michigan’s Children, in partnership with the Michigan Association of Community and Adult Education

Elections Are Inspiring

I’m consistently educated and inspired by constituents and policymakers alike when the two groups are brought together. I’ve been so fortunate to have been part of Michigan’s Children’s intentional creation of these opportunities for the last 18 years. They take many forms, but always include direct communication between young people, families, the people who serve them and policymakers. During the campaign season, these opportunities are so critical as our citizenry decides who will be representing us in Lansing and Washington, DC. It is important for constituents to hear what candidates for office are saying about issues of concern to them, and for candidates to hear those issues and be held accountable for articulating solutions that they will be prioritizing if elected.

This week, we kicked off our youth- and family-led candidate forum season with two forums (one in two-parts) led by families in two very different parts of the state. The first, at the Zeeland Early Childhood Center in Ottawa County, and the second at The Children’s Center in Detroit. Circle back to our Learning from Youth and Families page for more details about both of these successful events, check out what we tweeted through the forums, and here are just a couple of highlights for me:

  1. Most of the eight candidates running for the 30th State Senate and the 90th State House districts in Ottawa County looking down the table at each other and remarking about their commonalities in supporting early childhood programming and wanting to help to improve the mental health system in our state.
  2. The vast experience and enthusiasm that all five of the attending candidates running for the 13th Congressional District are bringing to that race, a race in a district that had been represented by single Congressman, John Conyers, Sr. from the time before these candidates were even born.
  3. The flexibility and responsiveness of the single candidate running for the 1st State Senate attending (though others had confirmed) to forgo the more formal forum style and just sit with constituents and answer question after question.

Of course I didn’t think EVERYTHING that the candidates said would lead to investment and policy strategies helpful to the most vulnerable children and families in our state, but I couldn’t help but be inspired by the insight provided by the families themselves in the thoughtful questions that they asked, and by the time committed by the candidates to answer them comprehensively.

During the next four months, people are vying for the jobs that we will be hiring them for in November. On August 7, in the primary election, our first round of job interviews will be completed, and the field of applicants will significantly drop. Our elections matter. The people who we hire by electing them to office matter. Expressing our priorities and helping others to express theirs to the people who are tasked to represent those priorities matters.

We will continue to create and assist with opportunities to express those priorities around the state, and if you are interested in partnering with Michigan’s Children in your community, let us know. Personally, I can’t wait for the next one!

–  Michele Corey is Michigan’s Children’s Vice President for Programs

Reflections on My Internship

When I started graduate school, my very first class was a social policy class. It sounded a little boring, and I couldn’t imagine enjoying it. Much to my surprise, I loved the class and I loved learning about the social policies that affect the well-being of all people. I wanted to learn more and experience what it was like work for an organization that helped shape these policies. For the past 8 months, I’ve had the honor and pleasure of doing that as an intern at Michigan’s Children.

I remember the first day of my internship. As with any first day at a “new job,” I was excited and more than a little nervous. Would I do well? Did I really know enough about social policy?  I spent the following days reading everything I could about issues affecting the welfare of children. In staff meetings, I heard legal terms that were new to me and discretely (I hope) scribbled them down, so I could look them up later.  The following weeks and months were an exciting time as I tried to learn everything I could about policy work and advocacy.

From the first day, I was treated like a member of the team, not “just an intern.” The work was challenging, but I loved every minute of it. Not only did I do research, analyze policies, and make recommendations, I also had other great opportunities such as attending House and Senate appropriations meetings, meeting with people from other organizations, and talking to individuals in the community. Additionally, I had the pleasure of working with Courtney, another very talented social work intern at Michigan’s Children.

During my time there, I learned so much from Michele, Matt, Bobby, and Kali. Valuable things that I’ll remember and carry with me throughout my social work career. Here are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned.

1. Change takes time, and often a very long time. When advocating for better policies, sometimes you have to start with small requests and continue to build on small changes to get the big changes you really want.

2. Doing your research is critical. To analyze policies to determine their potential effectiveness and offer recommendations, you need to know the facts about the issues.

3. Networking and building relationships with individuals and groups in other agencies and organizations is essential. The more people you bring to the table with a shared goal, the more power you have to affect change.

4. This most important thing I’ve learned. It is crucial to talk to the people directly affected by the issues. Reach out to community members in diverse populations and listen to what they have to say. They are the experts on their own experiences, their needs, and how to best address those needs without creating more barriers.

In addition to learning about policy work and advocating for positive change, I learned many things about myself.  I can do so much more than I ever imagined, I have good ideas, I love meeting people and building relationships, and I am passionate about advocating for children and families. The world should be a safe place for children and youth where they feel loved and have opportunities to learn, grow, and thrive. Part of creating that world is ensuring that parents and grandparents also have the supports they need.

My time at Michigan’s Children has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my graduate school education both professionally and personally.  Now that I’ve graduated and am ready to begin my professional career, I leave the organization knowing that I’ve made 5 amazing, extremely knowledgeable and talented new friends whom I will never forget. It has been a joy and a privilege to work with them and learn from them.

 Sherry Boroto, MSW is a former intern at Michigan’s Children.

Kinship Caregivers Need Support Too

March 29, 2018 – Over the past several months, I’ve been researching kinship care and talking to advocates to learn more about the issues caregivers face. I recently had the opportunity to meet with some informal kinship caregivers (not licensed foster parents) and hear about their challenges first-hand. Reading about the issues and hearing second-hand stories gave me an abstract overview of the situation. However, listening to caregivers tell their stories and imagining what it might be like to face their daily struggles made a much greater impact on me. Conversations often focus on the needs of children, and it’s vitally important that they do, but they don’t always focus on the needs of their caregivers. A child’s well-being is affected by the well-being of the entire family, so the needs of caregivers are important too.

As I listened to kinship caregivers tell their stories, some major themes began to emerge – feelings of isolation, loss of identity, lack of respite, and financial strain. These individuals spend most their time caring for children and have very little if any, time for themselves. Caregivers noted that one big barrier to relieving these stressors is the lack of affordable childcare, which prohibits them from working, finding respite, and interacting with other adults. Caregivers also expressed frustration over the amount of time spent talking with DHHS staff who were unwilling to assist them or were unfamiliar with the types of assistance available to children in informal kinship care. Trying to navigate the system without the support of knowledgeable staff prevented some caregivers from accessing available services.

Overall, the lack of support kinship caregivers receive is discouraging. These individuals are entrusted with the care of one of our most vulnerable populations, yet they cannot access the resources they need to ensure they and the children in their care thrive.

In a recent article about kinship care, I outlined some recommendations for addressing issues kinship families face. One recommendation was to learn more about the needs of this population. In addition to collecting and studying data, I urge legislators to meet with kinship caregivers and listen to both their stories and their suggestions on how to address the issues they face. Data only tells part of the story. The people living these experiences are essential in completing the narrative.

Another recommendation I made was to establish a statewide Kinship Navigator program. A recently passed federal act called the Family First Prevention Services Act would allow the state to develop one of these programs. The act provides federal funding for states to implement Kinship Navigator Programs that provide support to kinship caregivers, helps them complete paperwork, and links them with available services and other resources. The state would have to develop and fund the program, but the federal government would reimburse the state for up to 50% of the cost. It is imperative that any such program is available to both formal and informal kinship caregivers as both types of caregivers need support. Additionally, the program should provide the options for kinship caregivers to call and speak to a trained navigator or schedule a face-to-face meeting if needed. Now is the time to urge Michigan legislators to fund the development of this essential program.

Sherry Boroto is an intern at Michigan’s Children and is currently in her final year of graduate school at Michigan State University where she is pursuing her master’s degree in social work.

Meet Grant, Our Newest Intern

Hello! My name is Grant Rivet and I have the great opportunity of being an intern for Michigan’s Children this semester. My primary duties will be assisting with social media, updating our 2018 elections page, and briefing policy reports. Originally I am from Bay City, Michigan where my father was a former State Representative for the 96th district. It’s no stretch to say I have been around politics my entire life. From the fundraisers, to gathering election results after the polls close, to passing out popsicles at local parades in the summer. It’s not hard to see the influence that my father has had on my passion for politics.

I heard about the opportunity to intern for Michigan’s Children through my stepmother and Michigan’s Children board member Kristen McDonald. She has always been an advocate for the advancement of underprivileged youth throughout her entire professional career, especially in her position as VP with the Skillman Foundation, which seeks the advancement of Detroit’s youth. There, I had several opportunities to be around and volunteer, which opened my eyes to the disadvantages and harsh reality of life for many children in Detroit. I took a step back and realized just how fortunate I was growing up and realized many kids will not have nearly the opportunities I have just because of their socioeconomic status. I can honestly say I enjoyed volunteering and found the work to be extremely satisfying knowing it would benefit those who really need it. So, when the opportunity to get hands-on experience with Michigan’s Children to get a better understanding of the policy aspect of advocacy came up, it was an easy decision for me.

I find 2018 Michigan Gubernatorial election extremely intriguing as young adult. I think the state is at a crossroads between the two parties and with leadership within the state. With an increase in polarization of both parties and an eight-year term by Rick Snyder coming to an end, it will be intriguing to see if the 2016 Presidential election results will hold in Michigan’s Gubernatorial race. This election features established candidates with a long track record of success against progressive, upstart candidates who have also attracted a large base.

Personally, I would love to see the candidates talk about guns, education, and healthcare. All three of these issues affect the youth in our great state and are issues that should not be discussed lightly. Education and healthcare equity gaps are at an all-time high in this state. For a lot of families, higher education is not affordable, which leads to a generational cycle of poverty that is nearly inescapable. These two issues are fundamental rights that should be afforded to everyone regardless of socioeconomic status. It’s also critical for me to see some advancement in terms of guns this upcoming election. It’s always been a topic that I have been very passionate about and even more so in light of increasing amount of mass shootings in the U.S. It should be one of the most interesting gubernatorial races in the country next year and I am very excited to see who comes out on top. My primary role to update our followers on the 2018 election cycle is designed to help inform, engage, and update our followers on each candidate and their specific views on policies that effect Michigan’s Children.

Grant Rivet is an intern at Michigan’s Children. He is a graduating Senior at Michigan State University majoring in Political Science, and hopes to one day become a lobbyist.

The Job Isn’t Finished: Preventing Human Trafficking

February 14, 2018 – The last few legislative sessions in Michigan have resulted in positive progress towards address human trafficking – tougher punishments for traffickers, more services for the trafficked, and Legislators should be commended for prioritizing this issue.  The Governor recently proclaimed January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month in Michigan, as he has done over the past several years.  Despite this attention and effort, however, there has been limited state attention to investment decisions that would help to prevent trafficking in the first place.

We know quite a bit about who is at risk of being trafficked – not surprisingly, they are our most vulnerable young people.  They are current or former foster youth – The National Foster Youth Initiative reports that six in ten child sex trafficking victims had been served by the child welfare system and nearly nine of every ten child sex trafficking victims reporting to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) were in the care of social services or foster care when they went missing. They are homeless young people (sometimes the same group, but not always) – according to a recent study looking at youth in cities around the nation, including Detroit, fully one in five homeless youth had been trafficked and nearly one-third reported involvement in the sex trade.

The good news?  There are things that we can do to stabilize the lives of these young people and prevent their victimization.  And we can do these things right now –in the coming weeks, the Legislature will release their proposed budgets for the coming fiscal year.  Here are a few things that they need to consider:

  1. Support Homeless and Runaway Youth by increasing funding for community organizations providing key services to this population. In Michigan, funding for these agencies hasn’t increased since 2001, despite significant increases in requests for services and needs of the youth requesting services.  And there are still counties in Michigan that are not covered by these agencies.
  2. Stabilize Foster Care Transitions. Some young people who have been involved in the foster care system will be assisted by strengthening the network of providers serving homeless and runaway youth.  But, there are a few more pieces necessary for this specific population, for whom the state of Michigan bears parental responsibility.
    1. Full funding for MYOI services in addition to staff. Last year the Legislature passed an increase in funding to ensure that MYOI staff are available statewide.  This year, they need to include increases in service funding that when combined with private philanthropy and federal investment can provide those services to every young person in Michigan who can take advantage of them.
    2. Invest state resource to end the cliff between traditional and extended foster care for 18-21 year olds; do more outreach and more tracking to get kids services through that system.
    3. Adjust the Fostering Futures scholarship so that it is available to more young people trying to obtain post-secondary credential – flexibility, better layering with other scholarship programs to cover real costs.
    4. Extend the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit to young people in or leaving foster care beginning at age 16.
  3. Invest in removing barriers to school attendance and graduation. We also know that young people who have successfully graduated from high school or have begun a path post-secondary are much less vulnerable to trafficking, but our failure to address young people’s traumatic experiences and their mobility has created additional barriers for many young people. We can remove these by investing in discipline systems that don’t punish behaviors borne of trauma; in attendance supports for kids without consistent residences; and in initiatives targeted toward getting more kids in care through high school successfully, including using alternative credit-bearing models and strengthening the adult education system.
  4. We must also sustain and improve access to other critical services for young people. Physical and behavioral health care access through the Medicaid program, including access to mental health and substance misuse services is essential, as is access to food through the SNAP program.   Congress is talking right now about adding work requirements to both Medicaid and SNAP, which would have specifically adverse impacts on building stability for these young people.  If Congress block grants or sends more decision making to the states for these programs, which has also been discussed, our Governor and Legislators will have to protect these young people.

Michigan’s legacy of work to address human trafficking could be strengthened by building stability for our most vulnerable young people.   Over the next few months, we need to take that opportunity.

Michele Corey is Michigan’s Children’s Vice President for Programs

Moving Forward in Child Care: Who’s at the Table?

I was born in 1994, on the eve of welfare reform, when our state and many others around the country cut a few too many loops in the social safety net, leaving a gaping hole in public support for, among other things, child care for families in need. For my entire life, child care has been positioned as a personal responsibility: individual families must navigate the child care market themselves. But we know that the child care market doesn’t work for all kinds of people – the demand is there, but 50% of Michiganders live in a child care desert, and the options that do exist are often unaffordable – and when markets fail, public solutions are required.

Last week, I had the honor of attending the 30th annual child care advocates meeting, Moving Forward, hosted by the National Women’s Law Center, to learn about how the rest of the country is working to find child care solutions for those in need. While we’re still fighting to make the basic case that child care is a public issue worthy of increased public support, I left the week with two key thoughts for child care policy advocacy in Michigan: that we cannot have equitable child care without broad representation from families and providers at the decision-making table, and that the best strategy for winning a statewide child care investment will be one executed in partnership with and with the leadership of those very same providers, parents, and caregivers. These are by no means groundbreaking insights, but they’re critical nonetheless for the success of child care advocacy in Michigan.

One panel focused on the need for child care options for those who work outside the “traditional” hours of 9am – 5pm. I learned from a former restaurant worker and from a 24/7 child care provider about the scheduling difficulties that come with non-traditional-hours child care; about the need for workers who are particularly skilled at getting young children to go to sleep; about the crucial role of family, friends, and neighbors in this space; and about the ways that many industries operating at nontraditional hours are unconscionably inhospitable to parents or caregivers with child care needs. As Mary Beth Testa of the National Association for Family Child Care said, we must pay attention to “bedtime best practice!”

As a 23-year-old who can barely keep my houseplants alive and who had a unique FFN child care situation growing up, I know that I needed to learn from parent and provider voices in order to break down and rebuild my assumptions of what Michigan’s ideal child care system would look like. Understanding non-traditional hours for child care is just one example of how finding an equitable child care solution will similarly depend on whether we include at the decision-making table low-income families and providers, families and providers of color, and others in need who are underserved by our current child care system and subsidies. We need folks from every corner to have a role in improving our child care system if we want it to work.

For that same reason, child care advocacy will succeed in the long run as long as the voices and power of parents, providers, and caregivers, those who carry the daily burden of making the child care system happen, especially those who face the greatest challenges, are held at the center. Policymakers need stories and public pressure not only to understand what kinds of solutions are needed, but also to buy in to the need for child care solutions in the first place.

We seek to raise parent, provider, and caregiver voices through our KidSpeaks, FamilySpeaks, CommunitySpeaks, and candidate forums, and we will continue to eagerly partner with organizations that promote authentic voice and equity as foundational to their work. The more voices are mobilized, the more easily we’ll be able to make the case that child care is not just a personal responsibility but a cause we must collectively support. Without parents, providers, and caregivers, we will never achieve the child care solution Michigan needs.

Bobby Dorigo Jones is the Policy and Outreach Associate at Michigan’s Children.

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