Setting Ourselves up for Opportunity Now and Later

Okay, I know things are grim and honestly getting grimmer. This will run its course with much destruction in its wake, and I’m sure we will be talking about how we pick up the pieces, catch up with services and return to a sense of normalcy. We will also be talking about how the crisis has exposed many flaws in our systems that are intentioned to help the most vulnerable babies, children, youth and families. These will be important conversations to have, and Michigan’s Children is spending quite a bit of time trying to collect as much information as we can about how services are working and not working during this time through our surveys.

We must prioritize the immediate and longer-term opportunities presented by the situation. Two that have come out loud and clear in a couple of our priority areas are actually pretty exciting to think about, but only if we are willing to take advantage of them.

Supports for young adults who have been in foster care. Right now, there are several income and life supports that young people can apply for after they are removed from the traditional foster care roles at age 18, including cash, housing, education, and training assistance. Unfortunately, only about one-third of the young people who exit care at 18 actually then apply and receive what is called Young Adult Voluntary Foster Care (YAVFC), which is available through age 21 and is intended to help stabilize that transition. There are many reasons why young people don’t voluntarily sign up to come back into a system that they sometimes felt was not helpful to them or their families. One reason they don’t reapply is that there are strings attached around stability in work, school, and housing that create the sense that the support isn’t possible because the requirements are simply unattainable. Some young adults don’t apply because they aren’t even aware that reapplying is an option.

At this moment, state foster care agencies, including in Michigan, are thinking about ways to relax requirements and continue to support young people who are already enrolled in YAVFC even if they are unemployed, or have some instability in their housing-related to this crisis. Perhaps we could take this opportunity to think about how to extend the opportunity to other young people who are facing significant challenges without the support of this program. As we relax requirements for those already participating, perhaps we could relax requirements to receive the services now and increase outreach for the ⅔ of the young adults who don’t currently access it, knowing that it can really be the difference between stability and instability now and in other times as well.

Better access to education and training for low-skilled young adults and parents. Economic downturn and major layoffs always impact the lowest skilled adults earliest and the longest, with young adults with limited or spotty work experience and parents who often need some flexibility in their work bearing even more of the brunt. As we start to pull through the current crisis, they will be the last called back to work as well. Knowing this, we should be making adult skill-building services accessible all over the state starting now, and not just at the levels that we have had over the past few years, but at a level that could actually serve this larger number of people who will be needing and wanting education and training opportunities. And let’s focus on building better connections between basic skills programs and child care, transportation and other services intended to help families take advantage of them. We know that very few families who receive the child care subsidy are receiving it to support their access to education and training, despite the fact that we also know that the vast majority of adult education students have young or school-aged children and that they have very low incomes, making them the intended users of the subsidy itself.

While this crisis continues to threaten the stability of youth and young families who are already at more risk, new ways to remove barriers and gaps in services need to be tried. At the same time, we need to use this time to build better systems with or without a crisis in the background. As we are distributing federal supplemental funding and continuing to recommend Congressional action, we will also making difficult decisions in our own state budget over the next few months as our state revenues continue to struggle. Policymakers will need help understanding why we can and should prioritize investment in our most vulnerable youth and young families.

  • Lend your voice to our survey and help others you work with and serve to lend their voices as well. We continue to collect and report what is going on around the state in many service delivery spaces to our Congressional Delegation, our Governor and state legislature.
  • Tell your elected officials directly what they need to know about what you are experiencing and that there are ways for them to take action now.

There has never been a more important time to help them.

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