Lessons from the Pandemic, and Making Michigan a Top State to Have and Raise a Baby

There’s no doubt a single voice with a compelling message can be influential and stir change, but a chorus of voices? That’s influence amplified. Last week Michigan’s Children and other top state partners working for children and families raised our collective voices for the launch of a joint initiative, Think Babies Michigan. We know from annual Kids Count data that not all families of babies and toddlers have the same opportunities for good health and quality child care. But a child’s destiny should not be determined by race, or income or zip code.

Think Babies Michigan says we can change the odds for families of lower and middle incomes, and press ahead for public policy improvements aimed at ensuring supportive services for an additional 83,000 children aged 0-3 by 2025. The ambitious agenda calls for increasing the number of families with babies and toddlers who are utilizing essential health, developmental and social-emotional support services such as Home Visiting and Early On. And, it supports increasing the number of babies and toddlers who have access to and are enrolled in high-quality child care.

Our state’s babies are diverse – 34.3 percent are babies of color and 15.2 percent live in rural areas. Over 43 percent live in households with incomes less than twice the federal poverty line ($50,000 a year for a family of four in 2018).

The global pandemic has exacerbated the struggles of tens of thousands of Michigan’s most vulnerable families, and challenged all of us to address the needs of families at a critical stage in a child’s development – the prenatal to three years. COVID has laid bare their struggles with accessing services including child care. Across Michigan, working parents – essential workers willing to return to the front lines – haven’t been able to find childcare slots for their babies and toddlers. Parents in rural communities have struggled with poor access to service due to travel distances and lacking Internet infrastructure. To recover as a state and emerge from the COVID scourge on our health and economy, we must step up to do our part to help these families. That’s why our coalition has developed a set of policy priorities aimed at lifting up these families with a blueprint for helping all of Michigan’s 338,573 babies in the next few years.

Behind the media headlines of last week’s launch was a full nine months of behind-the-scenes labor by nearly 1,000 families, advocates, researchers, government officials and service providers from across the state. They birthed a comprehensive five-year plan that focuses on how Michigan can become a top state to raise a baby. To get there, their recommendations call for:

  • Ensure that race, income or zip code does not determine a child’s destiny in Michigan with action steps including implicit bias training for providers, and examining data by race and ethnicity to implement equitable funding formulas based on that data.
  • Developing a cross-sector infant-toddler workforce strategy to fill shortages and reduce turnover
    Expanding enrollment in high-quality child care, early intervention, home visiting and preventative care services by maximizing federal funding, increasing state funding and improving eligibility.
  • Strengthening how families learn about and access programs and services because we know many families just don’t know what’s available out there, or how to file lengthy, complex applications for these services. Train our navigators and service providers to better support these families.
  • Support efforts by partners and allies in their work to positively impact infants and toddlers and families, including extending postpartum Medicaid cover, increase breastfeeding and expand access to preventative health care.

Think Babies Michigan has raised a call to action that deserves the attention of Michigan and its policymakers. It’s a good plan we all agree on; indeed, Michigan’s Children has stood behind these measures for years. Join the growing movement today and lend your voice for Michigan’s babies.

Teri Banas is the Director of Communications for Michigan’s Children.