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Foster Care Awareness Month: Make Sure All Kids are Counted

May is Foster Care Awareness Month, and this year our children, youth and families in care are facing so many additional challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic. As we look at policy investment and practice with an eye toward their needs, it is critical that we take every opportunity to learn more about their situations. Sometimes, because of the complexity and changing nature of their living arrangements, young people in care are difficult to track. As 2020 Census count efforts continue this spring and into the summer, it is important that we are including all children, youth and families, regardless of where they are living, and who they are living with. Leaving anyone out of Census counts leaves them out of investment decisions for nearly every program funded by local, state, and federal funds, as well as decisions about representation in the government leadership that will be directing those investments for years to come.

Populations that tend to be undercounted in the Census Bureau counts every ten years have been well documented. Families that the Census Bureau considers to be “complex” are one of these groups. Complex households include those in which more than one family lives together, households that include grandparents or other relatives, foster families, and households in which children live with nonrelatives. Many caregivers through the foster system or formal and informal kin often leave off children and youth in their care because they just aren’t sure who to include.

As we serve more and more “complex” households who have taken the important step of filling out their Census form, but maybe confused about who they should count, here are a few important tips from the Census Bureau:

  • Count all children, no matter their age or relationship to the person completing the census. Biological children, stepchildren, adopted children, foster children, grandchildren, and children in joint custody arrangements should all be counted.
  • Children should be counted where they live or sleep most of the time, even if their parents do not live there or the children are not related to the person completing the census.
    Children who split time between more than one home should be counted where they live or sleep most of the time. If time is split equally, children should be counted where they stayed on April 1.
  • For children who do not have a permanent place to live, count them where they were staying on April 1, even if they are only staying there temporarily.
  • If a child has recently moved or will soon move to a new home, count the child where he or she lived on April 1.
  • First and foremost, everyone needs to fill out the Census. And when Census forms are being filled out during Foster Care Awareness Month online or by mail, let’s make sure caregivers of all kinds are counting all of the infants, toddlers, children, and youth they take care of.

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

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

Real-life Stories Provide Insider’s Look at the Consequences of State Budget Battles

Budget disputes have consequences. Just ask young Michiganders like Diego Garcia, Alexis Caples, Nicole Calver, or program providers like Patty Sabin, or a mom, Shelley Garcia.

In a series of blogs about state programs and services defunded because of disagreements among state leaders in the 2020 state budget process, we hear how real lives can be altered when services intended to transform the experiences of children and families fail to be prioritized by elected leaders acting on our behalf.

You’ll hear from:
Diego Garcia and his mother, Shelley Garcia, both served by the Adoptive Family Support Network (AFSN) that was effectively shuttered last October when $128 million intended for programs serving kids and families was eliminated by Governor Whitmer. Now 15, Diego was adopted by Shelley as an infant and grew up as part of the AFSN “family” where shared experiences by other adoptees allowed him to feel “more normal” and overcomes challenges unique to children who’ve experienced foster care. Adopting a child from the state’s child welfare system, where many children are scarred and traumatized, is hard for adoptive parents. Diego’s mother, Shelley, who went to work for AFSN after being a beneficiary of its family supports, says the parent-to-parent support program has been a life-saver for families like hers. She openly worries that its absence will led to termination of some adoptions where parents are emotionally and financially unable to face the challenges of adoption from foster care without help.

Alexis Caples, a 24-year-old college student and board member for the Kyd Network in Kalamazoo, shared her experiences as a struggling teenager who cut classes and ran with the wrong crowd. But after joining an afterschool mentoring and tutoring program at her school, she turned her life around and became a mentor and advisor for other students. The help and support she received for transitioning to college is critical, she said, while bemoaning a $600,000 cut to expanding wrap-around services in Michigan this coming year.

Another important service that’s been slowing moving into more parts of our state is the highly regarded Court Appointed Services Advocates (CASA) program. Available in just a couple dozen counties in Michigan, it provides trained volunteers to stand by and speak up for youths from foster care who are moving through the legal system. Nicole Calver, who went into the state’s welfare system by the time she was five, bravely outlined her struggles made easier by a CASA volunteer named Marlene. Marlene was the one constant in her life as she traversed court hearings and home placements as a frightened young girl who missed her siblings. CASA would have been expanded into the populated areas of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties if not for the state budget conflict.

You’ll also hear from Patty Sabin, the president/CEO of Michigan CASA, who remains hopeful that state leaders will reconsider their budget actions and make possible CASA’s ability to help more children who are wards of the state through no fault of their own.
Michigan’s Children has spent three decades supporting efforts that improve the lives of our youngest and most vulnerable children and families, and believes that when people are informed, they will feel compelled to speak out and advocate for better policies for kids and families. Please hear these writers out, and decide for yourselves whether we should ask our leaders to take a second look as 2020 rolls out for making decisions in the best interest of children and families.

TeriTeri Banas, a former journalist with over a dozen years of experience writing about child and family issues, is currently a communications manager for Michigan’s Children and the Michigan After-School Partnership.

One Youth’s Life-Changing Experience and why Michigan Should Expand CASA to Help More Children in the State’s Care

I was born in 1989, and by 1994, I was in the family court system in Kent County. I have six brothers and sisters. From 1994 to 2002, three of my siblings and myself lived with my grandparents. It was a chaotic and unhealthy time. My father was in prison and my mother was gone, in and out of jail and bad situations. My grandfather passed away in 2002 and my grandmother remarried. At that point, things started going from bad to worse. I was 13 and barely attending school. My older brother was 15, and unmanageable with a criminal background. My younger sisters were struggling to cope, feeling isolated, and lashing out.

Eventually, it was revealed that we had been sexually abused by a family member, and that is when I feel my experience with the welfare system truly began. In 2004, my grandmother and her new husband chose not to cooperate with Child Protective Services to prevent contact with the family member. Taking that position meant they could not keep us in their home. Essentially, they chose to support the family member’s professed innocence. What followed were half a dozen attempts to rehome us – first, with our recently paroled dad; next, with our recently sober mother; then with ill-prepared family members; and even with people from the church. None of these placements were our idea; we were all really scared. After trying and failing to fit into these new places, I ran away for over three months. Living with friends, I was found by the police and taken to juvenile detention. The first day I was there, a little over two years after I was brought into the system, I met Marlene, my Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), a trained community volunteer appointed by a judge to speak on my behalf.

I was skeptical in the beginning. “Great, here goes another case worker,” I thought. At that point, I had been through more than five or six workers at multiple agencies. My experiences with Marlene and the CASA program were different, though. She stayed with me and my family throughout everything. After switching agencies and failed attempts to reunite with our family, after moving 16 times in two years, after sheltercare, foster care, group homes, mental health assessments, independent living, and aging out, I finally had someone at my side through an overwhelming and complex journey. Once assigned to a case, CASA workers stay with you until your case is closed. What a deep and moving commitment to a child this is, especially for a child whose own family may not even care to see them through such an incredibly challenging time.

Marlene connected me with my siblings, who I had had limited contact with, but desperately missed. As an adult today, I have a strong bond with my siblings and a healthy support system, directly as a result of Marlene’s continuous efforts. In addition to ensuring that I was able to retain a relationship with my family, Marlene gave me a voice. She asked my opinion and help push the courts into placements where I could excel, not just shots in the dark with people my mother randomly suggested, including strangers to me, or later, state-assigned placements. Early on, I had no opportunity to choose a “fictive kin.” Marlene advocated for my well-being by speaking up in court on my behalf and voicing my concerns and opinions.

Marlene was able to speak up for me because she was very involved in my life, understood me, and knew the details of my ordeals. Without her, it would have been hard to move from foster homes to group homes, retain my therapist and doctor information, and keep all the new “families” I met in the loop. To keep going through my history and exposing my emotional wounds to temporary people becomes painful. Thankfully, I didn’t have to repeat these hurtful details to more than one CASA because Marlene never left my side.

She also set a shining example of how I could be a good person and a great parent. My list of real life role models was slim at the time, and Marlene expanded my view on how normal happy and healthy families live, grow and thrive.

There are a lot of programs available to support kids in foster care but access and information can be limited. Having a CASA guaranteed that I was connected to the resources available for me. Marlene connected me to donations for my first apartment, funding for my first car, resources for clothes, help signing up for school and looking for grants. Marlene made sure that I received any help that was available for me to succeed and further my goals. Going off on your own at 18 is scary, but without any family, it is frightening. With CASA and Marlene’s help, I was able to pursue my education, work, and be an example to my younger sisters to achieve success, too.

By continuing to fund CASA, we are giving other kids in foster care the hope and support they need to transcend their struggles and live a good life. CASA supports each child it advocates for on the deepest level, in addition to ensuring that children are connected to other state-funded programs they’re eligible for. Continuous funding and support of CASA is not only the right thing to do to support kids emotionally and mentally, it is also the most logical way to distribute access to all state funded resources available to children in the welfare system.

As a child, Calver spent seven years as a ward of the state, and experienced nearly 20 different placements, beginning in Kent County. Nichole Calver, 30, is today a champion for CASA, speaking publicly at fundraisers and state conferences, and sharing her experiences with elected state leaders and judges. Professionally, she has worked in finance in the auto industry and currently works part time while raising a daughter and staying active in her nieces’ lives.

Nichole Calver spent 14 years in Michigan’s child welfare system, and decided to write about her experiences with Michigan’s Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program to address the need to continue expanding CASA services to more children living in state care across Michigan. Legislative efforts to expand CASA services into Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties in the new 2020 state budget failed in a budget dispute with the Governor’s Office in late 2019.

Resolve to Do the Right Thing in 2020: Michigan Must Restore Plans to Expand CASA Program for Children in State’s Care

We all agree that the child welfare system in Michigan is overburdened. Case workers often have too many and too complex cases for any one person to handle. The system works overtime to try to keep kids from falling through the cracks, yet there is no room for the individual attention and advocacy that a child in crisis needs.

For these children, Michigan established the Court Appointed Special Advocates program in which volunteers are appointed by a judge to speak up for the best interests of an abused or neglected child, bringing urgency to his/her needs. They become a dedicated voice for a vulnerable child in the court proceedings that surround a case.

Michigan’s 2020 budget, signed by the Governor late last year, is now underway but with a glaring hole for children and youth in foster care and for those whose guardianship is in transition. Approved by the Legislature but vetoed by the Governor was a $500,000 appropriation that would have begun plans to greatly expand CASA services in grossly underserved counties and open new programs in unserved counties. There is no doubt that CASA volunteers are needed in every one of our state’s 83 counties, but political disagreements among state leaders has left a missed opportunity to do the right thing. The state after all is primarily responsible to serve in the best interest for the almost 13,000 children in Michigan’s child welfare system.

To illustrate how CASA volunteers have made a difference in the life of children in the state’s welfare system and why funding must be restored, here are just a few real life examples of what our CASA volunteers have done to help children in the system.

•The volunteer who contacted each of the 11 high schools a foster youth had attended and recovered enough credits so that the teen could graduate on time.

•The CASA who helped a foster child with a large cavity in her molar. The girl would not go to the dentist because she was terrified of needles, and her insurance would not pay for nitrous oxide. The CASA volunteer found a dentist who understood the child’s fears. He used the calming medicine and tended to the child’s needs with respect and kindness.

•The tenacious volunteer who scoured through the confusing files of a young boy who was languishing in the foster care system. The CASA found an aunt and uncle in another state who had adopted the boy’s older sisters. The couple had no idea the boy existed until they were contacted, and they began the adoption process almost immediately.

•The many other volunteers who make sure “their kids” have the necessary things to start school, or who fight for money so a foster teen can play football or take driver’s training.

Every child has different needs. A CASA volunteer develops a relationship with the child, family and professionals involved and becomes able to advocate for the child and his or her specific needs. CASA volunteers are a constant presence in the life of the foster child. When volunteers are screened and specially trained, it is with the understanding that they will stay with their case until each child is in a permanent and safe home.

Nelson Mandela once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

In a time when many are questioning the soul of our country, it is imperative that we give these children someone who will fight for them, who will stand side by side with them, who will give them a voice.

Our “soul” is revealed in the look in a boy’s eyes as he prepares to be adopted, the look in a girl’s eyes when she is reunited with her siblings or the look in a teen’s eyes when, against all odds, she is accepted into college. Those looks are the result of small miracles, and small miracles are the result of CASA volunteers.

It’s not too late to do the right thing. Please restore funding for expanding the CASA program so that more children have a CASA volunteer in their corner when they most need an advocate.

Patty Sabin is the President/CEO of Michigan CASA, a nonprofit organization that establishes and supports the 27 affiliate programs across the State that recruit, screen, train, and supervise CASA volunteers.

A Young Adult’s View: Budget Cuts Should be Reversed in Afterschool Support

If I did not have the afterschool program when I was at Loy Norrix High School in Kalamazoo, I would definitely not be where I am today. I was a good kid overall, but I still liked to hang with the wrong crowd. I was cutting classes, and falling behind in English and math. My mom thought it would be helpful to have a mentor because although she was active in my life and helped me, there were still eight hours of the school when I couldn’t talk to her if I was having a bad day. A mentor and more support afterschool could not only help me academically and mentally, but could encourage my personal interests.
I received services including mentoring and tutoring through the Kalamazoo Public Schools afterschool program and the Kalamazoo County Youth Cabinet (KCYC). Finding that mentor in a well-rounded program for my needs was one of the best things to happen to me. To be accepted, I was asked to commit to be on time after school, and not run the hallways. The mentor stayed in touch with my teachers to know what homework and classwork needed to be done. The benefits and connections that I have acquired by age 24 as a result of KCYC have shaped a part of who I am today.

Recent news that was a shocker to me was learning that the Governor vetoed $600,000 for expanding wrap-around services in three different communities next year. The veto was part of a $128-million cut to education in a budget dispute with Legislative leaders. Unless the budget cut is restored thist year, this veto does and will limit services to school children. Should families and communities be effected on account of a disagreement?

KCYC really helped me make a successful transition from high school into college. This program helped me become more vocal and active in the community. It gave me the support in ways my family could not. (My mother, a nurse, was home to help me with my school work when I was in elementary school, but as I got older she took on more hours and wasn’t home right after school.) I learned to network, host events, lead sessions and do things I would never have thought of doing if I did not have this program. If you had a good progress report, you could go on college visits. I went from being a part of the group to being the youth advisor. That switch in roles gave me a sense of responsibility. I was now the mentor. I was now the one who provided that sense of safety and reassurance to other youth.

Mentoring is just one of many wrap-around services that help support children, and help lead them into their adult life. Wrap-around services in afterschool settings include tutoring, dental and health screening and social-emotional learning. These services are important because they help increase a child’s successful development academically and in life. Afterschool programs and supportive services that go with them have long-term benefits. I had help with my school work and learned how to look for a job through mock job and phone interviews.

These services not only help the child but the family, as well. Everything else falls into place when a youth’s needs are met. Students gain social skills, safety, academic support, and gain a sense of belonging. If you take that away, then you have done the complete opposite of everything you are trying to prevent. It is not fair for us to be on the losing end of budget disputes when we are the ones who need it the most. There is a difference between a want and a need, and this is a necessity.

Hopefully, my words will encourage whoever is reading this to make a change, get involved, and inspire you to speak up for not only your family but your community. As many times as you’ve heard it, I’ll say it again. YOUR VOICE MATTERS! YOU MATTER! Why not make it count.

Alexis Caples works as an administrative assistant in a physical therapy practice and attends Kalamazoo Community College studying law and criminal justice. She also serves on the Kyd Network Board of Directors.

An Adoptive Mother’s Viewpoint: Why Defunded Family Support Group Should be Reinstate

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was talking to a stranger that instantly felt like a friend. It was our first contact and somehow it felt like I was talking to someone I had known forever. This was my initial experience with Adoptive Family Support Network (AFSN). I was reaching out at the advice of our adoption worker. Within the first few words of the conversation, I felt understood. Prior to that phone call, I was feeling alone, inadequate, and completely unprepared for the journey that adoption was taking my family on. I was questioning my abilities as a mom and wondering if this was the life that I was supposed to be living.

Fast forward a couple of years and I began to volunteer for the very program that saved my sanity that day. I knew that coming out of the place I had been in was a direct result of the support I had received from AFSN, and it was now my opportunity to pay it forward. I wanted to do whatever I could to help this organization get the word out and support as many families as possible. I was eventually hired on and continued being able to make a difference in the lives of adoptive families. Recently however, the Governor’s line-item vetoes put an abrupt end to the Parent-to-Parent Program.

I have had the honor to walk alongside many families on their adoption journeys. Many of those I have met or spoken with along the way have been in a similar situation to me when I first called. In addition to being that voice that gives someone a feeling of belonging, I have also been able to witness the incredible relationships that have formed out of our “village.” The AFSN motto became “We are the village.” Connecting families to other families that look like theirs or have similar experiences to theirs is what is at the core of the parent-to-parent program. From large events like Great Wolf Lodge or Adoption Celebration to small gatherings at Meijer Gardens or a support group, the connections that have been made because of this program are significant for many reasons.

The funding cuts that have taken place in Lansing are not just impacting a program and a few employees; this program impacts thousands of families across the state of Michigan. The support that we were able to provide to 76 of Michigan’s 83 counties includes that one-on-one support I mentioned, parent education, family fun activities, support groups, and many other supportive services. The idea of someone feeling isolated and alone rather than supported and strong is heartbreaking. Systemically this is bigger than an organization or a family. The number of families this program has helped to remain intact is significant. Upon hearing about the veto, so many of our families reached out with a similar message: “Our family would not be together if it weren’t for the support of AFSN.”

The support and connection to services that AFSN offers new adoptive families has indeed been a lifesaver for many. When families have called AFSN in crisis, the help they’ve received has made the difference between families relinquishing an adoption or staying together. AFSN has served as ‘’the village’’ to support them, connect them to resources, and help them strategize what they’re dealing with in a more manageable way. Without AFSN, there could likely be an increase in kids ending up in residential treatment or families saying, ‘I want to be done.’

The money it takes to run this program is a drop in the bucket compared to the money saved by keeping kids in their homes rather than residential placements or juvenile justice programs.

Shelley Garcia is the adoptive mother of two sons, ages 15, and 8 years old, from the state’s child welfare system. She reached out to AFSN in 2011, after her younger son was placed in her home. She went to work for AFSN in 2014, until the program was dismantled due to a budget veto in October.

A Son’s Perspective: Program’s Closing Ends ‘Help and Advice’ Adoptees Need

My name is Diego Garcia. I am 15 years old, and I have a younger brother, who’s 8. When I was an infant I came to live with my adoptive mother, Shelley Garcia. Over the years my family has been involved in many activities for adopted children like us through the Adoptive Family Support Network (AFSN). AFSN programming has benefitted me in numerous ways, and I have made many friends through AFSN events. Being part of an adoptive family is something I share with the other kids that I have met through AFSN. This may not seem like a big deal to a typical family, but believe me, it matters! I was devastated when I heard that AFSN got shut down due to lack of funding, because I won’t get to see my friends. This means that all of the families like ours that have gone through adoption cannot seek help and advice on the struggles they may face.

Our family has unique challenges because of adoption. My brother has significant behavioral challenges that can be embarrassing at times. But when we are with other AFSN families, I can talk to other kids who have siblings with similar challenges and I feel more “normal.” Making friends that understand those challenges has been very important to us.

AFSN events are special to me, such as the trip to Great Wolf Lodge that we take every year; families from all around the state come on this trip. I have been going on the Great Wolf Lodge trip with my family for four years, and I wait in anxious anticipation every year, so I that can see my friends that I see exclusively on this trip. The program being shut down means that families that were previously connected may not be able to maintain those connections and that may lead to feeling isolated and alone.

My brother is not biologically related to me. He’s African-American. Sometimes when we’re with other kids and parents we stand out because we “don’t match.” But AFSN events provide a place where we can be around other families that look like ours. I remember the joy that lit up his face when we went to an AFSN events for the first time, as he saw others who looked like him. I could tell he was happy there. Now tell me, are you really going to cut funding and extinguish the joy that lights up on every child’s face, in hundreds of families?

Diego Garcia, whose adoption was finalized in 2005, lives with his family near Grand Rapids. After taking part in AFSN family activities as a parent since 2011, his mother went to work for the network in 2014 until she was laid off recently due to state budget disputes.

Capitalizing on Afterschool Opportunities

October 9, 2019 – For years, Michigan’s Children has forged connections between issues and groups of advocates for the purpose of increasing access to afterschool programs for students who cannot currently access them. We are always asking, “How can we strengthen afterschool advocacy?”

To help answer that question, I am honored to join the sixteen-member 2019-20 class of the White-Riley-Peterson Policy Fellowship. Named for former Mott Foundation leader Bill White, former US Secretary of Education Richard Riley, and pioneer for public funding for afterschool programs Terry Peterson. This national fellowship offers participants the chance to improve their understanding of the art and science of policy-making for afterschool and expanded learning and to execute a project to advance access to afterschool and summer learning programs. As a White Riley Peterson fellow, my project will be to support increased collaboration among afterschool advocates towards increased investment into afterschool and summer learning programs. This work is supported by the Michigan After-School Partnership, a network that Michigan’s Children was instrumental in developing and leading over the last decade and a half.

There are some real windows of opportunity opening for afterschool advocates:

K-12 School Funding Reform. Michigan is entering a new debate over school finance that provides an opportunity to prioritize not only critical classroom supports for students, but also connecting students and schools with the resources of their communities that sustain and enhance their learning. Afterschool and summer learning programs are a critical example of effective school-community partnerships, improving reading and mathematics as well as social skills, and school engagement.

Everyone right now is talking about fixing the damn roads, but leaders have already begun staking out positions for a showdown over school funding in the coming years, which could open a window for afterschool and summer learning program expansion in Michigan. Our Governor and members of legislative leadership have named restoring K-12 school funding a top priority for their tenure. Major stakeholders including the traditional education community and the business community are engaged in coalition efforts to debate and establish their future education priorities. Afterschool and summer learning programs were even cited by the Michigan School Finance Research Collaborative as a necessary educational support for many students, including youth facing economic disadvantages. We must ensure that afterschool programs continue to have a say in growing school finance conversations.

Child Care. A window is opening for afterschool program expansion as well in the area of child care. Parents consistently praise the contributions of afterschool programs not only to their children’s learning, but also to their own ability to go to work or school knowing that their children are cared for and engaged. Rising child care investment from the federal government to the tune of billions means that the time is now to acknowledge the valuable care provided by afterschool programs and fund Michigan’s child care system enough to meet the need for infants, toddlers, and school-aged children.

Regardless when and how the opportunity presents itself, we have a tremendous opportunity to build stronger champions representing various interests and corners of society for expanding afterschool and summer learning programs to meet the full demand from Michigan students. I am excited to work through the White Riley Peterson Fellowship to support our continued push for statewide afterschool program funding.

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

You Don’t Know What Your Lawmakers Don’t Know

September 25, 2019 – At Michigan’s Children, we always remind you, our partners and supporters, that each of you have a unique understanding of the reality and impact of decisions made by state and federal policymakers, whether through your experience as a young person, parent, or caregiver, or through your experience as a professional who serves children, youth, and families. I’m writing today to share another example of just how much you have to offer.

Last week, before attending the Partnership for America’s Children, our national network of child advocacy organization’s annual meeting, Matt Gillard and I visited members of the Michigan Congressional delegation to better understand the current federal landscape and advocate for investments into critical supports for Michigan children, youth and families. While we have consistently beaten the drum for child abuse prevention, afterschool, and other programs, including communications to them over the summer, we were surprised to learn that some of our delegation’s key staff did not know:

  1. That child abuse primary prevention funding in Michigan has fallen dramatically and consistently over the course of two decades.
  2. While last year’s federal budget awarded more funds for afterschool and summer learning programs through “21st Century Community Learning Centers” grants, the grant formula led to an overall cut in funding awarded to the state of Michigan, which has led to the closure of afterschool programs in districts where student demand for these programs already outweighed the number of spots available.

We can’t always blame our elected officials for not being up to date on everything in their community – they’re handling a lot of issues and concerns all at the same time, and bandwidth is limited. Knowing what they don’t know represents an opportunity to be a resource. We can be proactive about helping our state and federal officials understand what is going on by consistently sharing information with them about what’s happening in our own lives and work in service of children, youth, and families in a way that creates a relationship between you, your organization, and their office.

It doesn’t have to take a lot of time – if you have just a couple minutes, ask their office for staff emails and put their general office and individual emails on your email newsletter. If you have an event coming up, take a couple of minutes to invite them, or see if they or their district staff can come visit you at another time. They often have in-district meetings that might be happening nearby. If you can find even a few minutes every month or two to keep your lawmakers in the loop, or for a quick face-to-face conversation, you are well on your way to establishing a back-and-forth relationship where your lawmakers are learning about important things going on in their community, and where you become a resource for them.

Senate budget talks have stalled and Congress will pass a continuing resolution to delay negotiations until at least November, which means we are still a couple of months away from the next chance for serious negotiations between the House and Senate that would result in a federal budget. Take advantage of this impasse over the fall to remind your lawmaker that Michigan’s children, youth, and families are our top priority! You don’t know what your Congresspeople don’t know about what’s going on in your community until you begin to talk with them.

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