Speaking For Kids

Student Voice Experience: Testifying for a House Committee Hearing

On May 15th, 2019 I had the experience of testifying in front of a House Committee during a hearing about including trades in the Fostering Futures Scholarship. I didn’t fully understand the importance of advocating as a former youth until I got the opportunity to change the outcome of a bill that will help multiple foster youths that graduate have a chance to receive proper funding and support to achieve their goals for their future, all just by sharing my story.

For me, I am quite new to the advocating and policy work of Fostering Success Michigan and The New Foster Care. I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to influence not only policymakers and legislators but to reach out to other youth who have a chance to use their life situations to impact and change the lives and futures of other youth.

It was a bit overwhelming at first, but had I not been there, I noticed that the conversation around the actual effects of the bill, specifically how the Fostering Futures Scholarship impacts students, wouldn’t have been a part of what the legislators would learn. I believe hearing my testimony, they were able to understand from my viewpoint, the effects of the scholarship while also hearing specifically how they can strengthen the scholarship.

While the Fostering Futures Scholarship itself was the main topic, I was also able to talk a little bit about the campus-based support program that I have been significantly impacted by. The CHAMPS support program at Wayne State University offered such helpful and reliable resources. I believe it is important for youth who have experienced foster care to receive the support and benefits of campus-based support programs such as CHAMPS. Their focus is to help youth who have aged out realize their educational aspirations while also offering workshops, emergency funding, tutoring, career mentoring, life-skills training and so many other helpful resources. I believe that the legislators really needed to understand that while the funds that youth receive through the scholarship are helpful, the campus-based programs offered are also just as helpful and also offer support. I am so thankful for this opportunity and the connections and skills that I’ve gained from it.

by Arielle Duncan, guest blogger, Wayne State University student, former youth in foster care

This blog series highlights the experiences of Arielle D. as she learns about how to use her voice and story to advocate for policy change in foster care! Follow Arielle as she shares her experiences testifying before a Michigan House Committee hearing and shadowing lawmakers during National Foster Youth Shadow Day and Michigan’s first Legislative Shadow Day!

Supporting Families Isn’t Rocket Science

Child abuse and neglect cases in our state are rising. We’re seeing this not because parents have decided to care less about their children, but because the supports that families rely on for stability are failing. Many parents do not have access to the protective factors that support us when life gets really, really stressful, or to cope with trauma from their own past, and their children suffer for these unmet needs. Families are less likely to suffer the effects of toxic stress when they can access supportive relationships, knowledge about child development and parenting, and concrete supports during times of need.

We can prevent the vast majority of situations of child abuse and neglect, but Michigan’s Legislature is at risk of missing another opportunity to change the game for child abuse in our state.

The Michigan Children’s Trust Fund (CTF) provides grants for evidence-based services and local councils that work to prevent child abuse and neglect before they occur. Some problems that drive child abuse rates, like the lack of quality mental health services, affordable housing, or protections for survivors of domestic violence, will involve investment and policy changes beyond the scope of the CTF. But for families who need respite care so they can attend an important job interview, or some peer support or education to improve their parenting skills, the programs supported by the Children’s Trust Fund can mean the difference between periods of stability and periods of extreme stress.

Today the CTF is in its worst financial position in some time. Its once-robust funding streams, which include a state income tax check-off donation and a special license plate with dedicated revenues and which were meant to simultaneously raise funds and raise awareness about prevention, are quite bare. Today, the CTF plate is one of 40 fundraising license plates for causes or organizations, and programs like TurboTax make it easy to bypass the choice to make a tax donation. As a result, these revenues through the state have fallen by nearly $1 million since 2000, and federal matching grant revenues have fallen accordingly. The current year budget saw the first increase of state funding for the CTF in some time, a total increase of $500,000 in General Funds to expand its programs, but because of further declines in other revenue sources, that increase was only enough to sustain CTF’s existing programs.

Leaders from both parties recently gathered for the annual CTF auction, an event known for its “bipartisan” spirit where legislators generously support the CTF from their own pocketbooks, but what the Legislature gives with one hand, they take with another. The Senate’s proposed FY20 budget eliminates about half of the CTF’s current funding increase, which was allocated at the end of last year as the hole in the CTF’s budget grew again, and the proposed budget in the House would cut the full $500,000 increase. A loss of that size would force severe cuts to direct service grants funded by the CTF, which include home visiting, mentorship programs, and body awareness classes that are evidence-based to prevent child abuse and neglect.

Supporting families isn’t rocket science, it’s brain science. We know that toxic stress affects people’s growth and behavior, and we know what can help prevent or mitigate family instability from toxic stress. The public’s need for, and potential benefit from, child abuse prevention far outweighs the money that an annual auction can take in.

Tell your legislators that we can prevent abuse and neglect by making a meaningful investment in Michigan’s families through the Children’s Trust Fund.

Listening When Students Speak

My grandfather has always told me, pick something you love and do it well. A wise adage that seems easy to follow but can always take a little twist or turn in life.

For example, what if you don’t have a role model or figure to give you such sage advice? What if you aren’t able to use your talents or don’t know how to identify them to help those around you? What if your skills need a refreshing or there is a cultural or language barrier that precludes you from doing that work well?

This adage came to mind along with these questions most recently at our joint Students Speak events with MACAE (the Michigan Association of Community and Adult Education). These opportunities have been so critical in helping policymakers to understand the importance of adult education, but also to hear directly from participants- their success and their struggles. Here are some highlights from me:

Dreams and aspirations can translate into real success. These dreams could be to increase their employment status or make large investments in the local community such as a home.

Highly-skilled ESL immigrants face challenges with credentialing. One of the challenges that was raised was the transference of degreed and credentials of highly skilled immigrants coming to the United States. This lack of transference can directly impact the upward mobility of students and families simply because one’s English proficiency is not on part with their highly skilled training.

Adult Education supports generational education. This direct generational education impact supports local school districts and strengthens families. In addition, it instills in future generations the importance of lifelong learning.

Adult Education offers alternative pathways to success. Adult education offers courses designed with the students in mind that help increase their academic proficiency while also giving them the direct hands-on vocabulary and context to be successful in the workplace.

Over the next few months we will continue to connect with policymakers about these issues and the importance of adult education. I firmly believe that an investment in these learners Is a return on investment that continues to strengthen families and to build resilient communities.

As neighbors, fellow citizens, workers and constituents, we have a responsibly to help others “pick something they love and to do it well”.

My grandfather would love that.

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

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