Speaking For Kids

A Big Thanks to You as I Move On

February 6, 2017 – This week marks my last week at Michigan’s Children.  As I reflect back on my time at this incredibly important organization, I am so proud of the work of this agency and our advocacy community.  I’m a firm believer in the essential nature of Michigan’s Children because of our holistic, cradle to career focus; and I’d like to highlight a few things that I’ve been privileged and honored to be a part of.

I’m proud that Michigan’s Children worked collaboratively with other early childhood advocates to see a $130 million increase in our state’s Great Start Readiness preschool program.  Sure, Michigan’s Children would’ve liked to have seen a focus on infants and toddlers in addition to the four-year-old investment, but I know our willingness to be committed as an advocacy coalition and to not muddy the proverbial advocacy waters led to the historic increase our state saw for preschool programming.

I’m proud that Michigan’s Children has continued to stand firmly by the needs of the lowest-income working families who depend on the state’s child care subsidy so that parents can work while their children learn.  And even more so, I’m proud of our dedication to the families who utilize unlicensed family, friend and neighbor care as they are an integral part of our child care system that we must continue to support.

I’m so proud that Michigan’s Children helped lead the way for Early On advocacy when there were no other independent voices in Lansing talking about this important system.  Without support from amazing Early On partners including administrators, providers, and families; Michigan’s Children wouldn’t have become a leading advocacy voice on this and it demonstrates the critical nature of our partnered work.  Because of our work, children in Flint who were impacted by the water crisis have seen additional resources in their community specifically for Early On.

Finally, I’m so proud of Michigan’s Children’s strategic focus.  We are a small but mighty team that provides an important independent voice for children, youth and families in Lansing and at the federal level.  With the new U.S. Presidential Administration, a lot of energy and attention has been focused inside the Beltway, and I’m admittedly a bit anxious about the work that lies ahead.  But I know Michigan’s Children’s commitment to equity is paramount and will continue to be a guiding force.  The team’s dedication to public policy and investment opportunities that best support the kids and families who face the most significant structural barriers to success is unwavering.

So you’re probably wondering where I’m going.  I accepted a position at the University of Michigan as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Project Manager in the Division of Student Life.  After the last election season and the horrific rhetoric on the campaign trail – that is unfortunately continuing into this new Presidential Administration through policy action – diversity, equity and inclusion work feels essential for advocates to see more equitable public policies and investments.  This opportunity to foster the next generation of leaders in Michigan and the U.S. who understand the significance and value of our diverse society, the need and demand for equitable opportunities (including policies!), and the importance to ensure the inclusion of all people is essential for the success of our State and our Nation.

I know this is getting wordy but I have to end with a huge THANK YOU.  Thank you for being my partner and Michigan’s Children’s partner in advocacy work.  Our successes would have been failures without your support, your work, your communications with your policymakers.  Thank you for your unwavering commitment, and then some, for all you do for children and families in our state.  Your ongoing work continues to be essential and I will be continuing to fight the good fight with you from Ann Arbor.

Thanks again.  And Go Blue! (I can’t help myself!)  🙂

-Mina Hong

Keeping the Momentum Going After the March

January 26, 2017 – On Saturday, millions of people participated in either the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. or one of hundreds of sister marches or rallies across the globe. In Michigan alone, there were sister marches in Lansing, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Traverse City, Marquette and other communities. By targeting the day after President Trump was sworn into Office, the message was loud and clear. Marchers were standing up in solidarity to protect the fundamental rights and safety of individuals, families and communities across the country – a message that was starkly opposite of this during the election season.

And there was appropriately controversy about the lack of diversity in the marches, that other marginalized groups were not a part of the initial planning of the Women’s March, and that the millions of people marching on Saturday were noticeably absent when it came to other previously organized grassroots efforts around the significant societal problems other populations face like people of color. And this is all true. As a woman of color and social worker with my own personal and professional values and ethics rooted in the fundamental importance of equity and inclusion, this was something that I struggled with. At the same time, as a policy advocate always looking to get more people civically engaged, this Women’s March was a momentous occasion to get millions of individuals active in ways that they weren’t previously.

At Michigan’s Children, we often talk about voting being only one component of policy advocacy. That after voting, people must stay engaged by communicating to their elected officials about the issues that they care most about and what they want their elected officials to do about these issues. And we know that people often only enter into policy conversations when they feel strongly and passionately about an issue that personally affects them. The Women’s March did just that. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, the sheer magnitude of political activism should be exciting. It was an amazing starting point to get millions of women and men in the U.S. and thousands of Michigan residents who are concerned about the direction of the country and their rights being stripped away engaged in civic action. Now is the time to harness that energy and passion and keep the momentum going.

The challenge for the marchers and for those of us that want to see more people active in policy decision-making is sustaining the focus and commitment of those that participated and providing them with opportunities to continue their advocacy work. For meaningful change to result from these efforts, it cannot be about a one-time action. Rather, a long-term commitment is needed to raise our voices with each other and with folks who may not have traditionally been our active and engaged allies. And, direct communication with policymakers is essential to help them work toward public policies that can serve in the best interest of individuals and families who face the most significant structural barriers to success in our state and in our country.

Learn more about the federal challenges lying ahead that will impact Michigan children and families.

Learn how your concerns might align with Michigan’s Children’s policy priorities, and think about how we might work better together on issues that matter across the state and nation.

Learn how you can bolster your advocacy skills and continue with the activism coming out of last week’s marches.

-Mina Hong

The Elections are Over. Now What About the Babies?

November 17, 2016 – As you know, in our wonderful and imperfect democracy that we call the United States of America, citizens recently had the opportunity to vote for elected officials who will make decisions on our behalves.  Many, many decisions.  And in our imperfect democracy, half of us are excited and half of us are concerned about what the future holds, but it is clear.  The government isn’t working for many many individuals and families.  And now is the time that we all need to take action.

Policymakers report hearing from only about 10 to 20% of their constituents.  That means that very few of us are holding our elected officials accountable for the decisions they are making that impact the lives of Michigan families, even though we, the people, are their bosses.  And then we wonder why policymakers make choices that we don’t agree with…

This is where democracy only works as well as we are willing to put into it.  This is where you come in.

I would bet that at best, perhaps one person in the State Legislature understands infant mental health.  Maybe a few understand the importance of social-emotional well-being.  Maybe a few more understand the foundational importance of the first three years of life.  If the vast majority of policymakers don’t understand the importance of those first three years, the importance of safe and secure attachment of babies with caregivers, and how various programs and services throughout our state aim to promote a strong social-emotional foundation for babies and toddlers, how can we expect them to make informed public policy decisions based on evidence and research that you know to be true?

Voting is just one step in the democratic process of an engaged electorate.  Now is the time for you to make sure that those victorious candidates – and those who weren’t up for re-election and will continue to serve in the next legislative session – understand that the social-emotional well-being of babies and toddlers is incredibly important.  They, like all of us, need to be asking themselves, “What about the babies?”  And while they certainly don’t need to become experts, policymakers should have a foundational understanding and know that they can turn to you when they have questions and need more information.

So what can you do?

Get to know your policymakers.  Sign-up for email bulletins from your State Representative and your State Senator and follow them on Facebook.  Visit them at their local coffee hours or request to meet with them when they’re home in their districts (Fridays through Mondays).  Invite them to visit your program, join you for a home visit, or engage them in other ways to speak to families who have been assisted by your services.  Now is the time to begin educating them and building a relationship with them so they turn to you when they have questions about the needs of Michigan families with babies and toddlers and can start making informed public policy decisions.

Learn more on how to strengthen your advocacy skills on our website.

-Mina Hong

This blog was originally written for “The Infant Crier,” the newsletter of the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health.

Staff adjusted this post to address other priorities, and it has appeared in the following partner bulletins:

Fostering Success Michigan

Michigan After School Partnership

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