Speaking For Kids

Recommendations From the Source

October 6, 2016 – Earlier this week, the National Dropout Prevention Conference (NDPC) was held in Detroit with a focus on empowering students, improving educational success, and mitigating the long-term effects associated with dropping out of school. This month is also National Dropout Prevention Month, encouraging groups across sectors to raise awareness of the issue and work harder toward helping all students stay in school.

The NDPC brings to our attention that, too often, the need for dropout prevention awareness and viable solutions is underestimated. While progress in reducing school dropout rates has been made, the need for greater awareness still exists. Notably, 6.5% of people between the ages of 16 and 24 in the US are not enrolled in school and have not earned a diploma. These young people, on average, will be qualified for only 10% of available jobs and earn $8,000 less per year than high school graduates. Yet as many are aware, individual lived experiences are not captured in these nationally reported numbers.

To provide space for students to share their experiences, the NDPC hosted several Youth Led Sessions. Michigan’s Children assisted with coordinating these sessions, and I was honored to attend several on the afternoon of October 4. Student presenters represented several impactful organizations throughout Michigan focusing on a variety of points along students’ journeys, including: Ozone House, Fostering Success Michigan, Swartz Creek Academy, Crossroads High School, Neutral Zone, Oakland Opportunity Academy, Youth Action Michigan, Lansing Community College, The Children’s Center, Developing K.I.D.S., Metropolitan Youth Policy Fellows, and Washtenaw Technical Middle College.

The Youth Led Sessions covered a wide range of topics, from the importance of embracing technology in the classroom instead of fighting against it to actualizing the idea that students should feel cared for by their teachers. Similarly, presentations varied depending on the students leading them: there were skits, panels, ice breakers, interactive activities, internet memes, and lots of comradery. One common thread among all sessions was the prompting of self-reflection by teachers, administrators and others with influence over students’ learning experiences: What are we doing to make school a place where students want to be? After hearing what students had to say and the thoughtful discussions about their ideas for solutions, I reflect on two key takeaways:

  • Consideration of the multiple factors that go into students’ school-day experiences. Decisions to drop out – or engage in behaviors that lead to punitive responses by school officials – rarely have to do with only one factor, and the intersection of young peoples’ school, home, and community lives cannot be ignored. This highlights the importance of moving toward a trauma-informed educational system in each district and classroom. School should foster a sense of belonging and connectedness to the world students are preparing to enter, rather than serve as another stressor.
  • Raising awareness of resources that can make postsecondary education more of a possibility. In addition to making financial and compensatory resources known to students and their families — e.g., Michigan’s Fostering Futures Scholarship & Tuition Incentive Program for those who have experienced foster care – teachers’ and administrators’ awareness and willingness to engage in discussions about what is helpful to each individual student is also crucial. Students emphasized that their perception of education as a key factor in their future shifted their attitudes toward education in the present.

It was an honor to attend the Youth Led Sessions and engage in these discussions. While the NDPC and awareness campaigns through National Dropout Prevention Month have amplified these discussions to new audiences, the importance of dropout prevention work is ongoing. In Michigan, there are several things candidates can do to promote graduation. To effectively honor what was heard in the Youth Led Sessions, these issues must continue to be highlighted throughout the election season and into the next legislative session.

–  Leann Down

Leann is a former Michigan’s Children Intern, and is finishing up her dual Master’s degrees from the University of Michigan School of Social Work and the Ford School of Public Policy.

It’s the Michigan We Make This Election Season

September 8, 2016 — Should anyone think that their vote doesn’t matter, please take a look at what just happened in the Michigan primaries. In the 2nd Michigan House District in Detroit, Bettie Cook Scott won her Democratic primary by 17 votes over her closest competitor in the race. That’s right. So if nine people had voted a different way, another candidate would have won. How many times have we been in conversations with more than nine people? How many times have we been able to find nine like-minded people? And, as we’ve talked about many times before, in many districts around the state, including those in the city of Detroit, the primary run determines the winner in November.

So, what do we take from that? We are in charge of the Michigan we make. We can change our state where it needs changing, we can stay the course where we need to. Seem like a leap? No way. Nine people literally made the decision about who was going to represent the 85,000 people in the 2nd district. Wow, what power! I have many more family members than that around my dinner table on a regular basis. I have many more neighbors than that gathered in the backyard on many summer evenings.

But with this power comes responsibility.

  1. We have to understand what the candidates are saying about the issues that we care about – and not just in the November run-offs, but in primaries, too. That is true from the Presidential race to local races for township positions and everywhere in between. The great thing is that the election season is the EASIEST time to hear about the issues from policymakers, and it is the easiest time for them to hear from us. Even when they don’t have a competitive general election race, they are still around, building additional support and getting the bell weather on constituent issues and concerns.
  2. We have to treat the election as the BEGINNING of the process, not the end. As we are connecting with candidates over the next two months, we need to make sure that they know that we are paying attention to what they are saying, and that we will be holding them accountable for promises they are making – those that we like, and those that we don’t.
  3. We have to make friends with decision makers. Remember what Mark Twain famously said, when you need a friend, it is too late to make one. Huh? As we all know, and as I hammer on ALL THE TIME I know, lawmakers – like the rest of us humans – are more likely to turn to people they know and trust for advice. People they have built a relationship with are more likely to be the ones they turn to when they are trying to find out more information about an issue or trying to decide how to vote on something. We know that we all do it. Nothing like a campaign season to make sure that your candidates know who you are, and see you as a resource for their later work.
  4. We have to take responsibility for outcomes in our Democracy. If we aren’t voting, we have given up our power right there. If we aren’t sharing what we know with lawmakers, we can’t expect that they will make the right decisions once elected. If we aren’t paying attention to what they are saying and doing, we are not the ones who will be holding them accountable. Are we all doing the best we can to make sure the people who represent us are well informed, well-prepared, well-supported when they do the right thing, and facing consequences when they don’t.

I feel compelled to raise these issues in election years because it’s honestly that simple – and that darn essential to our lives at home, across the state and nationally. Talk with candidates about what is going on in your own life – what are you seeing in your community, what you think they should do to help. As when you are talking to a friend, be respectful, be honest, be clear, be willing to clarify if you need to. Candidates don’t know what we know! If you want some thoughts about possible questions to ask, take a look at our election issues pieces that include some and other talking points.. You can talk with them directly, or you can talk with them publicly – through all sorts of media. They pay attention to letters to the editor in local papers, they pay attention to social media, they pay attention to people who come to opportunities to meet with them.

Thanks for joining Michigan’s Children and countless other advocates for children and families as we work through this election and beyond to make the Michigan we want and need for children, youth and families everywhere.

– Michele Corey

Michele is the Vice President for Programs at Michigan’s Children

Join With The Voices of Young People This Fall

August 26, 2016 – A couple of weeks ago, Michigan’s Children joined the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), University of Michigan Blavin Scholars Program, Eastern Michigan University MAGIC Program, Michigan Youth Opportunities Initiative, Enterprising Youth Program, Center for Fostering Success, Western Michigan University, Wayne State University, and the Student Advocacy Center in sponsoring the 2016 Michigan Young Leader Advocacy Summit, a gathering of about 70 young people who have experienced the foster care system, their supporting agencies, and decision-makers interested in building a better understanding of critical issues facing them. It was one of the most impactful days I’ve been a part of.

The Summit proceedings raised familiar issues about the barriers to young people “aging out” of foster care that are completely fixable:

  1. Our services are based on arbitrary ages and arbitrary designations (foster care, adoption, guardianship), instead of making sure that no young person is leaving the system (or coming in and out of the system) without adequate support.
  2. Work and education requirements don’t always fit the lives of young people facing the most challenges as they move into adulthood. Requirements need to be flexible enough to work for all young people under a variety of life circumstances that will likely shift over time.
  3. There are so many changes in the people responsible for helping young people as well as the services available to assist them as they move from traditional to voluntary foster care, as they move from county to county (as we would expect young adults to do.)

The fact is that we wouldn’t place arbitrary age or location requirements on our own children. If they faced similar barriers, we would work to help them remove them, for as long as it took, in as many different ways as we could. These children are also our own.

I am inspired, as always, by the knowledge I gain from these conversations, and the energy of the young people.  This fall, there are many ways for us all to utilize that knowledge.  The Michigan House and Senate need to agree on and pass the Assurance of Quality Foster Care legislation before the end of the year, or that process will have to start over again next Legislative session.  This legislation would require some additional diligence to make sure that our foster care, education and other systems are working well for all young people in the foster care system.   Summit attendees committed to take action to make that happen.  See our Act Now page for more about how you can join them.

In addition, most candidates running for office around the state have limited experience and expertise with the child welfare or foster care systems, but we think they need to build some knowledge there if they want to be elected. Take the time to find out where your candidates are going to be, get there, and ask some questions to at least raise your concerns and offer yourself as a resource.

— Michele Corey

Read more about the Summit from Fostering Success.
Read more about services for youth transitioning out of care from MDHHS.

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