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Fixing Michigan’s Child Care System – a Big Lift but What a Payoff

September 4, 2019 – In one my favorite coffee shops in downtown Lansing, I arrived far ahead of the crowd one morning and had the chance to chit chat with an affable shop worker while she set up for the morning rush. A sandy-haired little boy sat at a nearby table littered with crayons, markers, coloring materials and an imitation toy I-pad. “Cute kid? Is he yours?” I asked, approaching Suzie, around 40-ish. “My grandson,” she answered, looking stressed. “His mother needed help today. He’s really quiet, though.”

In an instant, my heart filled in the rest of this sad picture. The young mom didn’t have a reliable childcare option for her boy, so her go-to was her mom. Also a working woman in a low-paid field, Suzie presumably reports to supervisors more willing or able to accommodate a small child dropped into one of their four-tops. Well, at least for a while.

So here is the dilemma of childcare – or missing childcare – in Michigan. It’s a Rubik’s cube style problem waiting for a big answer. But what if we could solve that problem for working parents, especially those toiling near the bottom of the income-earning chart, and in the process lift them up and boost Michigan’s economy? What if parents had reliable child care that offered a safe, affordable and enriched environment for their tikes? The answer is, we certainly can do it if we exercise our public will and political muscle. We can do it by moving public policies that make sense for our friends and neighbors and in doing so change big systems – workplace, the economy, and education – for the better.

At Michigan’s Children, I frequently hear a gravelly voice shouting into a phone or person on the other side of the drywall between us: “Forget Fixing the Roads! Forget the Roads! It’s Child Care. Child Care! Fix that!” Michigan’s Children has made improving child care a major pillar of its Public Policy Playbook this year and previously by raising awareness among influence-leaders and grassroots advocates, amplifying the voices of families in crisis, and working directly with policymakers and lawmakers. Now new research from the Urban Institute offers interesting insights for advocates like us working to improve child care in Michigan. It starts with a few “What If?” propositions and captures data that paints a different picture of what our state workforce and economy would look like if only we got child care right. If we could raise our eligibility for the subsidy to say, 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, there’d be big gains in the number of people entering the workplace, moving tons of kids and families out of poverty, and improving the state’s economic climate.

Sounds good? But here’s the problem. While our state receives federal funding from the Child Care and Development Fund, the government’s major program for supporting child care for families earning low wages, and while we have one of the lowest eligibility levels in the country, fewer than half of those eligible actually receiving it. Why? Let me drop this bomb right now. Because we have a seriously broken child care subsidy system in Michigan that doesn’t work for families or providers. Evidence of that is that many home-based providers are retiring and the system’s low pay isn’t attracting enough new providers; in many counties, licensed care for infants and toddlers is hard to find, leaving “child care deserts” around the state where there just aren’t available providers for families who need them. Child care is mostly unavailable during nights and weekends when many parents work, or for those whose work schedules are often unpredictable. Others who would like to ask family, friends, and neighbors to care for their kids aren’t accessing the subsidy either because its rules restrict who the subsidy can go to. Then there are those beleaguered parents who have a child with a mental health illness or behavioral problem. They’re frequently dropped by providers who don’t have the basic training to work with these kids, a problem that could be fixed if the state employed more certified mental health consultants to advise providers and parents through those situations. All of these reasons add up to why more families in Michigan don’t access child care subsidies.

By raising the child care subsidy eligibility from roughly 130 percent to 150 percent of poverty (resulting in a maximum annual salary threshold of $31,995 a year for a family of three) and ensuring access to the subsidy for all families who are eligible for it, twice as many children would receive the subsidy in Michigan from fewer than 35,000 to 79,300 kids. More children would be safe and secure and engaged in learning and personal growth. More parents would be able to work with peace of mind. With more access to child care for working families, 12,500 more mothers would be able to join the workforce and an additional 24,500 children would emerge from poverty, not insignificant in a state where 1 in 4 children are born into poverty.

Currently, there’s not one set eligibility threshold for the child care subsidy. The guidelines vary by state from 118 percent to 300 percent of poverty, according to the Urban Institute. Michigan is among 15 states with income eligibility at under 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.

The study used data pulled from the 2016 American Community Survey and focused on labor force participation and family income. It determined (not surprisingly) that the lack of accessible child care is a major barrier to work for parents because it’s hugely expensive. The national average cost of child care for a child in a child care center is $10,000 a year – rivaling mortgage, rent and a college education. Increasing the state’s child care subsidy would allow more parents to choose quality child care while boosting parents’ employment earnings. The effect on our economy: Fewer people in poverty, and an improvement to our state’s overall economic health.

Of course, changing eligibility alone won’t fix anything if we don’t fix the child care subsidy system in Michigan – a key workplace issue that’s long overdue for a solution. So let’s get to it. Urge your elected leaders in Lansing and Washington to structurally fix the system and ensure we fund it adequately so that more of our families can improve their standard of living, creating a better future for their children and our state. When parents are away at school or work, their kids need to spend time in quality child care, not coffee shops.

-Teri Banas is the Communications Manager for Michigan’s Children, a mom, and coffee drinker.

Meet Alexis Coleman, Intern Motivated by Advocacy

August 28, 2019 – Hello! My name is Alexis Coleman and I am so excited to be spending this upcoming year as an intern at Michigan’s Children. I am a second-year graduate student at Michigan State University (MSU), and I am pursuing my Master’s degree in Social Work with a concentration in Organizational and Community Leadership. It’s hard to believe, but this is my sixth and final year as a student as MSU. Go Green!

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved supporting others and fostering connections. As a child, whenever asked what my dream job was, my immediate response was, “I want to help people.” When pushed to further identify what “helping people” meant, I found myself struggling to answer. All of the other children knew that they wanted to be teachers, doctors, astronauts, lawyers, or veterinarians, but I couldn’t find a title for what it was that I wanted to do. It was at this time that I dedicated myself to finding out.

I spent my middle- and high-school years assisting children in the classroom, participating in mentorship programs, and volunteering with local community organizations. During my time as an undergraduate student at MSU, I began to explore my passion for helping at a much deeper level. However, it wasn’t until my junior year when I began working with and advocating for young people who were involved in juvenile justice situations that I felt I had finally found what it meant for me to help. It was through this experience that I suddenly became aware of the many injustices and inequities facing these young people and their families. Many had experienced various traumas related to substance abuse, homelessness, abuse and neglect, poverty, and mental health issues. However, rather than placing focus on how to better support and empower these young people and their families, they were stigmatized and deemed a lost cause.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed working directly with and fostering connections amongst these young people, I found myself feeling as though I couldn’t play the advocacy role necessary to empower them and ensure that their voices were being heard. It is because of this that I chose to pursue an MSW degree, and further, an internship at Michigan’s Children.

Michigan’s Children places focus on advocating for children and their families through influencing public policy, which is absolutely essential in the political process. Through its education and outreach services, Michigan’s Children works to ensure that policies are being adopted in the best interest of children and their families.

Michigan’s Children believes that children and their families should have a voice, and I look forward to advocating for these voices to be heard.

– Alexis Coleman is an intern at Michigan’s Children in her final year of graduate school at Michigan State University where she is pursuing her master’s degree in social work.

A Hiker’s Guide to Citizen Engagement

When it comes to the work of improving our state, citizens deserve far more than just a chance to have their voices heard and their feelings placated. Citizens, with their countless unique and powerful experiences and perspectives, must be acknowledged as key partners in the work of making public policy. Our goal in supporting the Children’s Trust Fund’s Citizen’s Review Panel for Prevention (CRPP) this year is to ensure that citizens are included as key partners in the review of our state’s child abuse prevention priorities.

This June, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I joined members of Citizens Review Panels from across the country to learn how other states are working to ensure that citizens have a meaningful say in the work of their state’s child welfare systems. After the conference ended, I spent the weekend exploring New Mexico’s incredible landscapes and what I saw in the “Land of Enchantment” drove home exactly why Michigan’s Children is in the business of promoting citizen voice.

Experience is the best teacher.

The El Malpais National Monument in Western New Mexico is known for its acres of exposed dried lava. Its most scenic views require clambering over loose rock fields, and you can rarely tell by sight which rocks are secure and which are loose. Every step carries the risk of a sprained or broken ankle. Hikers communicate and learn from each other’s steps to navigate the trails.

A public policy or procedure can look sound and secure, but people who live the effects of public policies know where the shaky points and the gaps in the system are. When young people and foster caregivers spoke out about communication and information gaps within the foster care system, policymakers took note and passed the Children’s Assurance of Foster Care Quality Act. I learned at the conference that if we’re going to take seriously the work of improving child welfare, we have to remember that, like for anything, experience is the best teacher, and the CRPP must include those who have walked the paths that we wish to improve at every level of decision making.

Power needs process.

The loose rocks of El Malpais lead hikers to a magnificent extinct lava tube, Big Skylight Cave, through which years ago hot magma ran with unfathomable energy beneath the earth to the surface. Of course, once magma pours out above ground as lava, it spreads all over the place until it runs out of steam. Citizen voice has a magmatic quality: unbelievably powerful, especially when public spaces support citizens to flex that power.

At the conference, I learned about the skills required to facilitate complex conversations. We can learn a lot more from our fellow citizens by asking a little more than just “what do you think?” We can design spaces to encourage citizens to imagine, to remember, and to find common issues. The Michigan CRPP will be strategic and thoughtful about citizen engagement, and Michigan’s Children looks forward to ensuring that the CRPP works in coordination with community partners to design accessible opportunities for citizens to have their voices heard.

A good process needs partners.

To that point, we need to hear from as many people who have something to offer as possible. It’s the only way we can be sure that the CRPP’s recommendations reflect the true needs of Michigan’s population. To make that happen, if you have personal experience or experience working with families who have endured instability due to substance use, we need you to partner with us to make sure that your voices – and the voices of those whom you serve – are heard.

Please check out Michigan’s Children’s CRPP website, RSVP for an event as we announce more dates, and take the CRPP public input survey and share it with those who deserve a say as well.

Together, we can make Michigan the “Land of Citizen Engagement.”

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

Meet Reuben Glasser, Michigan’s Children Summer Intern

My first memory of talking politics was in 2008 under the blazing midsummer Indiana sun. Standing where the cornfield met my grandparent’s well-groomed yard, I chatted with my Grandpa Steve about the upcoming election. We were collecting the bits and pieces of golf balls scattered among the corn stocks that we had shot with his 22-caliber rifle. I was trying to coerce him into voting for Obama, the candidate I liked, but had no way of voting for – I was only eight. My Grandpa, a Vietnam War veteran, had always leaned towards the right. He was cautious about the young prominent black politician making waves throughout the country, especially as a liberal from Chicago. What did Obama know about the rest of the country? What did he know about the rural Midwest? But I was relentless and I knew Obama’s platform better than your neighborhood canvasser. I had studied his website, watched him debate, and his campaign was all I rambled about. At the end of my visit, I had convinced my Grandma, an easier sell, but my Grandpa has yet to confess whom he voted for.

Since 2008, I’ve continued talking about politics. While at Kalamazoo Central High School, I volunteered for local elections and following the Parkland Shooting, I co-founded a student activist network known as Students for Gun Legislation, an organization that recently spread across four states. During my time as the president and co-founder, we were covered by international media – the BBC, CBC, Al Jazeera, Dazed, and NPR, along with countless other local news sources. Organizing town halls, speaking at press conferences, and marching through the streets covered in bright orange, taught me the importance of community involvement and collaboration. When I spoke to federal and state representatives, I made sure that not only was the youth’s voice heard, but my community’s voice as well. I was born and raised in Kalamazoo, the home of not only the 2016 Uber Shooting but much more deadly gang violence and weekly shootings that have left families broken. I love my city and I love its people, but similar to the rest of this great country, we have much to improve upon.

In the summer of 2018, I organized the intern and volunteer staff for George Franklin for Congress. My favorite part, of course, was the conversations I had while working. Whether it was talking to George about strategy and gun violence, or to a voter about their issues and how we planned on addressing them, I listened and learned. That campaign opened my eyes to the diversity within my district that I wasn’t aware of. That summer I also had the privilege of volunteering for Voters Not Politicians as a regional spokesperson. The ballot initiative I promoted passed with overwhelming support; unfortunately, George Franklin didn’t make it beyond the contested four-way primary.

In early September 2018, I moved to the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor to start my path towards higher education. Aside from working on my education in my first year, I fought against a repulsive sexual assault policy that forced victims of sexual assault to be directly cross-examined by their alleged assailant. I wrote a brief on social media use and website effectiveness for Megan Kathleen Cavanagh for Michigan Supreme Court. And I started Michigan Political Consulting, the premier political consulting firm at the University of Michigan.

This all lead me to a conversation with Robert Dorigo Jones, Michigan’s Children Policy and Outreach Associate, and Michigan’s Children’s President & CEO Matt Gillard about working as a 2019 summer intern at Michigan’s Children. I happily accepted their gracious offer and am pleased to introduce myself as Michigan’s Children’s latest intern. My focus for the summer will be to increase Michigan’s Children’s involvement of college students, develop plans for a Junior Board, bolster social media engagement, and assist in legislative duties. I’m excited to be part of such a well-developed and important non-profit. Serving Michigan’s Children is truly my pleasure.

Reuben Glasser is an intern at Michigan’s Children.

Student Voice Experience: Testifying about Foster Care

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.

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

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

Perseverance and Partnerships

So much attention has been paid in this lame duck session, and rightly so, to efforts of the legislature as they make adjustments to either ballot proposals or the legislation passed to thwart those proposals from getting on the ballot, and to try to restrict incoming administrative leadership in the Governor’s office, state departments and the secretary of state’s office. There has been attention to last ditch efforts to pass legislation related to how schools will be held accountable for student success, the environment and even how pet stores are operating. Attention to the effort to Raise the Age, that Michigan’s Children and many others have been involved with for several legislative sessions, did not result in success these last few days of the session, and like many other debates will begin again in January.

One success in this crazy lame duck session that deserves much more attention than it has received, since it has the potential to really improve the lives of the most vulnerable children, youth and families in Michigan, is the Senate passage last night of the Children’s Assurance of Quality Foster Care Act.

Over the last three legislative sessions, going on six years now, there has been a package of bills introduced that acknowledge in state law that kids and caregivers in the foster care system need some protections—about what is provided to them, about what they can expect from the system, and about what they can do if those things aren’t taking place. Almost six years ago, after a process that included feedback from young people involved in the foster care system, a group of three legislators in the House introduced what at the time was considered the Foster Child Bill of Rights. That session, they didn’t even get a hearing in a legislative committee. But those legislators, those young people and allies like Michigan’s Children didn’t give up and the bills were introduced the next legislative session. This time, they had bi-partisan support in the House and powerful co-sponsors who chaired critical committees. They passed through the House with ease, nearly unanimously. But, the Senate didn’t take them up – not even a committee hearing, and again they failed to make it through. But those legislators, those young people, and allies like Michigan’s Children didn’t give up. The bills were introduced again this legislative session, and called the Children’s Assurance of Quality Foster Care Act. Other powerful allies like the Jr. Leagues of Michigan were added to the mix, and those bills again passed nearly unanimously through the House.

The Senate was still not moving on the bills, but this time, we garnered even more powerful allies. Oakland University and The New Foster Care started putting pressure on their friends, including the Lt. Governor, Brian Calley, who then put pressure on his friends in the Senate to move the bills through. This happened just this week, with only a couple of days left in the legislative session. Unfortunately, this also required an amendment that we didn’t agree with to facilitate passage. While small, it was an unnecessary change that was a little hard to stomach, but we all did to make sure that it could still move forward. It is important to acknowledge the Lt. Governor for his actions to push things to the finish line, as well as the legislative co-sponsors in the House: Jim Runestad, who is coming back next year as a state Senator; Terry Sabo, who took up the torch from his predecessor to sponsor these bills; and Pamela Hornberger, who put her 1st term efforts behind the package. Each of the bills had multiple legislative co-sponsors as well.

The advocacy lessons: perseverance and partnerships. Most good pieces of legislation take more than one try to make it through. There are about 2,500 pieces of legislation that get introduced in any given legislative session in Michigan, and Legislators have to decide what takes priority. It is much easier for things NOT to go through than for them to pass. Keeping at it when something is important is key. As in many areas, this package of bills is a beginning, not an end to this conversation about ensuring quality in our foster care system, so we will continue next session to move forward from this foundation.

And as good and strong as your voice is, it never hurts to have friends involved. You never know where you might be able to connect with friends in high places, so keep bringing all sorts of partners along with you. We first met now Senator-elect Runestad when we partnered with him as a County Commissioner for our KidSpeaks in Oakland County, before he was even in the legislature. We’ve worked with leadership at The New Foster Care for years, but were glad to strengthen our relationship with Oakland University through their partnership with one of our youth-led candidate forums this fall. You never know where your relationships might take you.

As we move into 2019, with a new Governor and a new legislative session, we will again take up the mantle for some things have been left undone, work to maintain progress that has been made, and look to new opportunities to best support children, youth and families. For that work to succeed, we continue to enjoy our work with great advocacy, service and research partners and redouble efforts to build new ones. If you haven’t yet taken our pledge to make kids and families a priority in 2019, please do. We look forward to working with you!

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

Spotlight on Juvenile Justice Alternatives

Since the ‘90s, Michigan has funneled thousands of youth under 18 into adult corrections following passage of harsh laws aimed to get tough on juvenile offenders. Today, it is one of only four states – along with Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin – that still allows 17-year-olds to be charged as adults instead of adjudicating them in the juvenile justice system. Despite best efforts, the Raise the Age package failed to pass in this legislative session. Efforts will continue next year with a new Governor and Legislature.

Read our Spotlight on how Juvenile Justice programs succeed.

Meet Lauren, Our Newest Intern

November 16, 2018 – Hello!! I am beyond excited to be spending my final year of Graduate School at Michigan’s Children. Come May 2019, I will be receiving my Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Organizational and Community Leadership from Michigan State University, GO GREEN!

I started my journey at Michigan State in 2012 and have been here way too long (with a few degree changes) but, I have gained an incredible amount of knowledge and skills. In December, 2016 I completed my Interdisciplinary Studies in Social Sciences undergraduate degree which guided me to pursue an MSW degree.

When I was a little kid, I always wanted to be like my grandparents and my mom… a teacher. But, as time went on and I witnessed the difficulties my mom had in the public school system and I knew that teaching wasn’t the best route for me to take. I tried many different directions but ultimately end up with the same passion – to serve the children of our world. Because I have never pursued a teacher career path, I have instead interned at an after-school program, assistant taught summer school, and did community service coordination for high school students. Through all of these experiences, I have loved working with students.

So why am I working in public policy, and am I liking it? First, I am loving it! Second, you can advocate for the best interest in children by working directly with them, and we need to improve the systems that serve them through policy advocacy and change. It is critical to understand and relate to the populations you are advocating for. At Michigan’s Children – we are working to change the odds for children. In the future, I hope to take my experience in direct care and in advocacy to continue to better the lives of children and families.

This year at Michigan’s Children I have the great opportunity to learn about election advocacy and legislative advocacy. So far this year, much of our energy has been focused election advocacy and hosting NINE amazing candidate forums around the state. These forums bring students, young adults, community members, and adults out to ask their candidates for legislative office questions about issues that they care about most. At these forums, I found myself awestruck. The personal stories, questions, and answers all drive me to continue to do this work and it is truly amazing what you can learn once you open the floor to others and listen intently. It was truly empowering to watch citizen involvement in the political process and if those who asked the impressive questions are our future leaders, I am ecstatic and ready!

A couple others things I have focused on include the Raise The Age campaign, foster care research, early childhood advocacy, third grade reading research, and our social media networks (T: @MichChildren F: Michigan’s Children).

With the elections changing our state legislature and Governor, things are changing in our office. With these changes, Michigan’s Children will focus on educating policymakers on issues that matter most and continually encouraging others to get involved in the political process. This next phase will be incredible and I can’t wait to see what I can learn!

Lauren Starke is an intern at Michigan’s Children in her final year of graduate school at Michigan State University where she is pursuing her master’s degree in social work.

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