Speaking For Kids

Leading for Kinship Caregivers

Growing up, I had an especially close relationship with my grandfather. Next, to my parents, he was my ‘go to’ person when I was sad, afraid, or just needed a hug. He was the person with whom I had the strongest bond. I was also blessed with a large extended family of loving aunts, uncles, and cousins. Holidays were joyful, boisterous affairs with everyone gathered at my grandfather’s house. At the end of the day, I’d return home exhausted. Those were the happiest memories of my life. My own happy childhood memories helped me realize that having the support of a loving family is essential to a child’s well-being. This is one of the many reasons kinship care has become an important issue for me and why I was so excited to lead Michigan’s Children’s work on kinship caregivers.

It wasn’t until I started graduate school when I first heard the term ‘kinship care’ in one of my classes. Kinship care as opposed to foster care placement is preferred because children generally have better outcomes when they live with a loving relative rather than a stranger. This makes sense to me. If my parents had been unable to care for me, I would have wanted to live with my grandfather. He was the one person, besides my parents, who I knew would always love me, take care of me, and keep me safe. Knowing this, I could understand why children would benefit from living with a close relative.

On the first day of my internship with Michigan’s Children, I was asked to research what issues kinship caregivers face and how other states are addressing them. An integral part of being a leader is getting to know the population you serve and understanding their needs, so I started learning from kinship caregivers and others who are familiar with the issues they face. My research led me to write “Critical Issues in Foster Care: Kinship Caregivers”. I spoke with grandparents who are raising their young grandchildren and were being evicted from their home because their landlord did not allow children. Not only did they suddenly have to care for their grandchildren while dealing with the grief of their own child’s substance abuse, they were also going to be homeless in a few short weeks. Hearing their story and reading about others like them, made me more passionate about uplifting their voices by leading policy advocacy for assistance to kinship care families in need.

At a recent seminar, I mentioned the article I was writing on kinship care issues, and the legislative director for a state representative approached me. His representative had recently held a town hall meeting to learn more about kinship care issues, and he wanted to hear my recommendations. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to advocate in a way that could make a real difference for kinship care families. A few weeks later, we all met, and I provided additional information on kinship care and shared policy recommendations. We also talked for a few minutes with the representative, who shared his enthusiasm about moving forward to help address kinship care issues. While I’ve had many great days during my internship at Michigan’s Children, that day was one of my best so far.

It is an honor to lead this advocacy effort to help kinship caregivers in a meaningful way. Our work is far from done, but I look forward to seeing some of our policy recommendations through.

Sherry Boroto is an intern at Michigan’s Children and is currently in her final year of graduate school at Michigan State University where she is pursuing her master’s degree in social work. Read her “Issues for Michigan’s Children” piece on kinship care.

Casting A Vote for Kids and Families

November 2, 2017 – I still remember the first time I ever voted – it was 2000, a waiter at a restaurant in Washington, DC passed a ballot to me, a first grader who had just learned the names of our “founding fathers”. Eager to show off my new skill, I proudly voted for my own hybrid ticket of Al Gore and Dick Cheney.

It’s probably for the best that six-year-olds aren’t allowed to vote, but their interests and, ultimately, their futures will be front and center on November 7, 2017, when communities across Michigan will vote for municipal and county officials, school board members, and a number of property tax increases, many of which would fund local public school facilities improvements.

Choosing the right local candidates is vitally important because not only will the winners make decisions that immediately impact the well-being of Michigan’s children, youth, and families, they also, more often than not, will be the people running for state house and Congress, governor or state-level office, and, maybe, even for President.

Local elected officials have the power to direct available resources towards issues of interest to local voters, including matters like education, health, and human services, and criminal and juvenile justice policy. School board members, for example, can ensure that diverse voices are included when planning facilities renovations and build relationships with community partners to bring the whole community’s resources to bear in public schools. County commissioners can allocate funds to court programs that divert youth from the criminal justice system or promote maternal and infant health. Sheriffs can work with their police departments to promote more equitable practices and build relationships with youth in their community. Simply put, local officials have a say in policies that affect the day-to-day lives of children, youth, and families.

It’s also incredibly important to elect local officials who uplift the voices and tend to the needs of children, youth, and families because, one day, those same people will run for a state-level or higher office. If you’re not satisfied with your own elected official for being out of touch with the needs of struggling kids and adults, you can begin to turn the tide by filling the benches of all political parties with candidates who truly put the interests of children first.

All politics is local, and all politicians get their start somewhere. We can ensure that youth and family voices, especially the voices of those who are struggling the most, guide policy change, and simultaneously lay the groundwork for a new generation of committed child advocates in our state and federal legislatures, by getting out on November 7 and choosing local political candidates who share these values.

Bobby Dorigo Jones

Intern Dispatch – New Pathways for School Reform

October 11 – To fit the dark and rainy day, I spent the afternoon learning about current threats to the US federal budget and tax system; a discussion by Bob Greenstein, founder, and president of the CBPP. A lightning strike to the already dreary day hit as I learned that Michigan is at risk—42% of all Michigan spending comes from the federal government. This specifically affects the children of Michigan: if budget cuts go as planned, as the already low education budget in Michigan could be cut by 14%.

To provide some structure and clarity in regards to the state’s education budget, State Superintendent Brian Whiston spoke to address the current educational threats and issues. Whiston provided some truly innovative ideas to change schools and shared his efforts to get Michigan back on top. I was intrigued by his idea of using a ‘multiple pathway’ model for schools—an atypical learning environment for students who struggle to perform their best in a traditional classroom. Whiston’s plan would implement a school system that allows students to move up at their own pace rather than following an age-based grade system. The thinking behind a multiple pathways approach is that children who are the same age aren’t always at the same place academically, and this alternative school system would account for the individual differences among school children.

Something that I wish would have been implemented while I was in high school is Whiston’s hope to help high school students accumulate 60 college credits (paid for) by the time they receive their high school diploma. This plan has been backed by recent research in Michigan—students who graduate high school with at least a few college credits under their belt are much more likely to go on to get a bachelor’s degree than students who graduate with no college credits. I can definitely see why; not only are half of the college credits paid for by the state, but teens would be much more motivated to finish a degree program if they had already invested so much time and energy into completing half of it.

Possibly the most impressive part of the whole event was hearing how these educators are focused on the whole-child; their view of the ‘child’ never split off into ‘student’. These educators are focused on what happens outside of the classroom that affects the child’s sphere of learning. For example, if a child isn’t eating at home, they won’t perform well at school; if a child doesn’t have access to a dentist, a cavity can distract them from paying attention. Michigan is attempting to transition to a comprehensive whole-child approach.

As always, funding is the big issue. All of these ideas sound great in theory, but will not happen without monetary support. More money needs to be in special education programs. More money needs to go to schools that are in physically bad shape. More money needs to go to after-school programs, which are proven to help students both academically and socially. Essentially, the point is that a 14% spending cut would drastically hurt an already hurting education system. Luckily, there are educators in Michigan that care about children and want to help them grow and learn.

Maybe it isn’t such a dreary day after all.

Michigan’s Children continues our policy strategies that assist the state in these education goals set out by the Superintendent. We will work again with the Department and the Legislature to prioritize investment in multiple pathways like an adult and alternative education as well as competency-based options, in addition to a focus on the whole child approaches, including some targeted resources from recent increases to the state’s At-Risk funding. Read more about our whole child asks from last year’s budget process here, and our recommendations to focus better support on family literacy.

Courtney Hatfield is a student intern at Michigan’s Children for the academic year and will graduate this May with a degree in Social Work. Courtney is from Grand Rapids and is a graduate of Forest Hills High School.

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