Speaking for Kids

Capitalizing on Afterschool Opportunities

October 9, 2019 – For years, Michigan’s Children has forged connections between issues and groups of advocates for the purpose of increasing access to afterschool programs for students who cannot currently access them. We are always asking, “How can we strengthen afterschool advocacy?”

To help answer that question, I am honored to join the sixteen-member 2019-20 class of the White-Riley-Peterson Policy Fellowship. Named for former Mott Foundation leader Bill White, former US Secretary of Education Richard Riley, and pioneer for public funding for afterschool programs Terry Peterson. This national fellowship offers participants the chance to improve their understanding of the art and science of policy-making for afterschool and expanded learning and to execute a project to advance access to afterschool and summer learning programs. As a White Riley Peterson fellow, my project will be to support increased collaboration among afterschool advocates towards increased investment into afterschool and summer learning programs. This work is supported by the Michigan After-School Partnership, a network that Michigan’s Children was instrumental in developing and leading over the last decade and a half.

There are some real windows of opportunity opening for afterschool advocates:

K-12 School Funding Reform. Michigan is entering a new debate over school finance that provides an opportunity to prioritize not only critical classroom supports for students, but also connecting students and schools with the resources of their communities that sustain and enhance their learning. Afterschool and summer learning programs are a critical example of effective school-community partnerships, improving reading and mathematics as well as social skills, and school engagement.

Everyone right now is talking about fixing the damn roads, but leaders have already begun staking out positions for a showdown over school funding in the coming years, which could open a window for afterschool and summer learning program expansion in Michigan. Our Governor and members of legislative leadership have named restoring K-12 school funding a top priority for their tenure. Major stakeholders including the traditional education community and the business community are engaged in coalition efforts to debate and establish their future education priorities. Afterschool and summer learning programs were even cited by the Michigan School Finance Research Collaborative as a necessary educational support for many students, including youth facing economic disadvantages. We must ensure that afterschool programs continue to have a say in growing school finance conversations.

Child Care. A window is opening for afterschool program expansion as well in the area of child care. Parents consistently praise the contributions of afterschool programs not only to their children’s learning, but also to their own ability to go to work or school knowing that their children are cared for and engaged. Rising child care investment from the federal government to the tune of billions means that the time is now to acknowledge the valuable care provided by afterschool programs and fund Michigan’s child care system enough to meet the need for infants, toddlers, and school-aged children.

Regardless when and how the opportunity presents itself, we have a tremendous opportunity to build stronger champions representing various interests and corners of society for expanding afterschool and summer learning programs to meet the full demand from Michigan students. I am excited to work through the White Riley Peterson Fellowship to support our continued push for statewide afterschool program funding.

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

You Don’t Know What Your Lawmakers Don’t Know

September 25, 2019 – At Michigan’s Children, we always remind you, our partners and supporters, that each of you have a unique understanding of the reality and impact of decisions made by state and federal policymakers, whether through your experience as a young person, parent, or caregiver, or through your experience as a professional who serves children, youth, and families. I’m writing today to share another example of just how much you have to offer.

Last week, before attending the Partnership for America’s Children, our national network of child advocacy organization’s annual meeting, Matt Gillard and I visited members of the Michigan Congressional delegation to better understand the current federal landscape and advocate for investments into critical supports for Michigan children, youth and families. While we have consistently beaten the drum for child abuse prevention, afterschool, and other programs, including communications to them over the summer, we were surprised to learn that some of our delegation’s key staff did not know:

  1. That child abuse primary prevention funding in Michigan has fallen dramatically and consistently over the course of two decades.
  2. While last year’s federal budget awarded more funds for afterschool and summer learning programs through “21st Century Community Learning Centers” grants, the grant formula led to an overall cut in funding awarded to the state of Michigan, which has led to the closure of afterschool programs in districts where student demand for these programs already outweighed the number of spots available.

We can’t always blame our elected officials for not being up to date on everything in their community – they’re handling a lot of issues and concerns all at the same time, and bandwidth is limited. Knowing what they don’t know represents an opportunity to be a resource. We can be proactive about helping our state and federal officials understand what is going on by consistently sharing information with them about what’s happening in our own lives and work in service of children, youth, and families in a way that creates a relationship between you, your organization, and their office.

It doesn’t have to take a lot of time – if you have just a couple minutes, ask their office for staff emails and put their general office and individual emails on your email newsletter. If you have an event coming up, take a couple of minutes to invite them, or see if they or their district staff can come visit you at another time. They often have in-district meetings that might be happening nearby. If you can find even a few minutes every month or two to keep your lawmakers in the loop, or for a quick face-to-face conversation, you are well on your way to establishing a back-and-forth relationship where your lawmakers are learning about important things going on in their community, and where you become a resource for them.

Senate budget talks have stalled and Congress will pass a continuing resolution to delay negotiations until at least November, which means we are still a couple of months away from the next chance for serious negotiations between the House and Senate that would result in a federal budget. Take advantage of this impasse over the fall to remind your lawmaker that Michigan’s children, youth, and families are our top priority! You don’t know what your Congresspeople don’t know about what’s going on in your community until you begin to talk with them.

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

Public Policy Spaces are for Kids Too

September 25, 2019 – Earlier this week, representatives of governments from around the globe were asked to do more than just consider the perspective of an often muted generation. Members of the United Nations were urged to step up and embrace policy changes focused on saving our planet. However, it was truth spoken to power by 16-year-old activist, Greta Thunberg, that not only polarized conversation around climate justice but reminded the ‘adults in the room’ of this fact: public policy and advocacy are spaces for youth voices too.

Like, Greta Thunberg, I too was an advocate for a host of issues and policy platforms I held dearly and reflected my values at age 16 and younger. While many of my peers were often discouraged from sharing their own personal views on politics, news and other pressing current events, here I was not only conversing these topics with older people but engaging in debate, which often resulted in finding common ground even amid heated discourse. These vivid and engaging experiences are a major factor in why I’ve continued my advocacy into adulthood.

Nonetheless, in my experience of working in collaboration with our state’s youngest residents and constituents, I’ve heard the epithet of not being able to vote as an excuse to dissuade their interest and involvement in public policy spaces. After being turned down for expressing real, raw experiences time and time again, we, as the ‘adults in the room,’ have collectively diminished their will to contribute in these spaces. Consequently, many of our youth carry this doubt into adulthood – when they are able to vote or even run for office themselves.

At Michigan’s Children, it’s our steadfast commitment to ensuring public policy reflects the voices of unheard generations and encourage all youth to contribute by becoming change agents, voicing their perspective and experiences directly to policy-makers and influencers alike. For decades, Michigan’s Children has witnessed the very real impact of elected officials hearing directly from constituents, including the K-12 student who feels, they “shouldn’t be here, but in school,” as Greta Thunberg stated in her testimony at the United Nations this week.

As one of the leading public policy organizations in our state, let us be clear: Michigan youth, you absolutely belong and are welcomed here.

For more information on how to become civically engaged beyond voting, check out this online resource and look at the many ways that Michigan’s Children learns from youth and families on our website. We would love to work with you to amplify your voice.

Adam Bingman is the newest edition to Michigan’s Children staff team serving as Director of Communications and Outreach.

Meet Zainab Jafar, An Advocate Motivated by Oppression

September 9, 2019 – My name is Zainab Jafar and I am beyond excited to be spending my last semester of undergrad interning at Michigan’s Children! I attend Michigan State University (GO GREEN!) and I’m majoring in Global Studies with a minor in Women’s Studies. I intend to enter law school in fall 2020 to pursue immigration law to help families, similar to mine at one point, who have children in dire need of help.

I was born in Iraq, where my family was constantly on the run attempting to escape Saddam’s gruesome regime. I spent the first and most crucial years of my life in a war-torn environment where at one point, I believed that war, rape, and poverty was going to be the reality of my family’s life for a while. Little did I know that nearly five years later, we would be moving to America and have more rights and freedom than we could ever imagine.

Due to the fact that I am a first-generation college student coming from a political refugee family, I fall under multiple minority categories which make me that much more motivated to attain a higher education. To me, education is so much more than learning about math, science, and English. To me, it’s about how education expands my mindset, improves my character and makes me a better person— to better contribute to my family and community. For those reasons, I am excited to be able to use my experiences as a tool for me to help improve the lives of children in Michigan one policy at a time.

I am passionate about making the world a better and safer place for children, and thanks to powerful organizations such as Michigan’s Children, that is possible. My goal as an intern for Michigan’s Children will be to be the voice of unheard children in our communities who are enduring poverty, abuse (especially sexual abuse), substance abuse, and more. Although these conversations may be difficult for some, my goal is to raise awareness and encourage discussion about these crucial topics as that is the reality of many children’s lives whether we are uncomfortable with these discussions or not. Action needs to be taken! I plan on using social media to start discussions and raise awareness. Here at Michigan’s Children, I plan on working to create a world where children won’t have a childhood they have to recover from.

Zainab Jafar is a senior attending Michigan State University and plans to study immigration law after completing her Bachelor’s Degree in Global Studies with an emphasis on Women’s Studies.

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.

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