Speaking for Kids

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

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.

A Forum for Change

“Many politicians say that they will make changes for the better and almost never or never do. How will you be different?”

Eyes widened and the candidates sat up a little straighter in their seats.

This powerful question was delivered from an adult education student at one of the four candidate forums hosted by the Michigan Association of Community and Adult Education (MACAE) and Michigan’s Children. The series of events across the state were very impactful in raising the awareness of issues facing adult education students and the programs that serve them. From Novi to Grand Rapids, Holland to Adrian, legislative candidates were asked tough yet significant questions about issues ranging from education to infrastructure, childcare costs to college tuition and beyond.

What this writer took away from the experience was the opportunity for change in our midst- each event presents a forum for change. Beyond adult ed programs helping students obtain their GED and workplace credentials, legislative candidates became more away of a population ready to be taught, trained and tooled for success.

And whether the students were eighteen-year-old single mothers working two jobs, or a fifty-five-year-old electrician looking to upskill his credentials, the message was consistent and resounding- We are here, We want to be an integral part of our local communities, and We are ready.

What was most important was seeing legislative candidates connecting with students after each forum- sharing laugh, taking pictures, but also continuing to discuss important issues.

The legislative candidates were impacted too. One said in Holland, “I have learned so much today about this issue and I’m committed to solutions”. That is encouraging at a time where educational funding is essential to keeping these programs accessible to the general population.

Another candidate in Adrian shared how she herself attended an adult education program to gain her GED, finding success for her and her family. Several students in attendance told their teacher a few days later that was a powerful moment.

I asked one student why they participated in the forum. After a moment to think she replied, “I have a voice and I want to use it because I want to have success too”.

Perhaps, if we can communicate that message of adult education being a pathway to success, we can continue this forum of change.

– Patrick Brown is an Outreach Associate for Michigan’s Children, in partnership with the Michigan Association of Community and Adult Education

Vote Like Our Future Depends On It

Sometimes we lose track of the fact that our democracy is just like a hiring process. We look at different candidates for the job of representing our priorities in decisions about how to spend tax dollars and how to best structure the many public systems we depend upon. Then, after the campaign interviews, some of us in the “hiring committee” decide what candidate we want.

Now is the time for the job interviews, when we pay attention to what candidates are saying, and make sure that they are being asked important questions. To that end, we are working hard with partners in eight areas of the state to facilitate youth- and family-led candidate forums. This is some of my favorite work for three reasons:

  1. I LOVE working with our partners. The people we are working with for these forums do amazing things for kids and families in their communities every day AND THEN grace me with their assistance in with these forums, because they are so important. It is inspiring.
  2. I LOVE hearing what questions youth, adult students and other caregivers ask policymakers and those running for office when given the chance. Some confirm what we know to be true about the barriers people face, others are surprising and always informative to our work.
  3. And, of course, I also LOVE hearing the answers and seeing the power of direct interaction between constituent and candidate. We hear time and time again from the candidates involved that these forums are the campaign experiences that they enjoy the most.

After the job interview, we will decide who to hire. One of our staff wrote this phrase in a draft document, “Vote like our future depends on it.” I really like that, mainly because I know that it is true. We all know that decisions we make during this election will determine priorities in policy and investment for the next decade. This month, Michigan’s Children is starting our “Why I Vote” campaign. For me, voting is a huge responsibility, however, we know that many people don’t feel empowered to vote, or just aren’t able to, so we are gathering perspectives on why people around the state are taking that step to participate in the hire.

After the hiring is done, we supervise our new hires. We help them make connections between the decisions they are making and the things they said and learned from the hiring process. We help them better understand the people they are working for and how to do their job well. They need training, like most new hires, and they need support. We are there to give them that.

While I do like the job interview, and I also like the responsibility of hiring, I have devoted my professional life to the supervisory part. I know that all of our new hires (some more than others…) will disappoint us, some will not do what they said they would do during the job interview. And we will be there to gently (and sometimes not so gently) guide them back and make sure that they have all of the resources and backing that they need to help us move the state forward.

We need you to pledge with us to supervise the people we hire, beginning this November until the day they leave office. This is a pledge to follow up our vote with more action, to use our power as their supervisors to help them see the best path forward by connecting them with the most valuable resources that they have at their disposal – US, and the people who we serve.

Take this interview process seriously, vote as if our future depends on it, and then pledge to join Michigan’s Children for action.

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

Meet Ryan, Our Newest Intern: A Quality Education for All

As a child, I was first exposed to the inequities of our society. I grew up in the metro-Detroit area and received a top-tier public education. This paved the way for me to go on to the University of Michigan and earn my bachelors and masters degrees there. Attending a university like U of M gave me the necessary tools to complete an internship at the Democratic National Committee, the White House, and now, Michigan’s Children.

All of this is to say, without the amazing k-12 public education that I received as a child, my life would have turned out to be incredibly different. I would not have been prepared to take on the rigors of a world-class university, which would have made it much less likely that I would end up sitting here writing this blog post. I was lucky. Due to the circumstances of my birth, I was placed in a district that had an abundance of resources for me to draw on. I even got the chance to learn Chinese and go with my 8th-grade class on a trip to China. Just 20 miles down the road, however, kids are receiving an education devoid of the basic resources necessary for them to succeed.

These kids also attend a public school, which does not even have enough textbooks for each student. The ones they do have are outdated. The building is not completely heated in the wintertime. Very few of these kids have ever left their neighborhood, much less the state of Michigan or the country. Worse still, an 18-year-old student is set to graduate, and she cannot spell the name of her own street. Last year, I was an AmeriCorps VISTA working in the Detroit Public Schools, and I witnessed these things firsthand. These kids wanted to succeed so badly, but in these conditions, it was near impossible to do so. How can you do well enough on a standardized test to gain admission into college if you cannot even spell the name of your street? This was a monumental failure on the part of our state, the place where I was born and raised, and the place that I love.

In this great state of ours, how is this dichotomy in public education allowed to persist? By allowing it to continue, we are perpetuating a cycle of class stagnation and hopelessness amongst the most vulnerable amongst us. By depriving so many kids of a quality education, we are stopping them from achieving their true potential. This is not something that I want to stand idly by and watch happen, so I decided to do what I could to ensure that the next generation will not have to experience this same vast dichotomy.

For the summer, I decided to take a research internship with the amazing organization, Michigan’s Children. They are incredibly committed to making a difference in the lives of our state’s children, which is what drew me to them in the first place. As a student of public policy, I know that legislation and advocacy are the avenues by which we can enact truly meaningful change. I’m hoping that my research of how to best provide education funding to impoverished students will assist Michigan’s Children in their advocacy work, and ultimately, lead to a state that provides all of its kids with the necessary resources to succeed.

Ryan Bartholomew is a summer intern for Michigan’s Children. He is currently a master’s student at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy, where he also received his bachelor’s degree. Ryan’s background is in domestic policy and American electoral politics, and he hopes to go on to earn a Ph.D. in political science.

Meet Patrick, our Newest Staff Member: Education: A Cause Worth Fighting For

I am excited to joining the staff of Michigan’s Children in partnership with the Michigan Association of Community and Adult Education (MACAE).

My connection with educational issues was initially emboldened through my early years being surrounded by teachers in my family. It probably also was deepened by my asking (and getting) a file cabinet as a Christmas gift in 5th grade.

Flash forward to college (Go GVSU Lakers!) and I found myself studying secondary education while also serving as an AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps Vista member at the Dominican Literacy Center in Detroit. There on the east side, I had the opportunity to walk with individuals from many different backgrounds and to support them in their educational endeavors. Whether it was tutoring someone in algebra, working with someone to develop their organizational and communication skills, teaching English as a second language or reaching out for community resources, I learned much. So much about the resiliency of people, but also the importance of educational opportunities.

One of the most powerful parts of education is the power of networking and collaboration. My experiences in Detroit led me to working at A+ English as a Second Language in the Lansing area and with a great mentor and friend. I learned so much about organization, leadership, and being an inspiring person from my director, Karyn. I also reaffirmed and deepened my commitment to students and their ability to overcome great hardships- learning English, taking the Citizenship test, finding employment, and caring for their families. This opportunity also afforded the chance to travel to national conferences and share best practices with some of the most talented instructors and administrators from around the country on numerous occasions.

And sometimes there are unique opportunities in education that you didn’t expect. My time teaching AP English and Senior English in high school was one of the most exciting, challenging and worthwhile experiences! Seeing young people come into their own and form informed, intuitive perspectives of the world around them is one of the most inspiring things to witness. Our future is bright when we allow others to learn, and hone their skills and abilities.

What better gift can there be than that?

Education- A cause worth fighting for.

–  Patrick Brown is an Outreach Associate for Michigan’s Children, in partnership with the Michigan Association of Community and Adult Education

Elections Are Inspiring

I’m consistently educated and inspired by constituents and policymakers alike when the two groups are brought together. I’ve been so fortunate to have been part of Michigan’s Children’s intentional creation of these opportunities for the last 18 years. They take many forms, but always include direct communication between young people, families, the people who serve them and policymakers. During the campaign season, these opportunities are so critical as our citizenry decides who will be representing us in Lansing and Washington, DC. It is important for constituents to hear what candidates for office are saying about issues of concern to them, and for candidates to hear those issues and be held accountable for articulating solutions that they will be prioritizing if elected.

This week, we kicked off our youth- and family-led candidate forum season with two forums (one in two-parts) led by families in two very different parts of the state. The first, at the Zeeland Early Childhood Center in Ottawa County, and the second at The Children’s Center in Detroit. Circle back to our Learning from Youth and Families page for more details about both of these successful events, check out what we tweeted through the forums, and here are just a couple of highlights for me:

  1. Most of the eight candidates running for the 30th State Senate and the 90th State House districts in Ottawa County looking down the table at each other and remarking about their commonalities in supporting early childhood programming and wanting to help to improve the mental health system in our state.
  2. The vast experience and enthusiasm that all five of the attending candidates running for the 13th Congressional District are bringing to that race, a race in a district that had been represented by single Congressman, John Conyers, Sr. from the time before these candidates were even born.
  3. The flexibility and responsiveness of the single candidate running for the 1st State Senate attending (though others had confirmed) to forgo the more formal forum style and just sit with constituents and answer question after question.

Of course I didn’t think EVERYTHING that the candidates said would lead to investment and policy strategies helpful to the most vulnerable children and families in our state, but I couldn’t help but be inspired by the insight provided by the families themselves in the thoughtful questions that they asked, and by the time committed by the candidates to answer them comprehensively.

During the next four months, people are vying for the jobs that we will be hiring them for in November. On August 7, in the primary election, our first round of job interviews will be completed, and the field of applicants will significantly drop. Our elections matter. The people who we hire by electing them to office matter. Expressing our priorities and helping others to express theirs to the people who are tasked to represent those priorities matters.

We will continue to create and assist with opportunities to express those priorities around the state, and if you are interested in partnering with Michigan’s Children in your community, let us know. Personally, I can’t wait for the next one!

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

Reflections on My Internship

When I started graduate school, my very first class was a social policy class. It sounded a little boring, and I couldn’t imagine enjoying it. Much to my surprise, I loved the class and I loved learning about the social policies that affect the well-being of all people. I wanted to learn more and experience what it was like work for an organization that helped shape these policies. For the past 8 months, I’ve had the honor and pleasure of doing that as an intern at Michigan’s Children.

I remember the first day of my internship. As with any first day at a “new job,” I was excited and more than a little nervous. Would I do well? Did I really know enough about social policy?  I spent the following days reading everything I could about issues affecting the welfare of children. In staff meetings, I heard legal terms that were new to me and discretely (I hope) scribbled them down, so I could look them up later.  The following weeks and months were an exciting time as I tried to learn everything I could about policy work and advocacy.

From the first day, I was treated like a member of the team, not “just an intern.” The work was challenging, but I loved every minute of it. Not only did I do research, analyze policies, and make recommendations, I also had other great opportunities such as attending House and Senate appropriations meetings, meeting with people from other organizations, and talking to individuals in the community. Additionally, I had the pleasure of working with Courtney, another very talented social work intern at Michigan’s Children.

During my time there, I learned so much from Michele, Matt, Bobby, and Kali. Valuable things that I’ll remember and carry with me throughout my social work career. Here are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned.

1. Change takes time, and often a very long time. When advocating for better policies, sometimes you have to start with small requests and continue to build on small changes to get the big changes you really want.

2. Doing your research is critical. To analyze policies to determine their potential effectiveness and offer recommendations, you need to know the facts about the issues.

3. Networking and building relationships with individuals and groups in other agencies and organizations is essential. The more people you bring to the table with a shared goal, the more power you have to affect change.

4. This most important thing I’ve learned. It is crucial to talk to the people directly affected by the issues. Reach out to community members in diverse populations and listen to what they have to say. They are the experts on their own experiences, their needs, and how to best address those needs without creating more barriers.

In addition to learning about policy work and advocating for positive change, I learned many things about myself.  I can do so much more than I ever imagined, I have good ideas, I love meeting people and building relationships, and I am passionate about advocating for children and families. The world should be a safe place for children and youth where they feel loved and have opportunities to learn, grow, and thrive. Part of creating that world is ensuring that parents and grandparents also have the supports they need.

My time at Michigan’s Children has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my graduate school education both professionally and personally.  Now that I’ve graduated and am ready to begin my professional career, I leave the organization knowing that I’ve made 5 amazing, extremely knowledgeable and talented new friends whom I will never forget. It has been a joy and a privilege to work with them and learn from them.

 Sherry Boroto, MSW is a former intern at Michigan’s Children.

Kinship Caregivers Need Support Too

March 29, 2018 – Over the past several months, I’ve been researching kinship care and talking to advocates to learn more about the issues caregivers face. I recently had the opportunity to meet with some informal kinship caregivers (not licensed foster parents) and hear about their challenges first-hand. Reading about the issues and hearing second-hand stories gave me an abstract overview of the situation. However, listening to caregivers tell their stories and imagining what it might be like to face their daily struggles made a much greater impact on me. Conversations often focus on the needs of children, and it’s vitally important that they do, but they don’t always focus on the needs of their caregivers. A child’s well-being is affected by the well-being of the entire family, so the needs of caregivers are important too.

As I listened to kinship caregivers tell their stories, some major themes began to emerge – feelings of isolation, loss of identity, lack of respite, and financial strain. These individuals spend most their time caring for children and have very little if any, time for themselves. Caregivers noted that one big barrier to relieving these stressors is the lack of affordable childcare, which prohibits them from working, finding respite, and interacting with other adults. Caregivers also expressed frustration over the amount of time spent talking with DHHS staff who were unwilling to assist them or were unfamiliar with the types of assistance available to children in informal kinship care. Trying to navigate the system without the support of knowledgeable staff prevented some caregivers from accessing available services.

Overall, the lack of support kinship caregivers receive is discouraging. These individuals are entrusted with the care of one of our most vulnerable populations, yet they cannot access the resources they need to ensure they and the children in their care thrive.

In a recent article about kinship care, I outlined some recommendations for addressing issues kinship families face. One recommendation was to learn more about the needs of this population. In addition to collecting and studying data, I urge legislators to meet with kinship caregivers and listen to both their stories and their suggestions on how to address the issues they face. Data only tells part of the story. The people living these experiences are essential in completing the narrative.

Another recommendation I made was to establish a statewide Kinship Navigator program. A recently passed federal act called the Family First Prevention Services Act would allow the state to develop one of these programs. The act provides federal funding for states to implement Kinship Navigator Programs that provide support to kinship caregivers, helps them complete paperwork, and links them with available services and other resources. The state would have to develop and fund the program, but the federal government would reimburse the state for up to 50% of the cost. It is imperative that any such program is available to both formal and informal kinship caregivers as both types of caregivers need support. Additionally, the program should provide the options for kinship caregivers to call and speak to a trained navigator or schedule a face-to-face meeting if needed. Now is the time to urge Michigan legislators to fund the development of this essential program.

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.

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