Speaking For Kids

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.

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