Speaking For Kids

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!

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