Speaking For Kids

Counting Our Successes and Fixing Our Failures

March 21, 2016 – As another annual Michigan Kids Count Data Book is released, it gives us several opportunities.  First, using county profiles available in the Data Book each year is a great way to draw attention to the status of children, youth, families and communities.  How are things improving or declining?  Why is that happening in your community?  It is also a great opener for conversation with local policy makers.  Sometimes, they really aren’t aware of some of the facts, like how much of their income people pay for child care, or how many births are to mothers without a high school credential.  Or whether or not their communities are improving or worsening on key issues like prenatal care for moms or child abuse and neglect.   Local advocates can use the Kids Count information to help position themselves as a resource to their policy makers – a helpful thing during a state budget season, an election year and beyond.

Secondly, it is important to examine the Data Book every year to scrutinize how our current investment and other policies are impacting the lives of families in our state.   The annual report offers us a chance to renew attention to long-standing needs, examine how our efforts have paid off, and expand discussions.  Here are just two critical examples:

  1. Family Literacy. With fully one in seven births in Michigan to moms without a high school credential, increased investment in adult education and other literacy initiatives remains imperative.  Our support of teen moms, while those rates continue to drop, must also include high school completion, post-secondary and career opportunities.
  2. Expanded Learning. Increasing poverty rates, costs of child care, and the majority of Michigan students not proficient on highlighted standardized tests make new state investment in learning opportunities outside the school day and year even more of an imperative.  By the time they reach the 6th grade, kids in poor families have received 6,000 fewer hours of assisted learning than their wealthier peers, mainly due to a lack of affordable and quality opportunities outside of school.

Michigan’s Children joined the Michigan League for Public Policy and local partners in Ingham County today for a release of the Data Book to local media around Lansing.  We did this to help highlight how state policy and investment needs to do better at supporting local innovation.  This community intertwines resources available through different entities and targets families with different kinds of needs to try to make sure that parents are supported in the care of their children, that any physical or developmental delays are caught early and that the best services are made available to assist.

It is quite amazing what local communities do with limited resources, but their innovative and effective practices are often stymied by a lack of state and federal investment in necessary programs.  One example that is highlighted in this year’s Data Book is the share of families with children ages 0-3, who participate in Early On.  In Michigan and in Ingham County, that share is less than 3 percent.  Nationwide, estimates are that fully 8 percent of that population qualify for early intervention services, so we are well below that mark.  This is due in part because Michigan fails to invest state funding in that program, unlike the vast majority of the states.

Building on the disaster in Flint this spring, Michigan legislators invested state dollars for the very first time to support Early On in Flint, recognizing that it is a critical part of the intervention and investment that will be needed for years to come to deal with that human calamity.  But, the Data Book points to the need for Early On investment around the state.

Take the time to review the Data Book for key insights into your community, and use its findings to make your best case for local, state and federal investments in children and families where you live.  We are here to help.

– Michele Corey

Bold Steps Force Improvements in Our Child Care System

March 17, 2016 – On March 8th, my family welcomed Emmie to our lives as we grew to a family of four (technically five if you count Hobie the cat).  Now with two children under the age of three, we have been preparing for what this means for our child care needs when I return to work from my maternity leave.  It also has me thinking about the state of our child care system here in Michigan – much like I did just over two years ago when we were getting ready to send Lennon to child care.

Some things have shifted for the better in the past two years when it comes to our child care system.  At the end of 2014, Congress reauthorized the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) for the first time since 1996!  We know quite a lot has shifted in terms of how child care is seen in our society since the ‘90s when it was primarily a work support for low-income working moms.  Now integral and important not only for parents as a work-support but also as a critical partner in their children’s development, CCDBG reauthorization aims to improve the quality of care while also best supporting the needs of working parents.

CCDBG Reauthorization has been an important trigger, forcing states to look at their child care systems to figure out how to comply with these new regulations.  Michigan took some important steps last year even before we had to begin complying with this new federal law.

First, we began providing 12-months of continuous eligibility regardless of whether or not parents’ income shifted during that time or experienced temporary job loss – an important shift for Michigan.

We also increased the income eligibility exit threshold meaning that now families don’t face an immediate child care cliff if they begin to make a little bit more money.  Instead, families can continue to access the state’s child care subsidy until they hit 250 percent of the federal poverty level allowing families to experience some economic stability before losing their subsidy.

And finally, we began providing tiered reimbursement rates starting at 2-star rated programs, continuing to further incentivize families to access higher quality care and for higher quality child care programs to accept subsidized families.

Michigan also hired additional child care licensing consultants responsible for ensuring programs meet minimum health and safety requirements, though Michigan’s licensing consultants’ caseloads continue to remain higher than the national recommendation.

All of these important changes, however, were made because Michigan continued to experience declining child care caseloads and continued to have unspent federal child care money that we would have otherwise lost.  While all of these shifts are important, there are two things that Michigan continues to struggle with that need to be prioritized.  First, and thankfully this will need to be addressed due to the new CCDBG requirements, is our hourly reimbursement rate.  Michigan continues to be just one of three states that provides the child care subsidy in hourly form.  Not only does this make it challenging for families and child care providers alike, it does not align with the private child care market which CCDBG requires.  Like the vast majority of states, we must shift away from this archaic practice to one that meets the needs of families and providers – either a full-time/part-time rate or one that is based on monthly, weekly or (at a minimum) daily rates.

Second, something that is a Michigan-specific problem is our declining child care caseloads.  While the nation on average has seen declining caseloads of families accessing the child care subsidy, Michigan’s has declined much more rapidly and dramatically than other states.  This decline cannot be solely the result of higher than average unemployment, declining population, and the elimination of fraud within the child care system.  There is something more going on, and we cannot continue to accept this to be Michigan’s trend.  Efforts must be made to ensure that families who need support to access high quality child care are receiving that support to best meet their needs as working parents and their children’s needs as our next generation of workers.

At Michigan’s Children, we’re glad that CCDBG Reauthorization is forcing states to improve their child care systems.  We’re also glad that the Michigan Department of Education is currently taking the time to get input from stakeholders across the state on how our child care system can best meet the needs of working families.  2016 is the year for Michigan to make some bold movements forward to shift our child care system for the better.

– Mina Hong

When Parenting Extends Beyond Mom and Dad: Many Deserve to be Valued, Supported when They Step up

March 4, 2016 — Cradling my first child hours after her birth in a haze of sleeplessness and awe, I was overcome with the responsibilities of raising a new human being. A difficult birth left her under close medical watch for five days, and I spent many hours wondering over the unknowns, and if I would be up to the task. With each mistake and triumph in the months and years to come, I learned to parent aided with knowledge from others around me – my own parents, spouse, child care professionals, teachers and pediatricians. I learned parenting a child often involves an entourage – a team made up of various supporting specialties with mom/dad the quarterback calling the plays.

Parenting, like many disciplines, is both learned and a fine art. Over time, we grow as they grow. In March we observe Parenting Awareness Month in Michigan with the knowledge that this work is seldom effortless or accomplished without support from others. Parenting, as we know, often extends beyond mom or dad, to extended family, adoptive and foster families, even the state. “The village” in which our children are raised include schools, child care facilities, institutions and organizations we rely on and hope are also up to the task of supporting the growth of healthy and happy children, including and especially the most vulnerable among us.

Through March, Michigan’s Children is spotlighting a variety of parenting issues and partners we’ve worked with to highlight the critical nature of raising children with the community supports and services necessary to meet the challenges of 21st Century life. Our advocacy and work is rooted in improving our communities to do that with policies made in the best interest of children, youth and families. We believe supporting parents – a child’s first and best teacher – as they become the best parent they can be is a major part of public policy that results in stronger families, stronger communities and a more prosperous Michigan.

You will read about the importance of parents improving their own literacy and academic skills through adult education programs that recognize not just the economic benefits of a high school diploma and advanced training, but that parent literacy is a major factor in 3rd grade reading skills and a child’s own success in school and life.

We will spotlight the need for expanding services with additional state revenues for Early On Michigan, an early intervention program designed for families with children birth to 36 months who have developmental delays or medical conditions that can result in developmental delays. This home-based program has had great success in working with parents and their children for better outcomes.

Other pieces will describe the necessity for improving supports for foster, adoptive and kinship families in a state that has not invested adequately in those caregivers. Improved mental health services for children who have experienced trauma and better access to services in general are two issues we hear families discuss at our sponsored FamilySpeak events. It’s a timely topic as new foster care legislation is working its way through the state Legislature. Additionally, we will look at pilot programs aimed at family reunification that will help parents become better parents for their children.

Take this journey with us this month. It’s our hope parenting Michigan’s children gains new advocates not just this month but year-round.

Parenting Awareness Month is a Michigan initiative to promote awareness, education, and resources – through state outreach and local efforts – emphasizing the importance of effective parenting in nurturing children to become healthy, caring, and contributing citizens. Parenting Awareness Month is unique to Michigan and has been celebrated since 1993.

Teri Banas is a communications consultant working for Michigan’s Children.

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