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