Speaking For Kids

Supporting Families Isn’t Rocket Science

Child abuse and neglect cases in our state are rising. We’re seeing this not because parents have decided to care less about their children, but because the supports that families rely on for stability are failing. Many parents do not have access to the protective factors that support us when life gets really, really stressful, or to cope with trauma from their own past, and their children suffer for these unmet needs. Families are less likely to suffer the effects of toxic stress when they can access supportive relationships, knowledge about child development and parenting, and concrete supports during times of need.

We can prevent the vast majority of situations of child abuse and neglect, but Michigan’s Legislature is at risk of missing another opportunity to change the game for child abuse in our state.

The Michigan Children’s Trust Fund (CTF) provides grants for evidence-based services and local councils that work to prevent child abuse and neglect before they occur. Some problems that drive child abuse rates, like the lack of quality mental health services, affordable housing, or protections for survivors of domestic violence, will involve investment and policy changes beyond the scope of the CTF. But for families who need respite care so they can attend an important job interview, or some peer support or education to improve their parenting skills, the programs supported by the Children’s Trust Fund can mean the difference between periods of stability and periods of extreme stress.

Today the CTF is in its worst financial position in some time. Its once-robust funding streams, which include a state income tax check-off donation and a special license plate with dedicated revenues and which were meant to simultaneously raise funds and raise awareness about prevention, are quite bare. Today, the CTF plate is one of 40 fundraising license plates for causes or organizations, and programs like TurboTax make it easy to bypass the choice to make a tax donation. As a result, these revenues through the state have fallen by nearly $1 million since 2000, and federal matching grant revenues have fallen accordingly. The current year budget saw the first increase of state funding for the CTF in some time, a total increase of $500,000 in General Funds to expand its programs, but because of further declines in other revenue sources, that increase was only enough to sustain CTF’s existing programs.

Leaders from both parties recently gathered for the annual CTF auction, an event known for its “bipartisan” spirit where legislators generously support the CTF from their own pocketbooks, but what the Legislature gives with one hand, they take with another. The Senate’s proposed FY20 budget eliminates about half of the CTF’s current funding increase, which was allocated at the end of last year as the hole in the CTF’s budget grew again, and the proposed budget in the House would cut the full $500,000 increase. A loss of that size would force severe cuts to direct service grants funded by the CTF, which include home visiting, mentorship programs, and body awareness classes that are evidence-based to prevent child abuse and neglect.

Supporting families isn’t rocket science, it’s brain science. We know that toxic stress affects people’s growth and behavior, and we know what can help prevent or mitigate family instability from toxic stress. The public’s need for, and potential benefit from, child abuse prevention far outweighs the money that an annual auction can take in.

Tell your legislators that we can prevent abuse and neglect by making a meaningful investment in Michigan’s families through the Children’s Trust Fund.

– Bobby Dorigo Jones is the Policy and Outreach Associate at Michigan’s Children.

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

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