Speaking For Kids

The Job Isn’t Finished: Preventing Human Trafficking

February 14, 2018 – The last few legislative sessions in Michigan have resulted in positive progress towards address human trafficking – tougher punishments for traffickers, more services for the trafficked, and Legislators should be commended for prioritizing this issue.  The Governor recently proclaimed January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month in Michigan, as he has done over the past several years.  Despite this attention and effort, however, there has been limited state attention to investment decisions that would help to prevent trafficking in the first place.

We know quite a bit about who is at risk of being trafficked – not surprisingly, they are our most vulnerable young people.  They are current or former foster youth – The National Foster Youth Initiative reports that six in ten child sex trafficking victims had been served by the child welfare system and nearly nine of every ten child sex trafficking victims reporting to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) were in the care of social services or foster care when they went missing. They are homeless young people (sometimes the same group, but not always) – according to a recent study looking at youth in cities around the nation, including Detroit, fully one in five homeless youth had been trafficked and nearly one-third reported involvement in the sex trade.

The good news?  There are things that we can do to stabilize the lives of these young people and prevent their victimization.  And we can do these things right now –in the coming weeks, the Legislature will release their proposed budgets for the coming fiscal year.  Here are a few things that they need to consider:

  1. Support Homeless and Runaway Youth by increasing funding for community organizations providing key services to this population. In Michigan, funding for these agencies hasn’t increased since 2001, despite significant increases in requests for services and needs of the youth requesting services.  And there are still counties in Michigan that are not covered by these agencies.
  2. Stabilize Foster Care Transitions. Some young people who have been involved in the foster care system will be assisted by strengthening the network of providers serving homeless and runaway youth.  But, there are a few more pieces necessary for this specific population, for whom the state of Michigan bears parental responsibility.
    1. Full funding for MYOI services in addition to staff. Last year the Legislature passed an increase in funding to ensure that MYOI staff are available statewide.  This year, they need to include increases in service funding that when combined with private philanthropy and federal investment can provide those services to every young person in Michigan who can take advantage of them.
    2. Invest state resource to end the cliff between traditional and extended foster care for 18-21 year olds; do more outreach and more tracking to get kids services through that system.
    3. Adjust the Fostering Futures scholarship so that it is available to more young people trying to obtain post-secondary credential – flexibility, better layering with other scholarship programs to cover real costs.
    4. Extend the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit to young people in or leaving foster care beginning at age 16.
  3. Invest in removing barriers to school attendance and graduation. We also know that young people who have successfully graduated from high school or have begun a path post-secondary are much less vulnerable to trafficking, but our failure to address young people’s traumatic experiences and their mobility has created additional barriers for many young people. We can remove these by investing in discipline systems that don’t punish behaviors borne of trauma; in attendance supports for kids without consistent residences; and in initiatives targeted toward getting more kids in care through high school successfully, including using alternative credit-bearing models and strengthening the adult education system.
  4. We must also sustain and improve access to other critical services for young people. Physical and behavioral health care access through the Medicaid program, including access to mental health and substance misuse services is essential, as is access to food through the SNAP program.   Congress is talking right now about adding work requirements to both Medicaid and SNAP, which would have specifically adverse impacts on building stability for these young people.  If Congress block grants or sends more decision making to the states for these programs, which has also been discussed, our Governor and Legislators will have to protect these young people.

Michigan’s legacy of work to address human trafficking could be strengthened by building stability for our most vulnerable young people.   Over the next few months, we need to take that opportunity.

Michele Corey is Michigan’s Children’s Vice President for Programs

Moving Forward in Child Care: Who’s at the Table?

I was born in 1994, on the eve of welfare reform, when our state and many others around the country cut a few too many loops in the social safety net, leaving a gaping hole in public support for, among other things, child care for families in need. For my entire life, child care has been positioned as a personal responsibility: individual families must navigate the child care market themselves. But we know that the child care market doesn’t work for all kinds of people – the demand is there, but 50% of Michiganders live in a child care desert, and the options that do exist are often unaffordable – and when markets fail, public solutions are required.

Last week, I had the honor of attending the 30th annual child care advocates meeting, Moving Forward, hosted by the National Women’s Law Center, to learn about how the rest of the country is working to find child care solutions for those in need. While we’re still fighting to make the basic case that child care is a public issue worthy of increased public support, I left the week with two key thoughts for child care policy advocacy in Michigan: that we cannot have equitable child care without broad representation from families and providers at the decision-making table, and that the best strategy for winning a statewide child care investment will be one executed in partnership with and with the leadership of those very same providers, parents, and caregivers. These are by no means groundbreaking insights, but they’re critical nonetheless for the success of child care advocacy in Michigan.

One panel focused on the need for child care options for those who work outside the “traditional” hours of 9am – 5pm. I learned from a former restaurant worker and from a 24/7 child care provider about the scheduling difficulties that come with non-traditional-hours child care; about the need for workers who are particularly skilled at getting young children to go to sleep; about the crucial role of family, friends, and neighbors in this space; and about the ways that many industries operating at nontraditional hours are unconscionably inhospitable to parents or caregivers with child care needs. As Mary Beth Testa of the National Association for Family Child Care said, we must pay attention to “bedtime best practice!”

As a 23-year-old who can barely keep my houseplants alive and who had a unique FFN child care situation growing up, I know that I needed to learn from parent and provider voices in order to break down and rebuild my assumptions of what Michigan’s ideal child care system would look like. Understanding non-traditional hours for child care is just one example of how finding an equitable child care solution will similarly depend on whether we include at the decision-making table low-income families and providers, families and providers of color, and others in need who are underserved by our current child care system and subsidies. We need folks from every corner to have a role in improving our child care system if we want it to work.

For that same reason, child care advocacy will succeed in the long run as long as the voices and power of parents, providers, and caregivers, those who carry the daily burden of making the child care system happen, especially those who face the greatest challenges, are held at the center. Policymakers need stories and public pressure not only to understand what kinds of solutions are needed, but also to buy in to the need for child care solutions in the first place.

We seek to raise parent, provider, and caregiver voices through our KidSpeaks, FamilySpeaks, CommunitySpeaks, and candidate forums, and we will continue to eagerly partner with organizations that promote authentic voice and equity as foundational to their work. The more voices are mobilized, the more easily we’ll be able to make the case that child care is not just a personal responsibility but a cause we must collectively support. Without parents, providers, and caregivers, we will never achieve the child care solution Michigan needs.

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

Leading for Kinship Caregivers

Growing up, I had an especially close relationship with my grandfather. Next, to my parents, he was my ‘go to’ person when I was sad, afraid, or just needed a hug. He was the person with whom I had the strongest bond. I was also blessed with a large extended family of loving aunts, uncles, and cousins. Holidays were joyful, boisterous affairs with everyone gathered at my grandfather’s house. At the end of the day, I’d return home exhausted. Those were the happiest memories of my life. My own happy childhood memories helped me realize that having the support of a loving family is essential to a child’s well-being. This is one of the many reasons kinship care has become an important issue for me and why I was so excited to lead Michigan’s Children’s work on kinship caregivers.

It wasn’t until I started graduate school when I first heard the term ‘kinship care’ in one of my classes. Kinship care as opposed to foster care placement is preferred because children generally have better outcomes when they live with a loving relative rather than a stranger. This makes sense to me. If my parents had been unable to care for me, I would have wanted to live with my grandfather. He was the one person, besides my parents, who I knew would always love me, take care of me, and keep me safe. Knowing this, I could understand why children would benefit from living with a close relative.

On the first day of my internship with Michigan’s Children, I was asked to research what issues kinship caregivers face and how other states are addressing them. An integral part of being a leader is getting to know the population you serve and understanding their needs, so I started learning from kinship caregivers and others who are familiar with the issues they face. My research led me to write “Critical Issues in Foster Care: Kinship Caregivers”. I spoke with grandparents who are raising their young grandchildren and were being evicted from their home because their landlord did not allow children. Not only did they suddenly have to care for their grandchildren while dealing with the grief of their own child’s substance abuse, they were also going to be homeless in a few short weeks. Hearing their story and reading about others like them, made me more passionate about uplifting their voices by leading policy advocacy for assistance to kinship care families in need.

At a recent seminar, I mentioned the article I was writing on kinship care issues, and the legislative director for a state representative approached me. His representative had recently held a town hall meeting to learn more about kinship care issues, and he wanted to hear my recommendations. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to advocate in a way that could make a real difference for kinship care families. A few weeks later, we all met, and I provided additional information on kinship care and shared policy recommendations. We also talked for a few minutes with the representative, who shared his enthusiasm about moving forward to help address kinship care issues. While I’ve had many great days during my internship at Michigan’s Children, that day was one of my best so far.

It is an honor to lead this advocacy effort to help kinship caregivers in a meaningful way. Our work is far from done, but I look forward to seeing some of our policy recommendations through.

Sherry Boroto is an intern at Michigan’s Children and is currently in her final year of graduate school at Michigan State University where she is pursuing her master’s degree in social work. Read her “Issues for Michigan’s Children” piece on kinship care.

© 2018 Michigan's Children | 215 S. Washington Sq, Suite 110, Lansing, MI 48933 | 517-485-3500 | Contact Us | Levaire