Speaking For Kids

Elections Are Inspiring

I’m consistently educated and inspired by constituents and policymakers alike when the two groups are brought together. I’ve been so fortunate to have been part of Michigan’s Children’s intentional creation of these opportunities for the last 18 years. They take many forms, but always include direct communication between young people, families, the people who serve them and policymakers. During the campaign season, these opportunities are so critical as our citizenry decides who will be representing us in Lansing and Washington, DC. It is important for constituents to hear what candidates for office are saying about issues of concern to them, and for candidates to hear those issues and be held accountable for articulating solutions that they will be prioritizing if elected.

This week, we kicked off our youth- and family-led candidate forum season with two forums (one in two-parts) led by families in two very different parts of the state. The first, at the Zeeland Early Childhood Center in Ottawa County, and the second at The Children’s Center in Detroit. Circle back to our Learning from Youth and Families page for more details about both of these successful events, check out what we tweeted through the forums, and here are just a couple of highlights for me:

  1. Most of the eight candidates running for the 30th State Senate and the 90th State House districts in Ottawa County looking down the table at each other and remarking about their commonalities in supporting early childhood programming and wanting to help to improve the mental health system in our state.
  2. The vast experience and enthusiasm that all five of the attending candidates running for the 13th Congressional District are bringing to that race, a race in a district that had been represented by single Congressman, John Conyers, Sr. from the time before these candidates were even born.
  3. The flexibility and responsiveness of the single candidate running for the 1st State Senate attending (though others had confirmed) to forgo the more formal forum style and just sit with constituents and answer question after question.

Of course I didn’t think EVERYTHING that the candidates said would lead to investment and policy strategies helpful to the most vulnerable children and families in our state, but I couldn’t help but be inspired by the insight provided by the families themselves in the thoughtful questions that they asked, and by the time committed by the candidates to answer them comprehensively.

During the next four months, people are vying for the jobs that we will be hiring them for in November. On August 7, in the primary election, our first round of job interviews will be completed, and the field of applicants will significantly drop. Our elections matter. The people who we hire by electing them to office matter. Expressing our priorities and helping others to express theirs to the people who are tasked to represent those priorities matters.

We will continue to create and assist with opportunities to express those priorities around the state, and if you are interested in partnering with Michigan’s Children in your community, let us know. Personally, I can’t wait for the next one!

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

Reflections on My Internship

When I started graduate school, my very first class was a social policy class. It sounded a little boring, and I couldn’t imagine enjoying it. Much to my surprise, I loved the class and I loved learning about the social policies that affect the well-being of all people. I wanted to learn more and experience what it was like work for an organization that helped shape these policies. For the past 8 months, I’ve had the honor and pleasure of doing that as an intern at Michigan’s Children.

I remember the first day of my internship. As with any first day at a “new job,” I was excited and more than a little nervous. Would I do well? Did I really know enough about social policy?  I spent the following days reading everything I could about issues affecting the welfare of children. In staff meetings, I heard legal terms that were new to me and discretely (I hope) scribbled them down, so I could look them up later.  The following weeks and months were an exciting time as I tried to learn everything I could about policy work and advocacy.

From the first day, I was treated like a member of the team, not “just an intern.” The work was challenging, but I loved every minute of it. Not only did I do research, analyze policies, and make recommendations, I also had other great opportunities such as attending House and Senate appropriations meetings, meeting with people from other organizations, and talking to individuals in the community. Additionally, I had the pleasure of working with Courtney, another very talented social work intern at Michigan’s Children.

During my time there, I learned so much from Michele, Matt, Bobby, and Kali. Valuable things that I’ll remember and carry with me throughout my social work career. Here are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned.

1. Change takes time, and often a very long time. When advocating for better policies, sometimes you have to start with small requests and continue to build on small changes to get the big changes you really want.

2. Doing your research is critical. To analyze policies to determine their potential effectiveness and offer recommendations, you need to know the facts about the issues.

3. Networking and building relationships with individuals and groups in other agencies and organizations is essential. The more people you bring to the table with a shared goal, the more power you have to affect change.

4. This most important thing I’ve learned. It is crucial to talk to the people directly affected by the issues. Reach out to community members in diverse populations and listen to what they have to say. They are the experts on their own experiences, their needs, and how to best address those needs without creating more barriers.

In addition to learning about policy work and advocating for positive change, I learned many things about myself.  I can do so much more than I ever imagined, I have good ideas, I love meeting people and building relationships, and I am passionate about advocating for children and families. The world should be a safe place for children and youth where they feel loved and have opportunities to learn, grow, and thrive. Part of creating that world is ensuring that parents and grandparents also have the supports they need.

My time at Michigan’s Children has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my graduate school education both professionally and personally.  Now that I’ve graduated and am ready to begin my professional career, I leave the organization knowing that I’ve made 5 amazing, extremely knowledgeable and talented new friends whom I will never forget. It has been a joy and a privilege to work with them and learn from them.

 Sherry Boroto, MSW is a former intern at Michigan’s Children.

Kinship Caregivers Need Support Too

March 29, 2018 – Over the past several months, I’ve been researching kinship care and talking to advocates to learn more about the issues caregivers face. I recently had the opportunity to meet with some informal kinship caregivers (not licensed foster parents) and hear about their challenges first-hand. Reading about the issues and hearing second-hand stories gave me an abstract overview of the situation. However, listening to caregivers tell their stories and imagining what it might be like to face their daily struggles made a much greater impact on me. Conversations often focus on the needs of children, and it’s vitally important that they do, but they don’t always focus on the needs of their caregivers. A child’s well-being is affected by the well-being of the entire family, so the needs of caregivers are important too.

As I listened to kinship caregivers tell their stories, some major themes began to emerge – feelings of isolation, loss of identity, lack of respite, and financial strain. These individuals spend most their time caring for children and have very little if any, time for themselves. Caregivers noted that one big barrier to relieving these stressors is the lack of affordable childcare, which prohibits them from working, finding respite, and interacting with other adults. Caregivers also expressed frustration over the amount of time spent talking with DHHS staff who were unwilling to assist them or were unfamiliar with the types of assistance available to children in informal kinship care. Trying to navigate the system without the support of knowledgeable staff prevented some caregivers from accessing available services.

Overall, the lack of support kinship caregivers receive is discouraging. These individuals are entrusted with the care of one of our most vulnerable populations, yet they cannot access the resources they need to ensure they and the children in their care thrive.

In a recent article about kinship care, I outlined some recommendations for addressing issues kinship families face. One recommendation was to learn more about the needs of this population. In addition to collecting and studying data, I urge legislators to meet with kinship caregivers and listen to both their stories and their suggestions on how to address the issues they face. Data only tells part of the story. The people living these experiences are essential in completing the narrative.

Another recommendation I made was to establish a statewide Kinship Navigator program. A recently passed federal act called the Family First Prevention Services Act would allow the state to develop one of these programs. The act provides federal funding for states to implement Kinship Navigator Programs that provide support to kinship caregivers, helps them complete paperwork, and links them with available services and other resources. The state would have to develop and fund the program, but the federal government would reimburse the state for up to 50% of the cost. It is imperative that any such program is available to both formal and informal kinship caregivers as both types of caregivers need support. Additionally, the program should provide the options for kinship caregivers to call and speak to a trained navigator or schedule a face-to-face meeting if needed. Now is the time to urge Michigan legislators to fund the development of this essential program.

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.

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