Speaking For Kids

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.

Casting A Vote for Kids and Families

November 2, 2017 – I still remember the first time I ever voted – it was 2000, a waiter at a restaurant in Washington, DC passed a ballot to me, a first grader who had just learned the names of our “founding fathers”. Eager to show off my new skill, I proudly voted for my own hybrid ticket of Al Gore and Dick Cheney.

It’s probably for the best that six-year-olds aren’t allowed to vote, but their interests and, ultimately, their futures will be front and center on November 7, 2017, when communities across Michigan will vote for municipal and county officials, school board members, and a number of property tax increases, many of which would fund local public school facilities improvements.

Choosing the right local candidates is vitally important because not only will the winners make decisions that immediately impact the well-being of Michigan’s children, youth, and families, they also, more often than not, will be the people running for state house and Congress, governor or state-level office, and, maybe, even for President.

Local elected officials have the power to direct available resources towards issues of interest to local voters, including matters like education, health, and human services, and criminal and juvenile justice policy. School board members, for example, can ensure that diverse voices are included when planning facilities renovations and build relationships with community partners to bring the whole community’s resources to bear in public schools. County commissioners can allocate funds to court programs that divert youth from the criminal justice system or promote maternal and infant health. Sheriffs can work with their police departments to promote more equitable practices and build relationships with youth in their community. Simply put, local officials have a say in policies that affect the day-to-day lives of children, youth, and families.

It’s also incredibly important to elect local officials who uplift the voices and tend to the needs of children, youth, and families because, one day, those same people will run for a state-level or higher office. If you’re not satisfied with your own elected official for being out of touch with the needs of struggling kids and adults, you can begin to turn the tide by filling the benches of all political parties with candidates who truly put the interests of children first.

All politics is local, and all politicians get their start somewhere. We can ensure that youth and family voices, especially the voices of those who are struggling the most, guide policy change, and simultaneously lay the groundwork for a new generation of committed child advocates in our state and federal legislatures, by getting out on November 7 and choosing local political candidates who share these values.

Bobby Dorigo Jones

© 2019 Michigan's Children | 215 S. Washington Sq, Suite 110, Lansing, MI 48933 | 517-485-3500 | Contact Us | Levaire