Speaking For Kids

Child Abuse Prevention Month ≈ Month of the Young Child

This month, child advocates across the country are promoting awareness around two very important issues.  April marks the national Child Abuse Prevention Month and the Month of the Young Child.  Coincidentally, these two topics have a lot of overlap since young children are more likely to be victims of abuse or neglect than older children, particularly infants.  In fact, almost 5,000 Michigan babies were determined to be victims of maltreatment in 2011 according to the latest Michigan Kids Count Data Book.  And unfortunately in Michigan, child maltreatment has been on the rise since 2005, mainly through the rise of neglect cases.  This is directly correlated to Michigan’s rising child poverty rates as evidenced by data – young children under the age of five who are receiving food assistance has also been on the rise from 24 percent in 2005 to 37 percent in 2011.

Unfortunately in Michigan, much of this rise in child maltreatment has been the result of the state’s disinvestment in family support programs.  Ensuring that families have the supports they need to provide a safe, healthy, and nurturing home environment is a strategy that improves outcomes for children, particularly those most challenged by their circumstances.  However insufficient access to basic needs like adequate employment, housing, food, clothing, and health care have resulted in unacceptable disparities in family and child well-being that continue to grow over a child’s life, including child maltreatment.

The good news is that the best time to prevent child maltreatment is to target families with young children.  Child maltreatment typically results from parents who struggle to adequately provide for their children physically, mentally, developmentally, and emotionally.  Supports like home visiting programs and other child abuse prevention programs give parents the tools they need to provide a nurturing and safe home environment to be their child’s first and best teacher while saving taxpayer dollars.  But as a state, we have struggled to provide these critical supports.  While funding to comply with the Children’s Rights Settlement has increased support to foster care and child protective services, funding to support child abuse/neglect prevention has not kept pace.  At the same time, Michigan has put additional stress on the lowest-income families with stricter lifetime limits to the Family Independence cash assistance program, reductions in the Earned Income Tax Credit, almost complete elimination of the clothing allowance for Michigan’s poorest children, and stricter eligibility requirements to access the Food Assistance Program.  Pulling out critical safety net programs from under Michigan’s most challenged families has a detrimental impact on the well-being of young children and increases the already unacceptable disparities in child outcomes.  Reversing some of the damaging changes to basic needs programs while expanding access to child abuse prevention programs are essential to ensure that all children are safe, healthy, and ready to succeed in school and life.

As part of Child Abuse Prevention Month, the Michigan Children Trust Fund is hosting its annual Prevention Awareness Day on Tuesday, April 16th on the Michigan Capitol Steps.  This event is a time to recognize Child Abuse Prevention Month and honor all the children and families in our state.  It’s also a great time for child welfare advocates across the state to talk to legislators about the importance of prevention programs and basic needs programs and how they benefit your family and your community.  As legislators negotiate the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year, hearing about the immediate family and child benefits as well as the long-term savings to the state that child abuse prevention programs provide is critical.  Equally important for legislators to hear about are the detrimental child outcomes that result from family stressors related to income insecurity, inadequate health care, and the like.  Will you take part in Prevention Awareness Day activities on behalf of Michigan’s most vulnerable children?

More information about Prevention Awareness Day is available on the Children’s Trust Fund website.

-Mina Hong

Let’s Learn from President Obama’s Early Learning Plan

Tomorrow, President Obama is expected to reveal his budget recommendation for federal fiscal year 2014, which begins October 1, 2013 and ends September 30, 2014.  With his budget proposal is expected more details on his early education plan – a plan that early childhood advocates have been touting since his State of the Union Address in February.  The details that we do know about his early childhood plan include:

  • a new federal-state partnership to expand prek to all middle- and low-income four-year-olds,
  • an Early Head Start–child care partnership to expand access to early learning for children before four-years of age, and
  • expanding evidence-based, voluntary home visiting programs.

While most folks know that the Congressional divide makes it difficult for President Obama’s early childhood plan to gain any real traction, there is some real learning that states can take away from his plan.

First, to get all children school-ready, efforts must begin before kindergarten and even before preschool.  The President has laid out a clear path that not only addresses expansion of preschool for four-year-olds but also a plan that support the nation’s youngest learners – children prenatally through age three.  This is evidenced by his support to expand home visiting and programs targeting infants and toddlers through Early Head Start and high quality child care.  Here in Michigan, we’ve made great strides towards expanding preschool for four-year-olds at-risk of being underprepared for kindergarten but have struggled to keep our other early learning programs up to par.  While we’ve made progress by requiring all state funding to support only evidence-based home visiting programs, these programs continue to serve only a small fraction of all eligible families.  And our child care program continues to be one of the worst among the Great Lakes states and in the nation.  To see maximum benefits from the state’s efforts to expand the Great Start Readiness preschool program, increasing access to other high quality early learning programs before four-years of age is critical.

Additionally, President Obama’s early learning plan has been promoted by both U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.  This inter-departmental coordination and partnership to move the dime on children’s issues is a huge step in the right direction.  As Secretary Duncan put it, “it’s not too often that you find two government departments with overlapping responsibilities trying to work together hand-in-hand.” Luckily in Michigan, we are perfectly set-up to work across departments to tackle the multiple issues that children and families face.  First, Michigan has the Michigan Department of Education – Office of Great Start whose goals don’t solely focus on educational outcomes but also health and development, since these are critical components to ensure that children can succeed in school.  Additionally, Governor Snyder created the “People Executive Group” to coordinate people issues across state departments including the Michigan Department of Community Health, Department of Human Services, Department of Education, and Department of Civil Rights.  Both of these entities provide avenues to increase inter-departmental coordination and partnership to realize feasible strategies to address Michigan’s unacceptable outcomes for the most challenged children – children of color and children from low-income families.  We know that one sector or one department alone can’t turn the tide for children and families nor should they be solely responsible for doing so.  This type of coordination across education, health and human services is already happening in some local communities in Michigan, but state-level leadership to coordinate across departments can set an example for communities across the state.

On Wednesday, I look forward to hearing more about President Obama’s budget plans to support early learning, and hope that inter-departmental coordination will continue to be a part of his early learning plan.  Perhaps Michigan can take a cue from the federal government and follow in their footsteps.

Learn more about President Obama’s early learning plan on the Michigan Sandbox Party website.

-Mina Hong

Authority and Evidence

Last week, the Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill to expand the Educational Achievement Authority beyond the city of Detroit.  This is the most recent of a long line of conversations that educators, legislators and others have had over the years trying to build a path for struggling students, schools and communities to success.

Turning around the educational circumstances of our state does require that we focus some attention on the worst performers.  It is important that we do put additional resources, time and attention to those with the farthest to go – that is what it takes to improve equity in outcomes.  It is also important that we make sure that our efforts are steeped in what the research tells us will improve the educational circumstances of young people in our state.

Will shifts in who controls the decision-making for these students, schools and communities make a difference?  Perhaps.  Will shifts in control absent of other investment and strategy make a lasting difference?  Not on your life.  At the same time that the EAA conversation has been going on, we are facing more than a decade of state disinvestment and a failure to compensate for some particularly disastrous disinvestment from the federal government.  While philanthropic investment is certainly a critical piece, there is no consistent community opportunity to raise funds to compensate for lost public sector resource.

As the Senate takes up this legislation, we urge them to consider the following:

We know that young people face barriers to educational success that one system alone can’t solve – not the education system alone, not communities alone, and certainly not individual school buildings alone.  The Senate could include more direction about how resources to support extended learning, school-based health, positive behavior, and other services that have proven to increase student success would be targeted toward all schools facing restructuring demands.

Current actions that have diminished services for at-risk young people through cuts in the state budget are counter-productive to meaningful reform.  Disinvestment in the very communities the EAA legislation is attempting to serve does not promote innovation, partnership and reform.  Evidence-based support programs will need to be expanded in order to see real, sustainable improvement in school success for those most challenged schools, communities and young people.

Legislators can’t decouple the EAA conversation with the budget discussions in the Capitol over the next several months.  The path to success for the lowest performing students, schools and communities is the same as it has always been:  invest in proven strategies from cradle to career.

It is likely that the Senate Education Committee will take up this legislation quickly after returning from spring break.  Contact your Senators and let them know what you know to be true to increase the success of kids and schools; let them know that there are successful programs around the state that are assisting in this effort already and that those programs need to be available to more struggling young people and their parents.

At the same time, the Legislature continues to debate funding levels for critical programs that support educational success.  Those programs exist within the School Aid and Department of Education budgets, but they also exist within human services, health, workforce and higher education.  Let your Senators and Representatives know that without other investment, the EAA will not be able to show the kind of gains necessary for our state.

Learn more about the EAA legislation and what’s left undone in our latest Issues for Michigan’s Children publication.  To keep posted on the state budget process, visit our Budget Basics library.

-Michele Corey

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