advocacy

Capitalizing on Afterschool Opportunities

October 9, 2019 – For years, Michigan’s Children has forged connections between issues and groups of advocates for the purpose of increasing access to afterschool programs for students who cannot currently access them. We are always asking, “How can we strengthen afterschool advocacy?”

To help answer that question, I am honored to join the sixteen-member 2019-20 class of the White-Riley-Peterson Policy Fellowship. Named for former Mott Foundation leader Bill White, former US Secretary of Education Richard Riley, and pioneer for public funding for afterschool programs Terry Peterson. This national fellowship offers participants the chance to improve their understanding of the art and science of policy-making for afterschool and expanded learning and to execute a project to advance access to afterschool and summer learning programs. As a White Riley Peterson fellow, my project will be to support increased collaboration among afterschool advocates towards increased investment into afterschool and summer learning programs. This work is supported by the Michigan After-School Partnership, a network that Michigan’s Children was instrumental in developing and leading over the last decade and a half.

There are some real windows of opportunity opening for afterschool advocates:

K-12 School Funding Reform. Michigan is entering a new debate over school finance that provides an opportunity to prioritize not only critical classroom supports for students, but also connecting students and schools with the resources of their communities that sustain and enhance their learning. Afterschool and summer learning programs are a critical example of effective school-community partnerships, improving reading and mathematics as well as social skills, and school engagement.

Everyone right now is talking about fixing the damn roads, but leaders have already begun staking out positions for a showdown over school funding in the coming years, which could open a window for afterschool and summer learning program expansion in Michigan. Our Governor and members of legislative leadership have named restoring K-12 school funding a top priority for their tenure. Major stakeholders including the traditional education community and the business community are engaged in coalition efforts to debate and establish their future education priorities. Afterschool and summer learning programs were even cited by the Michigan School Finance Research Collaborative as a necessary educational support for many students, including youth facing economic disadvantages. We must ensure that afterschool programs continue to have a say in growing school finance conversations.

Child Care. A window is opening for afterschool program expansion as well in the area of child care. Parents consistently praise the contributions of afterschool programs not only to their children’s learning, but also to their own ability to go to work or school knowing that their children are cared for and engaged. Rising child care investment from the federal government to the tune of billions means that the time is now to acknowledge the valuable care provided by afterschool programs and fund Michigan’s child care system enough to meet the need for infants, toddlers, and school-aged children.

Regardless when and how the opportunity presents itself, we have a tremendous opportunity to build stronger champions representing various interests and corners of society for expanding afterschool and summer learning programs to meet the full demand from Michigan students. I am excited to work through the White Riley Peterson Fellowship to support our continued push for statewide afterschool program funding.

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

You Don’t Know What Your Lawmakers Don’t Know

September 25, 2019 – At Michigan’s Children, we always remind you, our partners and supporters, that each of you have a unique understanding of the reality and impact of decisions made by state and federal policymakers, whether through your experience as a young person, parent, or caregiver, or through your experience as a professional who serves children, youth, and families. I’m writing today to share another example of just how much you have to offer.

Last week, before attending the Partnership for America’s Children, our national network of child advocacy organization’s annual meeting, Matt Gillard and I visited members of the Michigan Congressional delegation to better understand the current federal landscape and advocate for investments into critical supports for Michigan children, youth and families. While we have consistently beaten the drum for child abuse prevention, afterschool, and other programs, including communications to them over the summer, we were surprised to learn that some of our delegation’s key staff did not know:

  1. That child abuse primary prevention funding in Michigan has fallen dramatically and consistently over the course of two decades.
  2. While last year’s federal budget awarded more funds for afterschool and summer learning programs through “21st Century Community Learning Centers” grants, the grant formula led to an overall cut in funding awarded to the state of Michigan, which has led to the closure of afterschool programs in districts where student demand for these programs already outweighed the number of spots available.

We can’t always blame our elected officials for not being up to date on everything in their community – they’re handling a lot of issues and concerns all at the same time, and bandwidth is limited. Knowing what they don’t know represents an opportunity to be a resource. We can be proactive about helping our state and federal officials understand what is going on by consistently sharing information with them about what’s happening in our own lives and work in service of children, youth, and families in a way that creates a relationship between you, your organization, and their office.

It doesn’t have to take a lot of time – if you have just a couple minutes, ask their office for staff emails and put their general office and individual emails on your email newsletter. If you have an event coming up, take a couple of minutes to invite them, or see if they or their district staff can come visit you at another time. They often have in-district meetings that might be happening nearby. If you can find even a few minutes every month or two to keep your lawmakers in the loop, or for a quick face-to-face conversation, you are well on your way to establishing a back-and-forth relationship where your lawmakers are learning about important things going on in their community, and where you become a resource for them.

Senate budget talks have stalled and Congress will pass a continuing resolution to delay negotiations until at least November, which means we are still a couple of months away from the next chance for serious negotiations between the House and Senate that would result in a federal budget. Take advantage of this impasse over the fall to remind your lawmaker that Michigan’s children, youth, and families are our top priority! You don’t know what your Congresspeople don’t know about what’s going on in your community until you begin to talk with them.

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

Public Policy Spaces are for Kids Too

September 25, 2019 – Earlier this week, representatives of governments from around the globe were asked to do more than just consider the perspective of an often muted generation. Members of the United Nations were urged to step up and embrace policy changes focused on saving our planet. However, it was truth spoken to power by 16-year-old activist, Greta Thunberg, that not only polarized conversation around climate justice but reminded the ‘adults in the room’ of this fact: public policy and advocacy are spaces for youth voices too.

Like, Greta Thunberg, I too was an advocate for a host of issues and policy platforms I held dearly and reflected my values at age 16 and younger. While many of my peers were often discouraged from sharing their own personal views on politics, news and other pressing current events, here I was not only conversing these topics with older people but engaging in debate, which often resulted in finding common ground even amid heated discourse. These vivid and engaging experiences are a major factor in why I’ve continued my advocacy into adulthood.

Nonetheless, in my experience of working in collaboration with our state’s youngest residents and constituents, I’ve heard the epithet of not being able to vote as an excuse to dissuade their interest and involvement in public policy spaces. After being turned down for expressing real, raw experiences time and time again, we, as the ‘adults in the room,’ have collectively diminished their will to contribute in these spaces. Consequently, many of our youth carry this doubt into adulthood – when they are able to vote or even run for office themselves.

At Michigan’s Children, it’s our steadfast commitment to ensuring public policy reflects the voices of unheard generations and encourage all youth to contribute by becoming change agents, voicing their perspective and experiences directly to policy-makers and influencers alike. For decades, Michigan’s Children has witnessed the very real impact of elected officials hearing directly from constituents, including the K-12 student who feels, they “shouldn’t be here, but in school,” as Greta Thunberg stated in her testimony at the United Nations this week.

As one of the leading public policy organizations in our state, let us be clear: Michigan youth, you absolutely belong and are welcomed here.

For more information on how to become civically engaged beyond voting, check out this online resource and look at the many ways that Michigan’s Children learns from youth and families on our website. We would love to work with you to amplify your voice.

Adam Bingman is the newest edition to Michigan’s Children staff team serving as Director of Communications and Outreach.

Fixing Michigan’s Child Care System – a Big Lift but What a Payoff

September 4, 2019 – In one my favorite coffee shops in downtown Lansing, I arrived far ahead of the crowd one morning and had the chance to chit chat with an affable shop worker while she set up for the morning rush. A sandy-haired little boy sat at a nearby table littered with crayons, markers, coloring materials and an imitation toy I-pad. “Cute kid? Is he yours?” I asked, approaching Suzie, around 40-ish. “My grandson,” she answered, looking stressed. “His mother needed help today. He’s really quiet, though.”

In an instant, my heart filled in the rest of this sad picture. The young mom didn’t have a reliable childcare option for her boy, so her go-to was her mom. Also a working woman in a low-paid field, Suzie presumably reports to supervisors more willing or able to accommodate a small child dropped into one of their four-tops. Well, at least for a while.

So here is the dilemma of childcare – or missing childcare – in Michigan. It’s a Rubik’s cube style problem waiting for a big answer. But what if we could solve that problem for working parents, especially those toiling near the bottom of the income-earning chart, and in the process lift them up and boost Michigan’s economy? What if parents had reliable child care that offered a safe, affordable and enriched environment for their tikes? The answer is, we certainly can do it if we exercise our public will and political muscle. We can do it by moving public policies that make sense for our friends and neighbors and in doing so change big systems – workplace, the economy, and education – for the better.

At Michigan’s Children, I frequently hear a gravelly voice shouting into a phone or person on the other side of the drywall between us: “Forget Fixing the Roads! Forget the Roads! It’s Child Care. Child Care! Fix that!” Michigan’s Children has made improving child care a major pillar of its Public Policy Playbook this year and previously by raising awareness among influence-leaders and grassroots advocates, amplifying the voices of families in crisis, and working directly with policymakers and lawmakers. Now new research from the Urban Institute offers interesting insights for advocates like us working to improve child care in Michigan. It starts with a few “What If?” propositions and captures data that paints a different picture of what our state workforce and economy would look like if only we got child care right. If we could raise our eligibility for the subsidy to say, 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, there’d be big gains in the number of people entering the workplace, moving tons of kids and families out of poverty, and improving the state’s economic climate.

Sounds good? But here’s the problem. While our state receives federal funding from the Child Care and Development Fund, the government’s major program for supporting child care for families earning low wages, and while we have one of the lowest eligibility levels in the country, fewer than half of those eligible actually receiving it. Why? Let me drop this bomb right now. Because we have a seriously broken child care subsidy system in Michigan that doesn’t work for families or providers. Evidence of that is that many home-based providers are retiring and the system’s low pay isn’t attracting enough new providers; in many counties, licensed care for infants and toddlers is hard to find, leaving “child care deserts” around the state where there just aren’t available providers for families who need them. Child care is mostly unavailable during nights and weekends when many parents work, or for those whose work schedules are often unpredictable. Others who would like to ask family, friends, and neighbors to care for their kids aren’t accessing the subsidy either because its rules restrict who the subsidy can go to. Then there are those beleaguered parents who have a child with a mental health illness or behavioral problem. They’re frequently dropped by providers who don’t have the basic training to work with these kids, a problem that could be fixed if the state employed more certified mental health consultants to advise providers and parents through those situations. All of these reasons add up to why more families in Michigan don’t access child care subsidies.

By raising the child care subsidy eligibility from roughly 130 percent to 150 percent of poverty (resulting in a maximum annual salary threshold of $31,995 a year for a family of three) and ensuring access to the subsidy for all families who are eligible for it, twice as many children would receive the subsidy in Michigan from fewer than 35,000 to 79,300 kids. More children would be safe and secure and engaged in learning and personal growth. More parents would be able to work with peace of mind. With more access to child care for working families, 12,500 more mothers would be able to join the workforce and an additional 24,500 children would emerge from poverty, not insignificant in a state where 1 in 4 children are born into poverty.

Currently, there’s not one set eligibility threshold for the child care subsidy. The guidelines vary by state from 118 percent to 300 percent of poverty, according to the Urban Institute. Michigan is among 15 states with income eligibility at under 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.

The study used data pulled from the 2016 American Community Survey and focused on labor force participation and family income. It determined (not surprisingly) that the lack of accessible child care is a major barrier to work for parents because it’s hugely expensive. The national average cost of child care for a child in a child care center is $10,000 a year – rivaling mortgage, rent and a college education. Increasing the state’s child care subsidy would allow more parents to choose quality child care while boosting parents’ employment earnings. The effect on our economy: Fewer people in poverty, and an improvement to our state’s overall economic health.

Of course, changing eligibility alone won’t fix anything if we don’t fix the child care subsidy system in Michigan – a key workplace issue that’s long overdue for a solution. So let’s get to it. Urge your elected leaders in Lansing and Washington to structurally fix the system and ensure we fund it adequately so that more of our families can improve their standard of living, creating a better future for their children and our state. When parents are away at school or work, their kids need to spend time in quality child care, not coffee shops.

-Teri Banas is the Communications Manager for Michigan’s Children, a mom, and coffee drinker.

Meet Alexis Coleman, Intern Motivated by Advocacy

August 28, 2019 – Hello! My name is Alexis Coleman and I am so excited to be spending this upcoming year as an intern at Michigan’s Children. I am a second-year graduate student at Michigan State University (MSU), and I am pursuing my Master’s degree in Social Work with a concentration in Organizational and Community Leadership. It’s hard to believe, but this is my sixth and final year as a student as MSU. Go Green!

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved supporting others and fostering connections. As a child, whenever asked what my dream job was, my immediate response was, “I want to help people.” When pushed to further identify what “helping people” meant, I found myself struggling to answer. All of the other children knew that they wanted to be teachers, doctors, astronauts, lawyers, or veterinarians, but I couldn’t find a title for what it was that I wanted to do. It was at this time that I dedicated myself to finding out.

I spent my middle- and high-school years assisting children in the classroom, participating in mentorship programs, and volunteering with local community organizations. During my time as an undergraduate student at MSU, I began to explore my passion for helping at a much deeper level. However, it wasn’t until my junior year when I began working with and advocating for young people who were involved in juvenile justice situations that I felt I had finally found what it meant for me to help. It was through this experience that I suddenly became aware of the many injustices and inequities facing these young people and their families. Many had experienced various traumas related to substance abuse, homelessness, abuse and neglect, poverty, and mental health issues. However, rather than placing focus on how to better support and empower these young people and their families, they were stigmatized and deemed a lost cause.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed working directly with and fostering connections amongst these young people, I found myself feeling as though I couldn’t play the advocacy role necessary to empower them and ensure that their voices were being heard. It is because of this that I chose to pursue an MSW degree, and further, an internship at Michigan’s Children.

Michigan’s Children places focus on advocating for children and their families through influencing public policy, which is absolutely essential in the political process. Through its education and outreach services, Michigan’s Children works to ensure that policies are being adopted in the best interest of children and their families.

Michigan’s Children believes that children and their families should have a voice, and I look forward to advocating for these voices to be heard.

– Alexis Coleman is an intern at Michigan’s Children in her final year of graduate school at Michigan State University where she is pursuing her master’s degree in social work.

Meet Reuben Glasser, Michigan’s Children Summer Intern

My first memory of talking politics was in 2008 under the blazing midsummer Indiana sun. Standing where the cornfield met my grandparent’s well-groomed yard, I chatted with my Grandpa Steve about the upcoming election. We were collecting the bits and pieces of golf balls scattered among the corn stocks that we had shot with his 22-caliber rifle. I was trying to coerce him into voting for Obama, the candidate I liked, but had no way of voting for – I was only eight. My Grandpa, a Vietnam War veteran, had always leaned towards the right. He was cautious about the young prominent black politician making waves throughout the country, especially as a liberal from Chicago. What did Obama know about the rest of the country? What did he know about the rural Midwest? But I was relentless and I knew Obama’s platform better than your neighborhood canvasser. I had studied his website, watched him debate, and his campaign was all I rambled about. At the end of my visit, I had convinced my Grandma, an easier sell, but my Grandpa has yet to confess whom he voted for.

Since 2008, I’ve continued talking about politics. While at Kalamazoo Central High School, I volunteered for local elections and following the Parkland Shooting, I co-founded a student activist network known as Students for Gun Legislation, an organization that recently spread across four states. During my time as the president and co-founder, we were covered by international media – the BBC, CBC, Al Jazeera, Dazed, and NPR, along with countless other local news sources. Organizing town halls, speaking at press conferences, and marching through the streets covered in bright orange, taught me the importance of community involvement and collaboration. When I spoke to federal and state representatives, I made sure that not only was the youth’s voice heard, but my community’s voice as well. I was born and raised in Kalamazoo, the home of not only the 2016 Uber Shooting but much more deadly gang violence and weekly shootings that have left families broken. I love my city and I love its people, but similar to the rest of this great country, we have much to improve upon.

In the summer of 2018, I organized the intern and volunteer staff for George Franklin for Congress. My favorite part, of course, was the conversations I had while working. Whether it was talking to George about strategy and gun violence, or to a voter about their issues and how we planned on addressing them, I listened and learned. That campaign opened my eyes to the diversity within my district that I wasn’t aware of. That summer I also had the privilege of volunteering for Voters Not Politicians as a regional spokesperson. The ballot initiative I promoted passed with overwhelming support; unfortunately, George Franklin didn’t make it beyond the contested four-way primary.

In early September 2018, I moved to the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor to start my path towards higher education. Aside from working on my education in my first year, I fought against a repulsive sexual assault policy that forced victims of sexual assault to be directly cross-examined by their alleged assailant. I wrote a brief on social media use and website effectiveness for Megan Kathleen Cavanagh for Michigan Supreme Court. And I started Michigan Political Consulting, the premier political consulting firm at the University of Michigan.

This all lead me to a conversation with Robert Dorigo Jones, Michigan’s Children Policy and Outreach Associate, and Michigan’s Children’s President & CEO Matt Gillard about working as a 2019 summer intern at Michigan’s Children. I happily accepted their gracious offer and am pleased to introduce myself as Michigan’s Children’s latest intern. My focus for the summer will be to increase Michigan’s Children’s involvement of college students, develop plans for a Junior Board, bolster social media engagement, and assist in legislative duties. I’m excited to be part of such a well-developed and important non-profit. Serving Michigan’s Children is truly my pleasure.

Reuben Glasser is an intern at Michigan’s Children.

Meet Lauren, Our Newest Intern

November 16, 2018 – Hello!! I am beyond excited to be spending my final year of Graduate School at Michigan’s Children. Come May 2019, I will be receiving my Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Organizational and Community Leadership from Michigan State University, GO GREEN!

I started my journey at Michigan State in 2012 and have been here way too long (with a few degree changes) but, I have gained an incredible amount of knowledge and skills. In December, 2016 I completed my Interdisciplinary Studies in Social Sciences undergraduate degree which guided me to pursue an MSW degree.

When I was a little kid, I always wanted to be like my grandparents and my mom… a teacher. But, as time went on and I witnessed the difficulties my mom had in the public school system and I knew that teaching wasn’t the best route for me to take. I tried many different directions but ultimately end up with the same passion – to serve the children of our world. Because I have never pursued a teacher career path, I have instead interned at an after-school program, assistant taught summer school, and did community service coordination for high school students. Through all of these experiences, I have loved working with students.

So why am I working in public policy, and am I liking it? First, I am loving it! Second, you can advocate for the best interest in children by working directly with them, and we need to improve the systems that serve them through policy advocacy and change. It is critical to understand and relate to the populations you are advocating for. At Michigan’s Children – we are working to change the odds for children. In the future, I hope to take my experience in direct care and in advocacy to continue to better the lives of children and families.

This year at Michigan’s Children I have the great opportunity to learn about election advocacy and legislative advocacy. So far this year, much of our energy has been focused election advocacy and hosting NINE amazing candidate forums around the state. These forums bring students, young adults, community members, and adults out to ask their candidates for legislative office questions about issues that they care about most. At these forums, I found myself awestruck. The personal stories, questions, and answers all drive me to continue to do this work and it is truly amazing what you can learn once you open the floor to others and listen intently. It was truly empowering to watch citizen involvement in the political process and if those who asked the impressive questions are our future leaders, I am ecstatic and ready!

A couple others things I have focused on include the Raise The Age campaign, foster care research, early childhood advocacy, third grade reading research, and our social media networks (T: @MichChildren F: Michigan’s Children).

With the elections changing our state legislature and Governor, things are changing in our office. With these changes, Michigan’s Children will focus on educating policymakers on issues that matter most and continually encouraging others to get involved in the political process. This next phase will be incredible and I can’t wait to see what I can learn!

Lauren Starke is an intern at Michigan’s Children in her final year of graduate school at Michigan State University where she is pursuing her master’s degree in social work.

Vote Like Our Future Depends On It

Sometimes we lose track of the fact that our democracy is just like a hiring process. We look at different candidates for the job of representing our priorities in decisions about how to spend tax dollars and how to best structure the many public systems we depend upon. Then, after the campaign interviews, some of us in the “hiring committee” decide what candidate we want.

Now is the time for the job interviews, when we pay attention to what candidates are saying, and make sure that they are being asked important questions. To that end, we are working hard with partners in eight areas of the state to facilitate youth- and family-led candidate forums. This is some of my favorite work for three reasons:

  1. I LOVE working with our partners. The people we are working with for these forums do amazing things for kids and families in their communities every day AND THEN grace me with their assistance in with these forums, because they are so important. It is inspiring.
  2. I LOVE hearing what questions youth, adult students and other caregivers ask policymakers and those running for office when given the chance. Some confirm what we know to be true about the barriers people face, others are surprising and always informative to our work.
  3. And, of course, I also LOVE hearing the answers and seeing the power of direct interaction between constituent and candidate. We hear time and time again from the candidates involved that these forums are the campaign experiences that they enjoy the most.

After the job interview, we will decide who to hire. One of our staff wrote this phrase in a draft document, “Vote like our future depends on it.” I really like that, mainly because I know that it is true. We all know that decisions we make during this election will determine priorities in policy and investment for the next decade. This month, Michigan’s Children is starting our “Why I Vote” campaign. For me, voting is a huge responsibility, however, we know that many people don’t feel empowered to vote, or just aren’t able to, so we are gathering perspectives on why people around the state are taking that step to participate in the hire.

After the hiring is done, we supervise our new hires. We help them make connections between the decisions they are making and the things they said and learned from the hiring process. We help them better understand the people they are working for and how to do their job well. They need training, like most new hires, and they need support. We are there to give them that.

While I do like the job interview, and I also like the responsibility of hiring, I have devoted my professional life to the supervisory part. I know that all of our new hires (some more than others…) will disappoint us, some will not do what they said they would do during the job interview. And we will be there to gently (and sometimes not so gently) guide them back and make sure that they have all of the resources and backing that they need to help us move the state forward.

We need you to pledge with us to supervise the people we hire, beginning this November until the day they leave office. This is a pledge to follow up our vote with more action, to use our power as their supervisors to help them see the best path forward by connecting them with the most valuable resources that they have at their disposal – US, and the people who we serve.

Take this interview process seriously, vote as if our future depends on it, and then pledge to join Michigan’s Children for action.

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.

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

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