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.

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

Intern Dispatch – New Pathways for School Reform

October 11 – To fit the dark and rainy day, I spent the afternoon learning about current threats to the US federal budget and tax system; a discussion by Bob Greenstein, founder, and president of the CBPP. A lightning strike to the already dreary day hit as I learned that Michigan is at risk—42% of all Michigan spending comes from the federal government. This specifically affects the children of Michigan: if budget cuts go as planned, as the already low education budget in Michigan could be cut by 14%.

To provide some structure and clarity in regards to the state’s education budget, State Superintendent Brian Whiston spoke to address the current educational threats and issues. Whiston provided some truly innovative ideas to change schools and shared his efforts to get Michigan back on top. I was intrigued by his idea of using a ‘multiple pathway’ model for schools—an atypical learning environment for students who struggle to perform their best in a traditional classroom. Whiston’s plan would implement a school system that allows students to move up at their own pace rather than following an age-based grade system. The thinking behind a multiple pathways approach is that children who are the same age aren’t always at the same place academically, and this alternative school system would account for the individual differences among school children.

Something that I wish would have been implemented while I was in high school is Whiston’s hope to help high school students accumulate 60 college credits (paid for) by the time they receive their high school diploma. This plan has been backed by recent research in Michigan—students who graduate high school with at least a few college credits under their belt are much more likely to go on to get a bachelor’s degree than students who graduate with no college credits. I can definitely see why; not only are half of the college credits paid for by the state, but teens would be much more motivated to finish a degree program if they had already invested so much time and energy into completing half of it.

Possibly the most impressive part of the whole event was hearing how these educators are focused on the whole-child; their view of the ‘child’ never split off into ‘student’. These educators are focused on what happens outside of the classroom that affects the child’s sphere of learning. For example, if a child isn’t eating at home, they won’t perform well at school; if a child doesn’t have access to a dentist, a cavity can distract them from paying attention. Michigan is attempting to transition to a comprehensive whole-child approach.

As always, funding is the big issue. All of these ideas sound great in theory, but will not happen without monetary support. More money needs to be in special education programs. More money needs to go to schools that are in physically bad shape. More money needs to go to after-school programs, which are proven to help students both academically and socially. Essentially, the point is that a 14% spending cut would drastically hurt an already hurting education system. Luckily, there are educators in Michigan that care about children and want to help them grow and learn.

Maybe it isn’t such a dreary day after all.

Michigan’s Children continues our policy strategies that assist the state in these education goals set out by the Superintendent. We will work again with the Department and the Legislature to prioritize investment in multiple pathways like an adult and alternative education as well as competency-based options, in addition to a focus on the whole child approaches, including some targeted resources from recent increases to the state’s At-Risk funding. Read more about our whole child asks from last year’s budget process here, and our recommendations to focus better support on family literacy.

Courtney Hatfield is a student intern at Michigan’s Children for the academic year and will graduate this May with a degree in Social Work. Courtney is from Grand Rapids and is a graduate of Forest Hills High School.

Learning from Heroes of Michigan’s Children

With the annual Heroes Night dinner scheduled for later this month, Michigan’s Children hit the road recently for an inside look into the work of another group of Heroes through its first ever CommunitySpeak, which builds on the success of the signature KidSpeak and FamilySpeak forums. At CommunitySpeak, the heroes highlighted were those working directly with our most vulnerable children day in and day out at two of Michigan’s premier human services agencies.

 

Lessons from the Judson Center: Building a professional service workforce and supporting parents

State legislators, Congressional staff, philanthropic representatives and others convened at the Judson Center in Royal Oak, where attendees were welcomed by Lenora Hardy-Foster, CEO of the 93-year-old agency which serves children and adults across five counties.

Hardy-Foster made clear that “when you serve people who need mental health or foster care services, the job isn’t Monday through Friday but Monday through Sunday,” and she asked that policy makers consider children, youth, and families in care while deliberating changes to public services and budgets. Despite a small increase in the foster care administration rate over the past two years, she admitted that agency child welfare programs remain financially unsustainable, and, if service providers cannot afford to provide services, what happens to the children who need them?

And the financial uncertainties described were not limited to agency budgets.

Foster parent Sean shared his personal involvement with the system, having grown up with his own biological parents who fostered 24 kids throughout his childhood. After Sean and his wife had two children, they chose to begin fostering, and their oldest son has now continued the family tradition by becoming a foster parent himself. Sean asked for legislators to consider ways of increasing pay for social workers serving in the child welfare system, sharing that high turnover has resulted in the breaking of bonds between social workers and children, often increasing feelings of insecurity in children who have already experienced trauma.

Carr particularly got people’s attention when he spoke of a conversation he had with a particularly effective social worker who had worked with one of his family’s foster children: this social worker had decided to leave the profession and return to delivering pizzas, because pizza delivery would provide him with comparable pay and significantly less stress.

I must agree with Mr. Carr that increased wages are essential if we are to attract – and retain – strong talent in this critical field.

 

Lessons from the Children’s Center: Meeting the Holistic Needs of Every Child

Following a tour of the Royal Oak Judson Center space, the group boarded a charter bus to travel together to the day’s second location: The Children’s Center in Detroit.

“All children deserve to have their basic needs met – and to be able to just be kids,” opened Debora Matthews, the agency’s CEO. “Our children have needs right now, and it takes all of us remembering that these precious babies will be making decisions for all of us very soon.”

Attendees went through a guided tour of The Children’s Center, visiting, for example, the Crisis Center, where we learned that the agency is reimbursed $300 per “crisis encounter,” despite each encounter actually costing the agency between $1,200-$1,500. We also saw the “wishing well”, where children had posted their personal wishes – ranging from heartbreaking to hilarious – as well as walls filled with impressive art created by talented children and youth.

Following the tour, attendees were able to hear from additional youth and parents. One parent advocated for mental health services to become more accessible for foster children and youth.

This sentiment was echoed by a client of the organization’s Youth Adult Self Sufficiency program, which supports and empowers youth aging out of foster care. Now a student with a full scholarship to the University of Michigan, this particular young woman shared that she had fallen through the cracks because her behavioral challenges were not viewed as severe enough to make her eligible for funded mental health services. She was unable to qualify for care, despite having been sent blindly to Detroit from California by her stepfather.

“Any child who has been removed from their home,” she stated, “has experienced trauma and should be automatically eligible for services to help them get through that trauma.”

She and others were able to provide personal insight into the power of services and the need for their increased reach.  While many of the issues discussed were related to needs for additional funding, others were around the ways in which the systems themselves are structured.

The formal and informal conversations promoted further highlighted the importance of ensuring high-level decision-makers are educated regarding the populations and services impacted by their budget and other policy decisions. Particularly with our state legislators, due to the regular turnover resulting from term limits, it is critical that this education for legislators be ongoing. The participation by the Judson Center and The Children’s Center was critical in this case, as their staff members, youth, and parents understand better than anyone what the issues are, what works, and where gaps remain. For this reason, it is essential that the voices of youth and parents are uplifted whenever these conversations arise. They can speak for themselves, and they want to. They just often are not asked.

These issues are real, they are important, and they are time sensitive. We all must continually advocate for change. As Sue Sulhaney of Judson Center asked during CommunitySpeak: if not us, then who will be there for Michigan’s children?

Kayla Roney Smith is the Executive Director of the Hazel Park Promise Zone and College Access Network. Roney Smith, a graduate of Michigan State University, played a key role in coordinating the day’s events.

Child Abuse Prevention Awareness and Action

April 10, 2017 – During the month of April, in honor of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, people across the country come together to raise awareness about the need to better focus resource and initiative on child abuse and neglect prevention.

Child abuse and neglect are two of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) identified by the CDC as contributing to a variety of poor outcomes including costly future health problems. Get ready for the brain science segment of this blog. When young children experience adversity or trauma, their brains make more neural connections in the areas of the brain that control fear, anxiety and impulsiveness and they make fewer connections in the areas that control reasoning, planning and behavioral control. In effect, ACEs are wiring children’s brains to be more apt to respond to life circumstances impulsively through fear and anxiety rather than reasoning and control. This manifests in behaviors in adolescence that often lead to increases in school and community discipline and school failure. In adulthood, the stress on the body from this physical reaction to trauma results in increased risks of serious health problems like diabetes and heart failure.

Whew. Seems like it would make a lot of sense to try to stop these adverse experiences, including child abuse or neglect, from happening in the first place. Saving not only social costs for children, families and communities, but real dollars in the educational, justice and health systems. The cost-avoidance research is convincing and growing.

In fact, many people are already convinced. The fields of child welfare, mental health and juvenile justice have been working on better recognizing behaviors borne of trauma and building interventions that address those behaviors more appropriately for many years. Communities around Michigan, led by initiatives spearheaded by the United Way, Easter Seals and others are working to improve system responses to trauma as well.

The Michigan Association of Health Plans launched the Michigan ACE Initiative in late March intending to support current efforts by building more public awareness of the impact of ACEs, our ability to counteract them with proven interventions and the urgency of devoting more public and private resources to prevent them. Michigan’s Children co-chairs the Initiative’s advisory committee and is excited to re-affirm hard work around the state and help to mobilize more champions to marshal resources necessary to prevent ACEs and intervene more effectively when they do occur.

We are also glad to be working closely with our Prevent Child Abuse America Michigan co-chapter lead, the Children’s Trust Fund and other local partners on Child Abuse Prevention Month activities, messaging and action. Despite unparalleled evidence of the costs of failing to act, Michigan has disinvested almost entirely from abuse and neglect prevention programs.

Join us in celebrating Child Abuse Awareness Month by taking advantage of new opportunities to build champions for ACE prevention work at the community, state and federal levels and to let Michigan policymakers know that our lack of resource commitment is unacceptable. Supporting community initiatives and investing in proven practice is what is required to avoid the costly results of ACEs.

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

Famous Foster Care Story Brings International Attention to the Value of Grandparents

Aug. 11, 2016 – By now, those of us tuned into the Rio Olympics have heard of Simone Biles’ remarkable journey as the world’s most celebrated gymnast and as a child from foster care adopted by her grandparents.

As is the case of many great Olympians, the story behind the making of this Gold-medal winner can be as equally powerful and instructive as her athletic performance. Biles’ childhood story has struck a chord with many foster, adoptive and kinship families across the continents because it is so familiar.

After her biological mother and father couldn’t care for her because of their struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, Biles and her sister spent four years in foster homes until her maternal grandfather and his wife, Ron and Nellie Biles, adopted them. By Biles’ own account, the couple created a loving and secure home and one that provided her with opportunities to hone her extraordinary abilities on display before the world today. They also kept the sisters together, an issue raised time and time again by young people in the foster care system at our most recent KidSpeak.

In Michigan, the new role that grandparents assume when their children can no longer care for their own children is far from unordinary. It is estimated that nearly one-third of children in the state’s welfare system are placed with grandparents and many others are cared for by grandparents outside the system. This has become a growing trend in our society for a variety of social and economic reasons. Lack of parental support services to address drug and alcohol addiction, mental health concerns, and financial distresses leading to circumstances unconducive to child rearing continue to upend families and fuel this change in family structure.

Last October we highlighted the experience of one grandparent-turned-mom again, Deb Frisbie from the Grand Traverse area, after she joined other caregivers and policymakers in Lansing and shared what makes their situation work and how our public policies could better support families like Frisbie’s. I returned to Frisbie recently to discuss grandparent needs and found her continuing to work as an advocate for other grandparents and older adults raising young children who are facing foster care or in foster care.

Near or in retirement, older adults who are starting over as parents have financial limitations and frequently health concerns that make child-rearing more than an Olympic feat, even when the desire to raise one’s own kin is best for the children and all involved, Frisbie says. Once children are adopted from foster care, adoption subsidies are non-existent except for children with special needs, and those are often limited. Providing basic needs and health insurance for children often drains retirement accounts leaving adults’ own future well-being at risk. Because of such struggles, it may be advantageous for families to remain as guardians because of new assistance resources available, but those are again inadequate, Frisbie says.

Delays within state systems continue to be raised as a barrier by young people and caregivers. Frisbie has worked with one friend recently who assumed care for her three granddaughters when their mother was imprisoned. She was advised to seek a foster care license in which public support would enable her to raise the girls. After entering the review process six months ago, she continues to wait for that assistance while caring for the children. She’s already drained her savings account and is now worried she won’t make her next house payment.

Another barrier: We don’t have good information about grandparents and other family members raising children. According to Frisbie and other family advocates, better support is needed for the many families who are offering the best, loving support for children, and ultimately saving society the financial and personal costs of maintaining too many children and youth in a system without a permanent caregiver.

But to do that, we need to have a much better sense of who the caregivers are, in the child welfare system and out of it, and know more about their circumstances and challenges. Without a more consistent and reliable accounting of these families and their struggles, we are turning a blind eye to real needs and future solutions.

Teri Banas is a communications consultant working for Michigan’s Children.

Boosting Michigan’s Literacy: No Time Like the Present

July 29, 2016 – This week, Governor Snyder signed an Executive Order creating the Michigan PreK-12 Literacy Commission. Like many previous efforts, this Commission is charged over the next two years with assisting the K-12 system to improve student literacy skills. The group will be determined through appointments by the Governor, the Superintendent and legislative leadership from both parties.

The focus on literacy is warranted, and clearly not new. It is obviously a gateway skill – that is, the poorer your reading skills, the harder all classes are for you as you progress through the grades. Michigan students don’t test well on literacy compared to their peers in other states; in fact, at the same time that the nation as a whole has improved on 4th grade reading tests, Michigan’s performance worsened, resulting in a national rank on that indicator that places us solidly below 42 other states. And, some specific populations of kids continue to test more poorly than others – Black and Hispanic kids, kids from low-income or homeless families.

It isn’t as if we have not acted at all on this situation. There have been numerous initiatives within our K-12 system and the state Department of Education, including current Top 10 in 10 efforts. In the current legislature there has definitely been increased attention to the problem, and we even saw some investment in the last two state budgets, driven by concerns and efforts around improving our status. This investment was not enough, and some of it could have been better focused, as we’ve talked about before. Now we have yet another effort tasked with pinpointing strategies.

For candidates in this election year, for new legislators in 2017, for the Governor and for the new Commission members, here are some key facts. They are well known, and well researched.

Fact One: Gaps in literacy emerge as early as nine months. Some kids have stronger nutrition and better health, some kids are ready to more often, some kids are spoken to more often, some kids experience more stress and trauma in their early years. All these things impact literacy skill-building, and their impact starts right away. Efforts to support families early are critical to the state’s literacy success.

Fact Two: There is ample evidence (and common sense) that says that the educational success of parents has everything to do with the literacy success of their children. Family literacy efforts targeted toward building the skills of parents and other caregivers are critical to the state’s literacy success.

Fact Three: The 6,000 hour learning gap, experienced between lower income children and their financially more better off peers, contributes to a variety of skill gaps, including literacy, by the time young people are in middle school. As I’ve already stated, starting early and maintaining opportunities that expand learning through elementary, middle and high school are critical to the state’s literacy success.

Fact Four: Kids have to be in school in order to take advantage of even the most effective school-based literacy programming. Making sure barriers to attending school are addressed for families and young people, including unsafe streets, unsupportive school climates and exclusionary school discipline practices are critical to the state’s literacy success.

We have many effective strategies at our disposal inside and outside the school building to improve literacy, and it never hurts to focus efforts on learning more about what can be done. However, we hope that the Governor and Legislature don’t have to wait for this Commission to finish its work to continue to recognize and commit to needed investments in literacy. 2017 will bring shifting legislative leadership and the Governor’s final two years of legacy. There is no time like the present to reiterate what needs to be done, marshal the resources and take action!

– Michele Corey

Pack Up Your ‘Asks’ and Prepare for Your Capitol Day Visit

April 11, 2016 – If you’ve never sat on a crowded bus or taken a carpool at sunrise to the state Capitol for one of the many time-honored Legislative Education (substitute Action) Days, you really should add it to your bucket list. As one who wants Michigan to become the very best place to grow up and raise a family, you owe it to yourself and your state to help raise awareness about issues policymakers have the power to change. Organized by advocacy groups and professional organizations, an advocacy creates synergy fueled by the power of numbers bringing together strong, united voices to educate and move action.

The 2016 Michigan Kids Count Data Book gives us a county-by-county look at where child well-being stands and a great opener for talks with decision-makers on where we’ve been and where we still need to go. An upcoming opportunity to talk about child well-being and ways to prevent child abuse and neglect is happening on April 19 in Lansing. Organized by the Children’s Trust Fund of Michigan, it’s just one of many opportunities for ordinary people to come together and collectively draw attention to how we can build healthy families and communities.

Whether you’re attending this or another legislative day, here are some tips to help you before you go. Begin by knowing that speaking out is taking responsibility for living in a participatory democratic society. It’s in our national DNA. Your voice, your experiences, your take on life in your community is critically important for elected leaders to hear so they can make informed decisions on policy and budget deliberations. Research shows that only 10-20 percent of voters ever contact their elected officials. If our elected leaders are going to make decisions based on our best interest, they must hear from more of us and especially between election cycles.

What do they need to know? Use data, information and stories to inform lawmakers about what’s happening – good and bad – at home. Raise real-life success stories about programs that help kids and families and identify issues of concern. Stories are often most memorable with lawmakers and help support a case for maintaining funding for the good work at home. Identified concerns help recognize where new efforts should be applied. Consider how you want them to think and feel about what you’re saying. Anticipating the outcome will help you choose what you say and how you say it. Helping to educate decision-makers within a framework for change and providing solutions for problems can be powerful persuasive strategies.

Know your legislator. Know the committees they work with, especially if these are useful to moving your issues. Learn about the issues they’ve championed. Their office and campaign websites are a good starting point for those insights. Also become familiar with knowledgeable staff members who can serve as points of contact after the visit is over. Afterward, also make sure you leave behind something to remind them of your message, whether it’s a description of a particular program, a fact sheet or summary of key points. Lastly, leave them with a plan for next steps. And do take a photo you can share back home or with the lawmaker so they can include it in their communications with constituents. Ultimately, these visits can be the start of opening lines of communications and a solid relationship that will serve you, your issues and your community well long past the legislative visit.

Teri is a communications consultant working for Michigan’s Children.

Bold Steps Force Improvements in Our Child Care System

March 17, 2016 – On March 8th, my family welcomed Emmie to our lives as we grew to a family of four (technically five if you count Hobie the cat).  Now with two children under the age of three, we have been preparing for what this means for our child care needs when I return to work from my maternity leave.  It also has me thinking about the state of our child care system here in Michigan – much like I did just over two years ago when we were getting ready to send Lennon to child care.

Some things have shifted for the better in the past two years when it comes to our child care system.  At the end of 2014, Congress reauthorized the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) for the first time since 1996!  We know quite a lot has shifted in terms of how child care is seen in our society since the ‘90s when it was primarily a work support for low-income working moms.  Now integral and important not only for parents as a work-support but also as a critical partner in their children’s development, CCDBG reauthorization aims to improve the quality of care while also best supporting the needs of working parents.

CCDBG Reauthorization has been an important trigger, forcing states to look at their child care systems to figure out how to comply with these new regulations.  Michigan took some important steps last year even before we had to begin complying with this new federal law.

First, we began providing 12-months of continuous eligibility regardless of whether or not parents’ income shifted during that time or experienced temporary job loss – an important shift for Michigan.

We also increased the income eligibility exit threshold meaning that now families don’t face an immediate child care cliff if they begin to make a little bit more money.  Instead, families can continue to access the state’s child care subsidy until they hit 250 percent of the federal poverty level allowing families to experience some economic stability before losing their subsidy.

And finally, we began providing tiered reimbursement rates starting at 2-star rated programs, continuing to further incentivize families to access higher quality care and for higher quality child care programs to accept subsidized families.

Michigan also hired additional child care licensing consultants responsible for ensuring programs meet minimum health and safety requirements, though Michigan’s licensing consultants’ caseloads continue to remain higher than the national recommendation.

All of these important changes, however, were made because Michigan continued to experience declining child care caseloads and continued to have unspent federal child care money that we would have otherwise lost.  While all of these shifts are important, there are two things that Michigan continues to struggle with that need to be prioritized.  First, and thankfully this will need to be addressed due to the new CCDBG requirements, is our hourly reimbursement rate.  Michigan continues to be just one of three states that provides the child care subsidy in hourly form.  Not only does this make it challenging for families and child care providers alike, it does not align with the private child care market which CCDBG requires.  Like the vast majority of states, we must shift away from this archaic practice to one that meets the needs of families and providers – either a full-time/part-time rate or one that is based on monthly, weekly or (at a minimum) daily rates.

Second, something that is a Michigan-specific problem is our declining child care caseloads.  While the nation on average has seen declining caseloads of families accessing the child care subsidy, Michigan’s has declined much more rapidly and dramatically than other states.  This decline cannot be solely the result of higher than average unemployment, declining population, and the elimination of fraud within the child care system.  There is something more going on, and we cannot continue to accept this to be Michigan’s trend.  Efforts must be made to ensure that families who need support to access high quality child care are receiving that support to best meet their needs as working parents and their children’s needs as our next generation of workers.

At Michigan’s Children, we’re glad that CCDBG Reauthorization is forcing states to improve their child care systems.  We’re also glad that the Michigan Department of Education is currently taking the time to get input from stakeholders across the state on how our child care system can best meet the needs of working families.  2016 is the year for Michigan to make some bold movements forward to shift our child care system for the better.

– Mina Hong

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