foster care

Kinship Caregivers Need Support Too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Safe and Stable: Introduction

July 24 marked the beginning of the National Housing Week of Action. In recognition, Michigan’s Children is launching Safe and Stable, a guest blog series to shine a light on the systems and policies that keep foster-affiliated young adults from achieving safe and stable shelter. We will hear from fellow practitioners and from youth themselves to highlight how national, state, and local leaders can close the gap in housing need.

Our first guest blogger is J. Thomas Munley, who has worked as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for foster youth and is the Coordinator and Life Skills Coach for Fostering STARS at Lansing Community College. Munley has worked with many students in Fostering STARS with unstable living situations. 

***Our blog has been featured on the Voices for Human Needs blog of the Coalition on Human Needs!***

Safe and Stable: Two words that guide how we find housing for youth leaving foster care, two words that can mean the difference between an unsettled life and one that may produce a happy, fulfilling and productive life.

When I was 16 years old, my family lost our house in the recession, and with it our pride and feeling of security. I remember driving around with my mom looking for homes to rent for a family with five kids and feeling petrified that we would never find anything that was livable for that many kids. We actually found a large old house that had just been renovated and we felt so blessed to be able to rent it. My parents would later buy the house and it would be the last home my parents created before they passed away. That experience has always made me sensitive to young people who find themselves facing one of the most basic life questions and yet one of the most important; will I always have a safe and stable home to live in?

After working in various capacities with youth who have experienced foster care over the years, I am acutely aware of the elusive nature of “safe and stable” housing. Many of our youth from care often find themselves in situations beyond their control: how long will I be in placement? Will I get along with the foster family? Will I have to move again soon? Can I stay in the same school? Will I lose my friends? The very thing that our foster care system says is most important for our youth, “safe and stable” housing, can often be one of the most difficult things to come by.

The barriers to safe and stable housing faced by youth who leave care are far and wide. Housing rules change from community to community, and well-intentioned federal housing eligibility preferences can mean the end of the road for a young person who has experienced care. Strings attached to different funding sources can provide no leeway to youth who have experienced foster care. In less dense areas, youth who have experienced care are unable to get a driver’s license and, by extension, any reliable transportation. These obstacles have disastrous results – nearly 40% of youth experience homelessness within a few years of leaving foster care. All this coming at a time when student homelessness more broadly has risen 100% since 2007, reaching at least 40,861 Michigan youth who were identified by their public schools.

Homelessness is not an issue for one family, one city, or one state but for all of us. The untold cost of this epidemic on lives lost, potential squandered, education delayed, and physical and mental health tolls makes this an issue we should all care about. These are our children and youth, whom we said we would take care of when we took them from their families and placed them with strangers at no fault of the child. These are children who deserve every chance and opportunity to succeed to the best of their ability and who deserve the privilege of a stable home.

It was once said that the measuring stick of our society is how well we care for the most vulnerable among us. How are we doing?

J. Thomas Munley is a Licensed Professional Counselor (L.P.C.) working on his certification in Childhood Trauma. Fostering STARS is a program that works with youth who have experienced foster care to navigate and succeed in their Higher Education pursuits.

Keeping Family Voices in the Budget Conversation

April 5, 2017 – Michigan’s Children helped to facilitate two FamilySpeak opportunities at the State Capitol in February, continuing our long tradition of helping policy makers learn directly from the experiences of youth and families.

Families spoke about their need to improve their basic literacy and other skills in order to be able to help their children successfully navigate education and life.  Another group of families came to share their heart wrenching experiences trying to care for children and youth in the child welfare system.

I admire the people who speak about their experiences and cannot thank them enough for taking time from their families and their jobs to build the kind of understanding that leads to improved public investment and policy.  And, honestly, I admire the policy makers who prioritize listening to them over all else that they have on their busy agendas.  The challenge, as always, is about how we make sure that the families were listened to and that their advice doesn’t get lost in the policymaking din.

Our role continues to be to connect the dots between what families are saying and current policy conversation.  We have followed up with legislators, reminding them of what was discussed; we have distributed information about the FamilySpeaks in our e-bulletin; and have had several follow up conversations with Departmental staff since the events about issues that were raised.  So, why blog now?  Because we are in the middle of the state budget process, and because Legislators are spending time over the next two weeks at home in their districts.

The families who talked about the critical importance of raising their own basic skills in order to help their kids – they are out of luck in the current year’s budget recommendations so far, which don’t increase adult education, and don’t include family literacy as a strategy in recommendations for improving 3rd grade reading.  But they could.   Appropriations subcommittees from both the House and Senate gave their recommendations for the School Aid budget last week.  They still have plenty of time to recommend some additional funding.

The families who talked about how they, as foster and adoptive parents, needed more training and support, have a couple of things to be glad about in the current budget recommendations, including some additional investment in new staff for foster parent recruitment.  However, the issues that were raised about lack of timely services and difficulties with the court system are not part of any recommended investments.   Appropriations subcommittees looking at the Department of Health and Human Services didn’t finish their recommendations before they left for their spring break.  They need to keep recommendations moving in the right direction and still have time to add things that are missing.

My favorite part of FamilySpeaks and KidSpeaks is the opportunity for policymakers to make commitments to work toward better policy and practice directly to people who have participated.  We all have this opportunity over the next couple of weeks while Legislators are at home to share your stories and get commitments of your own.  We are here to help, now is the time.

– Michele Corey

Join With The Voices of Young People This Fall

August 26, 2016 – A couple of weeks ago, Michigan’s Children joined the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), University of Michigan Blavin Scholars Program, Eastern Michigan University MAGIC Program, Michigan Youth Opportunities Initiative, Enterprising Youth Program, Center for Fostering Success, Western Michigan University, Wayne State University, and the Student Advocacy Center in sponsoring the 2016 Michigan Young Leader Advocacy Summit, a gathering of about 70 young people who have experienced the foster care system, their supporting agencies, and decision-makers interested in building a better understanding of critical issues facing them. It was one of the most impactful days I’ve been a part of.

The Summit proceedings raised familiar issues about the barriers to young people “aging out” of foster care that are completely fixable:

  1. Our services are based on arbitrary ages and arbitrary designations (foster care, adoption, guardianship), instead of making sure that no young person is leaving the system (or coming in and out of the system) without adequate support.
  2. Work and education requirements don’t always fit the lives of young people facing the most challenges as they move into adulthood. Requirements need to be flexible enough to work for all young people under a variety of life circumstances that will likely shift over time.
  3. There are so many changes in the people responsible for helping young people as well as the services available to assist them as they move from traditional to voluntary foster care, as they move from county to county (as we would expect young adults to do.)

The fact is that we wouldn’t place arbitrary age or location requirements on our own children. If they faced similar barriers, we would work to help them remove them, for as long as it took, in as many different ways as we could. These children are also our own.

I am inspired, as always, by the knowledge I gain from these conversations, and the energy of the young people.  This fall, there are many ways for us all to utilize that knowledge.  The Michigan House and Senate need to agree on and pass the Assurance of Quality Foster Care legislation before the end of the year, or that process will have to start over again next Legislative session.  This legislation would require some additional diligence to make sure that our foster care, education and other systems are working well for all young people in the foster care system.   Summit attendees committed to take action to make that happen.  See our Act Now page for more about how you can join them.

In addition, most candidates running for office around the state have limited experience and expertise with the child welfare or foster care systems, but we think they need to build some knowledge there if they want to be elected. Take the time to find out where your candidates are going to be, get there, and ask some questions to at least raise your concerns and offer yourself as a resource.

— Michele Corey

Read more about the Summit from Fostering Success.
Read more about services for youth transitioning out of care from MDHHS.

Stories Lend Strength To Advocacy

August 18, 2016 – On Monday, August 5, Michigan’s Children held our third KidSpeak event in partnership with Wayne State University’s Transition to Independence Program (TIP). Youth ages 16-24 stood bravely and told the stories of their experiences in the foster care system to a group of panelist made up of policy makers from various organizations. The youth provided their emotionally-driven testimonies in a way in which they were advocating for change within the foster care system to impact generations to come. While some youth were still involved in the system, many had aged out and are now pursuing post-secondary degrees from Wayne State University or other Michigan institutions. Youth spoke about topics including their safety in their placements and the community, educational and mental health resources, mentorship, and the importance of remaining connected with their siblings upon separation. All of the youth’s stories gave compelling reasons as to why policy makers need to make revisions to the foster care system in Michigan.

As a listener at this event, I was moved by not only the stories of the youth but by their confidence in standing and communicating how their experience, or the experiences of their friends in the foster care system, shaped their goals and where they are now. As an advocate for systemic change for youth, I enjoyed being a part of an event where youth can be an advocate for themselves with the support of those around them. Moving forward, I challenge myself and my colleagues at Michigan’s Children to keep hearing from young people through events such as KidSpeak, while also being a voice for youth who are not presented with the opportunity to have their stories heard. Additionally, in listening to the uniqueness of every youth’s journey in that room and how they were individually effected, I would encourage policy makers to take both the commonalities and the differences that they heard in each story into consideration when advocating for policy change.

A major part of the conversation was the lack of awareness of the availability of higher educational resources available to youth in foster care upon graduating high school. Youth also spoke about the need for mental health and counseling resources in their high schools. As a strong advocate for equity in schools and for youth being able to access a higher education, both of these conversations stuck with me. They inform my current work to better explain to policymakers what trauma-informed education looks like for foster youth, or any youth experiencing adverse experiences in their school, familial, or community lives. The testimony reminded the panelists of the importance of considering whole-child approaches when making policy decisions about the educational structure, opportunities, and resources for foster youth.

The KidSpeak event seemed to have resonated with many of the panelist as well as the audience, and I hope it encouraged the youth to continue to tell their stories so that society understands the complexities of the issues that these youth are facing.

– Briana Coleman

Briana is an MSW intern at 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.

The ESSA Needs Our Help to Make Every Student Succeed

December 11, 2015 – In previous blogs, we’ve outlined the federal role in education policy falling squarely on promoting quality and innovation and promoting equity – mitigating the impact of students’ learning challenges on eventual educational success. After years of discussion and somewhat rare bi-partisan work in Congress, the Every Student Succeeds Act was signed by the President yesterday, again setting the path for federal policy and investment in K-12 education. So, what do we see?

  1. Proven equity-building strategies remain intact. Investments that provide access to pre-school, integrated student services and expanded learning opportunities will continue. The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program that supports after-school and summer learning programs is well researched and provides evidence for this strategy that requires school-community partnership and goes well beyond just expanding hours in a school day or days in a school year. Newly titled, “Community Support for School Success” continues investment in full service schools and Promise Neighborhood grants. The use of Title I and Title II dollars for early childhood education beginning at birth is more explicit and requirements to improve school stability for young people in foster care are strengthened.
  2. New priorities reflect new evidence and recognition of specific needs. Despite opposition, the law expands requirements to track how different groups of students are doing and on what. Understanding what groups are doing well and which not so well is the first step toward building more equitable practice. States will now, for the first time, be required to consistently track and report outcomes for kids in the foster care system. It has been difficult for advocates to move better educational investments in that population without adequate information that could point to better strategies for practice and investment. States and districts will also have to start tracking critical outcome indicators beyond achievement scores like school climate and safety and student and educator engagement, improving their ability to address student needs.
  3. Some strategies proving ineffective are discontinued. What has been termed a “cookie cutter” approach to improve struggling schools has not served to improve very many of them, and this bill recognizes that there need to be a broader scope of possible strategies that are much more targeted toward local needs. We continue to contend that building investment in equity-promoting strategies have a stronger evidence base than simply removing school leadership and punishing educators for the woes of all systems that serve children, youth and their families.
  4. Additional state and local flexibility in other programs COULD increase equity in Michigan. Read on…

So, what are some of the early takeaways?

  1. Evidence and advocacy matter. Some positive shifts were the result of coordinated, strong advocacy efforts in Michigan and around the nation, like the coordinated efforts to maintain the 21st CCLC program and supports for integrated student services, as well as expanding initiatives before kindergarten. Some negative shifts were too, but those who were talking with their elected officials had definite impact on the final negotiations.
  2. Funding will obviously matter – this law outlines what COULD be funded by Congress. We still don’t have an actual federal funding bill for the current fiscal year, and continue to operate under resolutions that maintain FY2015 spending levels. This has avoided the disinvestment proposed by some conservative members of Congress, but also avoids any conversation about shifting or increasing investment strategies.
  3. Engagement at the state and local levels will matter more than ever before. For example, Congress increased the ability to address learning challenges early by allowing a variety of funding to be used for activities before kindergarten. Additional flexibility was added for the Title 1 program, which provides consistent and significant investment in the most challenged schools. There is always risk and opportunity in this flexibility to avoid taking resource from evidenced programming for one group of students to pay for expanded programming for others.

At this moment, Michigan’s Children and others are engaged in the Superintendent’s call for suggestions on how to move educational success in our state over the next decade. With more flexibility in federal education spending, being a part of state priority conversations becomes more important than ever. And, of course, we have already begun another state budget conversation where we will need to continue to fight to keep and build critical state investments while still not seeing education funding levels return to where they were before the recession in 2008. And with other budget pressures resulting from continued disinvestment in our most challenged school systems and spending decisions mandated by road funding compromises, our voices are critically important to ensure that our state is providing equitable educational opportunities for all students.

– Michele Corey

Additional Resources

More on Early Learning: Every Student Succeeds Act and Early Learning
More on Expanded Learning: Senate Passes ESEA, 21stCCLC: Sends to President for Signature 
More On Foster Care: President Obama Reauthorizes ESEA, Affording Groundbreaking Provisions for Children in the Foster Care and Juvenile Justice Systems 
More On Integrated Student Services: Community School Prominent in Every Student Succeeds Act 
More on Equity Building Strategies: ESEA Reauthorization Shows Promise
More on Accountability: The president just signed a new ed law that teaches the naysayers a thing or two
More on Local Decision Making: President Signs ESEA Rewrite, Giving States, Districts Bigger Say on Policy 

Putting the Needs of Children and Youth First

June 15, 2015 – Administratively, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) allows adoption agencies to deny services to potential adoptive parents for any reason they see fit. Last week, June 11, Governor Rick Snyder signed a package of bills that made a section of that DHHS practice state law. Specifically, Governor Snyder codified the practice of allowing adoption agencies to reject potential adoptive families based on sincerely held religious beliefs. So what does this mean? Now all adoption agencies have the right to deny services to any family for any reason that “goes against their religious beliefs” including but not limited to same-sex and unmarried couples.

DHHS reports that at any given time approximately 13,000 Michigan children and youth are being served by the foster care system, with approximately 4,000 eligible for adoption. Children and youth in the foster care system need safe and nurturing homes until they can return to their families; and the children eligible for adoption need a stable permanent home. Homes where children have a loving supportive adult to help guide them. Michigan already faces a deficit of quality placements for children in out-of-home care, and putting limits unrelated to researched practice only further limits the number of forever family options for the children most in need in our state.

Through a recent KidSpeak forum in January, 2015, Michigan’s Children had the opportunity to speak with youth from the foster care system. The youth all expressed a common desire, one that research has shown to be common among many children in the foster care system – they want ways to make permanent, meaningful connections with a loving adult(s) who will help them access opportunities for success, and resources to help address the trauma they have experienced. They need these things now and for the rest of their lives. Michigan law should not define who the loving adults will be in ways unsupported by research or best practice.

Michigan’s Children hopes that from this attention and debate we take a closer look at how we are working toward building permanent options for all of the children and youth in our care. Instead of passing bills decreasing the options for children and families in need, why don’t we spend time and invest resources in recruiting, maintaining and supporting more successful foster and adoptive parents? Additionally, the state should invest much more in programs that support families struggling to provide safe and stable homes for their children; family reunification; and more out-of-home placement options for children unable to remain with their birth families, such as placing children with relatives and others as guardians or kinship parents.

Michigan, let’s invest in options that put the needs of children, youth and their families first. Let’s explore options to keep families together, and when that is not possible let’s expand the number of options for children, not limit them!

Learn more about what young people in the foster care system say they need to best support their unique circumstances and challenges.

-Cainnear Hogan

Cainnear is an intern for Michigan’s Children.  She is currently completing her MSW at the University of Michigan – School of Social Work.

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