March 21, 2016 – As another annual Michigan Kids Count Data Book is released, it gives us several opportunities. First, using county profiles available in the Data Book each year is a great way to draw attention to the status of children, youth, families and communities. How are things improving or declining? Why is that happening in your community? It is also a great opener for conversation with local policy makers. Sometimes, they really aren’t aware of some of the facts, like how much of their income people pay for child care, or how many births are to mothers without a high school credential. Or whether or not their communities are improving or worsening on key issues like prenatal care for moms or child abuse and neglect. Local advocates can use the Kids Count information to help position themselves as a resource to their policy makers – a helpful thing during a state budget season, an election year and beyond.
Secondly, it is important to examine the Data Book every year to scrutinize how our current investment and other policies are impacting the lives of families in our state. The annual report offers us a chance to renew attention to long-standing needs, examine how our efforts have paid off, and expand discussions. Here are just two critical examples:
- Family Literacy. With fully one in seven births in Michigan to moms without a high school credential, increased investment in adult education and other literacy initiatives remains imperative. Our support of teen moms, while those rates continue to drop, must also include high school completion, post-secondary and career opportunities.
- Expanded Learning. Increasing poverty rates, costs of child care, and the majority of Michigan students not proficient on highlighted standardized tests make new state investment in learning opportunities outside the school day and year even more of an imperative. By the time they reach the 6th grade, kids in poor families have received 6,000 fewer hours of assisted learning than their wealthier peers, mainly due to a lack of affordable and quality opportunities outside of school.
Michigan’s Children joined the Michigan League for Public Policy and local partners in Ingham County today for a release of the Data Book to local media around Lansing. We did this to help highlight how state policy and investment needs to do better at supporting local innovation. This community intertwines resources available through different entities and targets families with different kinds of needs to try to make sure that parents are supported in the care of their children, that any physical or developmental delays are caught early and that the best services are made available to assist.
It is quite amazing what local communities do with limited resources, but their innovative and effective practices are often stymied by a lack of state and federal investment in necessary programs. One example that is highlighted in this year’s Data Book is the share of families with children ages 0-3, who participate in Early On. In Michigan and in Ingham County, that share is less than 3 percent. Nationwide, estimates are that fully 8 percent of that population qualify for early intervention services, so we are well below that mark. This is due in part because Michigan fails to invest state funding in that program, unlike the vast majority of the states.
Building on the disaster in Flint this spring, Michigan legislators invested state dollars for the very first time to support Early On in Flint, recognizing that it is a critical part of the intervention and investment that will be needed for years to come to deal with that human calamity. But, the Data Book points to the need for Early On investment around the state.
Take the time to review the Data Book for key insights into your community, and use its findings to make your best case for local, state and federal investments in children and families where you live. We are here to help.
– Michele Corey