Michigan

A Forum for Change

“Many politicians say that they will make changes for the better and almost never or never do. How will you be different?”

Eyes widened and the candidates sat up a little straighter in their seats.

This powerful question was delivered from an adult education student at one of the four candidate forums hosted by the Michigan Association of Community and Adult Education (MACAE) and Michigan’s Children. The series of events across the state were very impactful in raising the awareness of issues facing adult education students and the programs that serve them. From Novi to Grand Rapids, Holland to Adrian, legislative candidates were asked tough yet significant questions about issues ranging from education to infrastructure, childcare costs to college tuition and beyond.

What this writer took away from the experience was the opportunity for change in our midst- each event presents a forum for change. Beyond adult ed programs helping students obtain their GED and workplace credentials, legislative candidates became more away of a population ready to be taught, trained and tooled for success.

And whether the students were eighteen-year-old single mothers working two jobs, or a fifty-five-year-old electrician looking to upskill his credentials, the message was consistent and resounding- We are here, We want to be an integral part of our local communities, and We are ready.

What was most important was seeing legislative candidates connecting with students after each forum- sharing laugh, taking pictures, but also continuing to discuss important issues.

The legislative candidates were impacted too. One said in Holland, “I have learned so much today about this issue and I’m committed to solutions”. That is encouraging at a time where educational funding is essential to keeping these programs accessible to the general population.

Another candidate in Adrian shared how she herself attended an adult education program to gain her GED, finding success for her and her family. Several students in attendance told their teacher a few days later that was a powerful moment.

I asked one student why they participated in the forum. After a moment to think she replied, “I have a voice and I want to use it because I want to have success too”.

Perhaps, if we can communicate that message of adult education being a pathway to success, we can continue this forum of change.

– Patrick Brown is an Outreach Associate for Michigan’s Children, in partnership with the Michigan Association of Community and Adult Education

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

Meet Grant, Our Newest Intern

Hello! My name is Grant Rivet and I have the great opportunity of being an intern for Michigan’s Children this semester. My primary duties will be assisting with social media, updating our 2018 elections page, and briefing policy reports. Originally I am from Bay City, Michigan where my father was a former State Representative for the 96th district. It’s no stretch to say I have been around politics my entire life. From the fundraisers, to gathering election results after the polls close, to passing out popsicles at local parades in the summer. It’s not hard to see the influence that my father has had on my passion for politics.

I heard about the opportunity to intern for Michigan’s Children through my stepmother and Michigan’s Children board member Kristen McDonald. She has always been an advocate for the advancement of underprivileged youth throughout her entire professional career, especially in her position as VP with the Skillman Foundation, which seeks the advancement of Detroit’s youth. There, I had several opportunities to be around and volunteer, which opened my eyes to the disadvantages and harsh reality of life for many children in Detroit. I took a step back and realized just how fortunate I was growing up and realized many kids will not have nearly the opportunities I have just because of their socioeconomic status. I can honestly say I enjoyed volunteering and found the work to be extremely satisfying knowing it would benefit those who really need it. So, when the opportunity to get hands-on experience with Michigan’s Children to get a better understanding of the policy aspect of advocacy came up, it was an easy decision for me.

I find 2018 Michigan Gubernatorial election extremely intriguing as young adult. I think the state is at a crossroads between the two parties and with leadership within the state. With an increase in polarization of both parties and an eight-year term by Rick Snyder coming to an end, it will be intriguing to see if the 2016 Presidential election results will hold in Michigan’s Gubernatorial race. This election features established candidates with a long track record of success against progressive, upstart candidates who have also attracted a large base.

Personally, I would love to see the candidates talk about guns, education, and healthcare. All three of these issues affect the youth in our great state and are issues that should not be discussed lightly. Education and healthcare equity gaps are at an all-time high in this state. For a lot of families, higher education is not affordable, which leads to a generational cycle of poverty that is nearly inescapable. These two issues are fundamental rights that should be afforded to everyone regardless of socioeconomic status. It’s also critical for me to see some advancement in terms of guns this upcoming election. It’s always been a topic that I have been very passionate about and even more so in light of increasing amount of mass shootings in the U.S. It should be one of the most interesting gubernatorial races in the country next year and I am very excited to see who comes out on top. My primary role to update our followers on the 2018 election cycle is designed to help inform, engage, and update our followers on each candidate and their specific views on policies that effect Michigan’s Children.

Grant Rivet is an intern at Michigan’s Children. He is a graduating Senior at Michigan State University majoring in Political Science, and hopes to one day become a lobbyist.

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

What Do We Expect For Our Vote?

May 12, 2017 – We live in a representative democracy — a republic.  We put a few things up to a full vote of the people, but those things are few and far between, and typically only happen if proposed change requires that we adjust our State Constitution.  Otherwise, we vote for people to represent our best interests, and as I’ve said so very many times before, we then work to make sure that they understand what is in our best interest and how their actions support or fail to support those things.

I’m not entirely sure why this year’s state budget process has been more frustrating to me than in year’s past.  Some of the things that have been happening that severely limit the public’s opportunity (and even the full Legislature’s opportunity) to weigh in on these most important decisions are not new and have been moving in this direction for several years now.  I think that part of my frustration has been how the Legislators themselves have been talking about it.

Chairs of several Appropriations Subcommittees, where the real nuts and bolts of budget decision making is done, have publicly talked about how their work is not the “end” of the budget process, that many of these issues are still “being discussed.”  They have also expressed frustration with the current process.  While they may feel that way, they did not take steps to continue that discussion among anyone but the very small, and rapidly decreasing, number of legislators who will be serving on budget conference committees to hash out the differences between the House and Senate versions of how we spend the billions of dollars under our control.

So, I for one don’t think that what has happened in the budget process so far is worthy of our votes.  Here’s what we expect and yes, what we must demand, for our support:

  1. An ability to share our thoughts and concerns.
  2. A path to understand the actions of our elected officials.
  3. A voice in important decisions about priorities.

If those who represent us, at the state and federal level, are not working hard to make sure that we have all three of those things, they are not worthy of our vote.  Of course, if we aren’t taking advantage of the opportunities that they are providing, then that is on us.

This state budget process provided virtually no opportunity for the public to comment on proposed spending priorities other than the Governor’s recommendations.  The House and Senate revealed their versions of the budget in subcommittees and voted them out of those committees in the very same meetings.  During the full appropriations committee meetings and on the floor of the chambers, steps were taken to limit amendments and discussion, even amongst the Legislators themselves.

This is not what we expect from those who we’ve elected to represent us.  We need to demand better.   There is still some time to express your state investment priorities to your elected officials.  But, keep in mind that the messaging now has to be how all legislators must champion their constituents’ priorities with the small number of their colleagues who will finish those decisions in the next month.  There is always time to express your expectations to your elected officials, and make sure they are well aware of what it takes to win your vote and the votes of many others in their communities.

– Michele Corey

Volunteer Your Time and Your Voice for Action

April 24, 2017 – National Volunteer Week is being acknowledged this week to celebrate the people who volunteer their time to make their communities better places to live.  Primarily, when people think about volunteering, they are thinking about connecting directly with someone or something – reading to a 3rd grader, mentoring a teen.  These things are important, and I do these things in my volunteer time too.  They change the circumstances of individual children, youth, families and communities – critically important work.

However, everyone who has done these things, read to a 3rd grader or mentored a teen, has also reflected on the barriers faced by the children and youth they are helping, barriers beyond what is possible to impact by doing those things alone.

What circumstances led to the 3rd grader not reading at their grade level?  It may have had to do with their family’s inability to access Early On services for a developmental delay that was then not caught or treated until the child was in kindergarten.  It may be that their family’s literacy levels are not adequate to help their children excel, and with limited language spoken or read to the 3rd grader as a young child, they began school behind.  It may have had to do with their family’s inability to access quality afterschool and summer learning programs, leaving the 3rd grader either home by themselves or without educational supports outside the school day.

What circumstances led to the youth needing mentoring?  It may be because the young person is in the foster care system, and has yet to find a home that lasts for more than a few months.  It may be that the young person’s parents had untreated mental health or substance abuse issues that resulted in the removal of the child from their family in the first place, and preclude their return.  It may have been that the adverse experiences (or ACEs) that the young person had in their earlier years exhibited in behaviors that proved difficult to teachers, social workers and foster parents, resulting school suspension or expulsion or multiple placements in care.

The volunteer actions taken in both of these situations are powerful for individual children and youth, improving their skills and giving them someone to count on and offer guidance toward success.  But, both of these stories lead us to wonder about the many others in similar circumstances.  What might be done to improve the odds for all children youth in these situations?  What might be done to prevent the 3rd grader from getting behind in school?  What might be done to prevent the family from losing custody of their child?

In both of these examples, there are evidenced investments that could have helped these two young people and many more like them.  In Michigan, often, there are great programs and initiatives that used to be funded, but aren’t any more; or that are funded for some, but aren’t available to every family around the state.  Elected officials at the state and federal level can change that situation.

Right now, discussions are taking place determining how we are investing our state and federal tax dollars.  Now is the time to invest a little more of our volunteer time to share what we know with the people having those discussions.  We are willing to take the time to volunteer our time to make individual life outcomes better.  Policymakers need to know that we are also willing to volunteer our time to let them know how to improve life outcomes for more children, youth and families in our communities.

Read more about Michigan’s Children’s budget advocacy, and commit some volunteer time this week to take action.

– Michele Corey

Democracy is not a one-way street. Unhappy? Start talking about it.

The Center for Michigan released their most recent community conversation report this week, which evidenced some pretty extreme distrust of the public sector and public systems intended to work for the people of Michigan. Of course, this result is heightened, and should be, by the tragedy in Flint, where there was such a horrendous failure of local, state and federal public systems that thousands of people were poisoned – the ramifications of which we will not truly know for many years to come. And, we just lived through the kind of election season that I hope we don’t live through again, with hateful, divisive rhetoric intended to divide the nation on economic, gender, racial and geographic lines.

Fortunately, the report also highlighted a need to help fix what we believe is wrong. Well, that’s the crux of it. We live in a democracy, a democracy where people are elected (or NOT), where laws are made (and laws are CHANGED) based on the will of the people. Yes, the people. This democracy is our privilege and our (you’ve all heard me say it before…) RESPONSIBILITY. We don’t have the luxury to just sit back, our system requires participation. ALL policy makers, including those who we like or dislike, trust or don’t trust, decide things based on what they have heard, from their friends, from their constituents, from the people who take the time (yes, and effort and resources) to talk with them about the things that concern them – not just once, but many times.

Yes, investments made with our hard earned tax dollars are not always made in the best interest of children, youth and families. That is true at the federal level, where we rely more significantly than MANY other states. That is true at the state level, the county level, municipal level, yes. And, our system requires that we do something about that.

Almost every elected official offers consistent opportunities to talk with them publicly. AND, there are endless opportunities to share with them via phone, email, snail mail, their social media feeds, etc. If you sign up for your elected officials’ electronic newsletters, you will get notice of their coffee hours – those times when they are at a local business or church, or somewhere else in their district just waiting to hear from their constituents. If the people we elect don’t know what we know and what we think they should do differently, how can we really blame them for decisions that we disagree with? How can we not trust them if we haven’t even talked with them?

We all need to make sure that we have done all that we can to make sure that our elected officials are well informed, understand that their constituents are paying attention to what they are doing and that those same constituents are going to hold them accountable for those actions: in the media (read: letters to the editor); at the ballot box (read: attend candidate forums and VOTE); and elsewhere. Now is the time, when we feel the most frustrated about it, TO ACT.

Okay, I know, you have jobs, you have kids, you have LIVES. It is easy for me to say, take time to talk with your elected officials. But, really, take time to talk with your elected officials. Michigan’s Children can help. We can work with you to bring policymakers, youth and families together; we can help you with contact information and talking points.

We can all agree that our elected officials need help – they need help to earn back our trust, and they need help to make the kinds of decisions that we can be proud of. Let’s commit to helping them, and making things better for children, youth and families in Michigan.

– Michele Corey

This blog was originally published in Bridge Magazine.

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

What Does It Take To Make A Great Teacher?

November 13, 2015 – What does it take to make a great teacher? An expert group of educators, policymakers and others had been working for quite some time to answer that question and came up with a better, more consistent system in Michigan for making sure that our teaching force is the best it can be, for our most advantaged and most challenged students alike. One of the takeaways from that process demonstrated in the teacher evaluation legislation recently signed by the Governor is that better training and support is necessary so that teachers can use their talents to the best of their abilities.

What supports a great teacher? Certainly the ability to have time in the classroom to use what they have spent years learning – to help students build knowledge and skills. For some, that is in specific topic areas; for some, that is about fostering and supporting a love of learning for younger kids; for some, it is about getting kids who are struggling back on track; and for some it is about making sure we continue to challenge the imagination and creativity of those who excel. Not surprisingly, teachers report that they can better utilize their skills when kids come to school ready to learn. Unfortunately, there are a host of things that prevent kids from optimal learning in the classroom that are impossible for teachers to address on their own. Teachers are better able to teach and students are better able to learn when:

  • – kids don’t come into the classroom hungry, or when they don’t come in with a toothache as supported by integrating nutrition and health services in the schools;
  • – kids are not feeling intimidated by other kids or school staff, or feeling unsafe at home and on the way to school, which is improved by utilizing positive behavior supports and other evidenced discipline strategies;
  • – older students have a manageable job after school that they want and need, and when students have had the opportunity to catch up when they fall behind and stay motivated after school and in the summer, made possible through investment in community partnerships and expanded learning;
  • – young people have been able to manage their addictions, mental health or other special needs and other members of their family have been able to do the same through access to those services in school buildings and in the community;
  • – student behaviors are managed well in the school system by recognizing behaviors borne of trauma and addressing them through that lens; and
  • – their parents are able to build their own skills to help and encourage them at home and have the time together at home to use those skills, as supported through adult and community education programs and family friendly work supports.

Everyone knows that educational, career and life success are not built in the classroom alone. Because all of our systems, not just the K-12 system, don’t work as well as they should and often don’t work together, disparities in literacy emerge as early as nine months of age.  Those gaps can continue to grow throughout educational careers without appropriate attention and intervention. In addition, future state budgets will be stressed by recent road funding decisions and inadequate revenue putting other critical state investments at risk.

Despite these challenges, Michigan must find a way to commit investments for teachers and the children, youth, families and communities they serve. To do otherwise would fail to move ahead in the work started by this teacher evaluation legislation. As we better evaluate teachers, we must also ensure that they have the support they need to succeed.

– Michele Corey

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