policy

Advocates See Opportunity in Changing Media Climate

February 22, 2016 – Personal experience often generates the most compelling arguments for change. The real challenges ordinary people face provide the human connection that resonates strongly with the public, policymakers including elected officials and the media.

That’s what makes Deb Frisbie an effective advocate for kinship care and grandparents raising grandchildren in her adopted hometown in Northern Michigan. (See related article.) Forthright and open, Frisbie, her husband and two grandchildren recently became the subject of a front-page news article in Traverse City that explored the rising trend of grandparents raising grandchildren.

As a former newspaper reporter, I know how powerful these real-life stories can be. Made public, stories such as Frisbie’s also have the power to reach others who are fighting similar battles and offer them the courage to come forward to seek help. And equally importantly, they have the ability to grab public attention and grow support for changing policies that help families.

The downsizing of traditional journalism in the past decade has left far fewer staff with the time and expertise to ferret out stories to tell. But with change, opportunity arises. For those of us who work on behalf of the children, youth and families in our communities and state, it is even more important than ever to reach out to local media, and bring attention to relevant stories that could help improve the policies and investments that matter to our children and families.

Michigan’s Children has a strong tradition in helping raise up authentic voices to spotlight the needs of children, youth and families, whether caregivers such as Frisbie, young adults from foster care, or students needing a second or third chance at a high school diploma. We’ve seen how outspoken advocates build needed public awareness. We’ve learned that personal stories matter and that their lessons tend to stick with policymakers who have the authority to provide new investments or system changes that assist families. Equally important, we’ve seen how personal experiences shared by advocates such as Frisbie offer expertise to an issue.

There’s no mystery to becoming a voice for change in the media. Post views on social media and in letters to the local newspaper. Write opinion pieces. Lawmakers look to the media for information and pay attention to what their constituents are saying there.

Frisbie’s article in January has been a boon to her work, leading to other media inquiries to spread the word about grandparent issues in Northern Michigan. Her article also led to a follow-up opinion piece from Michigan’s Children published in that same paper, helping us to connect the dots between Frisbie’s conversation and current policy work.

Know that being an advocate means using all tools at your disposal, whether it’s reaching out through social media postings through professional organizations or getting to know the media who cover your community. Seeking the journalists in your community to educate them about what’s important to those we represent is a valuable service. Be a great source of information about kids and families in your community – and a source for change.

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

We’re Thankful for our Partners

November 23, 2015 – It has been a busy fall. State legislators and leaders in the Administration been talking about critical things like how we spend our state resources – on roads and on other things, how we support our most vulnerable school systems like Detroit, how we can work to be a leader in the educational success of our young people, and how we care for our most vulnerable kids in the foster care and criminal justice systems.  Michigan’s Children has also been busy connecting with others in the many networks we work with to impact those conversations and help to begin or continue others.

We are thankful for the many people around the state who help Michigan’s Children move better policy for children, youth and families. They are community leaders, service providers, parents and young people who take time out of their busy lives to let decision makers know what works and what doesn’t. Michigan’s Children shares research and information with them, connects them directly with policymakers, helps to build their advocacy efficacy, and most importantly, learns from their on-the-ground experiences to build our advocacy strategies.

We do this in many ways, including participating in existing conferences. This fall, staff members were involved in advocacy, communications and youth voice workshops at the Early On Michigan conference, the Michigan Pre-College and Youth Outreach Conference, and the Michigan Statewide Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect. Another priority of Michigan’s Children is continuing relationships with existing networks, and working with those folks more often than just at a single conference session. We work throughout the year to provide advocacy support to the Early On Foundation; local child abuse and neglect prevention councils and direct service agencies, as well as human services collaboratives across the state; and Fostering Success network members who work to improve adult transitions for young people currently and formerly in the foster care system statewide; among others. And, we consistently respond to community groups who reach out to us for assistance building local policy agendas.

We also work with our networks to create specific opportunities for local voices to connect directly with policymakers. These are done through KidSpeak and FamilySpeak forums, as well as other initiatives. We’ve hosted these forums in recent months along with partners including the Michigan Association for Community and Adult Education, the Association for Children’s Mental Health (ACMH), the Communities in Schools (CIS) network, the Michigan Statewide, Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Family Coalition, the Michigan Kinship Coalition and the Kinship Care Resource Center network, and critical regional partners like Ozone House, the Student Advocacy Center and Wayne State University’s Transition to Independence program. Their voices have changed the trajectory of policy conversation and have resulted in additional champions for youth- and parent-driven solutions in the Legislature, several Departments and other local policymaking bodies, including a recent legislative focus on critical improvements to the states’ foster care system.

People around the state are working hard to share what they know with decision-makers in their communities, at the state Capitol and in Congress, and their work matters. Progress in policy work, including real gains in critical investments and thwarting or minimizing damaging disinvestment, doesn’t come by accident. It comes from us all working toward a better Michigan – one that invests in strategies proven to close equity gaps and improve lives. The challenges before us require that the work continue, but we need to take a moment to just say thanks to our fellow advocates across the state. It matters. Happy Thanksgiving.

– 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

Support the Caregivers to Support the Kids

September 30, 2015 – As you all know, Michigan’s Children has been bringing together the voices of the most challenged young people and policymakers for nearly 20 years through our signature KidSpeak® forums, and that work has changed the trajectory of policy conversations over those years. But children and youth don’t grow up on their own, they grow up in families, in schools and in communities – often many different ones if they are involved with our foster care system. Michigan is too often not the best parent to the young people who we have taken responsibility for, but there are a lot of caregivers who are working as hard as humanly possible and against multiple odds to try to do better for kids in foster care. We heard from about a dozen of those caregivers last week, and learned quite a bit about how we could do better.

Michigan’s Children; the Michigan Statewide Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Family Coalition; the Michigan Federation for Children and Families; the Michigan Kinship Coalition and the Kinship Care Resource Center were recently joined by nearly fifty local, state and federal decision makers at our latest FamilySpeak. We were joined by Congressional staff, by Michigan Legislators and their staff, by staff from the Michigan Departments of Health and Human Services and Education, and by staff from multiple private agencies and service providers wanting to hear more about how to better support the very challenged children, youth and families that they serve.

Eleven caregivers, including foster, adoptive and kinship parents, spoke about what had brought them into the system, how their expectations differed from their reality of parenting and outlined their specific challenges. And all made recommendations for changes in policies and programs to make the system work better for their families and others. They talked so eloquently and emotionally about how the young people they were helping to raise at times just need access to the same things that other kids need– early identification of problems so that they can be addressed promptly and avoid larger problems later on. Michigan’s Children was glad to hear this recommendation coming from caregivers as it aligns with our ongoing advocacy work on ensuring a variety of early childhood programs and services are accessible that maximize future opportunities for all kids, rather than expanding equity gaps.

And they also talked eloquently and even more emotionally about how the kids in their care, and they, needed more help than they currently receive. More understanding of the impact of trauma – for themselves, to be able to negotiate it better as parents and for the systems serving their children, so that they are better served in their homes, in their schools and in their communities. More access to necessary services – better and early assessment of what is needed immediately, and consistent access to those services. They spoke a lot about how services were not available right away, or weren’t available in a way that worked for the young people they were parenting – many of whom will need supports like child care well beyond the traditional age of 12, and supports of all kinds well into adulthood, beyond 18 for sure.

They also talked about themselves – how they are workers and citizens and how both of those roles are at times compromised because of a lack of available support or understanding on the part of employers and workers in the systems. And some caregivers – particularly those family members who are caring for their grandchildren, their nieces and nephews – are often left out of access to critical services that their children need as much as others who have come into the child welfare system through other ways. In addition, it is clear that once children and youth have been adopted, there are far fewer services available to families, which also needs to be remedied.

Michigan’s Children is working with policymakers to see the connections between what we hear from young people in the system, and what we hear from their caregivers. So much of what young people experience as instability in their world and lack of services toward their eventual independence and adult success stems from exactly the same issues that caregivers articulate as lack of access to services and support so they can best care for their children.

We thank all of the amazing young people and parents who have taken the time to talk with us and to policymakers about their very personal experiences so that we can make sure that the state is taking its job as primary caregiver of children and youth in foster care as seriously as is required. Michigan needs to be the best parent to the children, youth and families in our care and we need to adequately support those who are helping with that effort.

– Michele Corey

Moving Toward the Top

August 20, 2015 – Trying to get better at things is good, particularly trying to get better at things that are in the best interest of children, youth and families in our state. New leadership in the Department of Education has come with new opportunities to get better, and Superintendent Whiston has already shown that he is committed to setting goals and working with others to achieve them. In a state where we ranked 37th of the 50 states in education in the last National Kids Count Data Book, this is essential. The Superintendent and the State Board of Education are spending some time over the next couple of months getting feedback about what it would really take to move Michigan to a top 10 education state.

Michigan’s Children is weighing in on that conversation with what we’ve talked about consistently for years – a focus on shrinking achievement gaps by investing in what works for children, youth and families, and their schools and communities. Six specific areas rise to the top, each with a myriad of strategies that can and must be forwarded:

Take responsibility for early strategies beyond pre-school by increasing parent coaching and supports through voluntary home visiting options, building state investment and maximizing federal investment in Early On and continuing to improve our child care subsidy system.

Support parents’ role in their children’s literacy by expanding initial efforts to help parents in their role of first and best teachers and to help them reach their own educational and career goals by better investments in Adult Education, workforce supports, and family literacy options so that parents can fully support their children’s literacy journeys.

Change school practice related to student and family trauma by providing school personnel the tools they need to recognize and deal with symptoms of trauma in their students and families and evaluating their ability to do so. It also includes building better connections with community partners who can assist.

Close equity gaps by integrating services and expanding learning opportunities. This includes building assurance that state and federal resources for service integration would go to the best models of service and that supporting services needed by children, youth and families would be available throughout the state. It also includes investing in after-school and summer learning at the state level, in addition to maintaining federal investment.

Give young people multiple chances to succeed by promoting attendance through adjustments in school discipline policies and investment in programs beyond the traditional, arbitrary four-years of high school. The effectiveness of these programs is increased when young people themselves are involved in planning and are clearly connected to a pathway leading toward college or career.

And finally, we suggested that the Superintendent and the State Board provide real leadership in this difficult work that often requires the efforts of many areas of expertise and many sectors of work, including the family and community resources. With so many things impacting a child’s ability to succeed in school and life – many of which are not within the walls of a school and the purview of education pedagogy – it is essential to bring efforts together.

As we’ve said many times before, our educational leaders have their work cut out for them, and as public and private partners available to help, we have our work cut out for us as well.

– Michele Corey

Goal Setting=Good; Investing Toward Goals Starting Now=Better

May 26, 2015 – Last week the new State Superintendent-elect and the Education Trust Midwest announced new educational goal-setting priorities in Michigan. The purpose of these new state efforts is to improve educational outcomes that in recent years have moved further and further away from the most successful states. The new educational goal-setting priorities aim to put Michigan back on a trajectory that will lead to more success for our kids, schools and communities.

Statewide goals for improving education?  Great, let’s give that another try. There have been many state and federal goals for improving educational outcomes over the years – most recently, those goals have come with both carrots and sticks for the schools and communities who serve those lowest performing students. The Ed Trust’s Michigan Achieves initiative suggests that we continue some current efforts that have shown success, and that we also take a closer look at the efforts of states who have better outcomes than we do.  And the new Superintendent publicly agrees.

A great step, right? You set a goal for improvement, and then you shift your program investments to be able to meet that goal. Michigan’s Children is all in. As I’ve certainly said too many times to count, we absolutely know what it takes to improve educational and other life outcomes for children, youth and families. We have decades of research, we have innovative and effective practice from other states and from within our own. What we have not had is appropriate investment in what works to improve equity in these outcomes.

Relatedly, members of Congress introduced a bill that would require the U.S. to set goals for reducing child poverty – similar to what took place in the U.K. over the past several years with impressive results. The impact of economic insecurity on the well-being of children, youth and families can not be overstated. Research has shown that poverty (particularly extreme poverty and living in poverty for many years) is tied with nearly every negative outcome. Everyone from all ends of the political spectrum recognizes this. Some members of Congress are suggesting that instead of wringing our hands and continuing to pay for the consequences of those outcomes, we set a goal and move to change the situation.

What really struck me here was the intimate connection between these two goals – the clearest path to better economic security is educational success, so we won’t reach the poverty goal without focusing on the education goal. In addition, we are unlikely to move the needle on educational goals without tackling challenges that families face outside of the school building, day and year as well.

Let’s start now, in the current budget conversation. There are stark differences in state budget proposals that will be decided on by small numbers of legislators over the next few weeks. Three that we’ve pulled out that will take us closer to both goals:

  1. Investment in 3rd grade reading. The Senate included additional investments in 3rd grade reading success. Particularly important for equity is the Senate recommendation for $10 million to expand learning opportunities for the most challenged kids. This isn’t enough (we’ll be going for at least $50 million moving forward), but it is certainly a start.
  2. Investments in the most challenged kids, schools and communities. The Senate included an additional $100 million to fund programs specifically for learners with identified barriers. The House didn’t include this increase.
  3. Investments in family literacy. We will not reach either poverty or education goals if we don’t make sure that every parent can assist every child as their first and best teacher. With 34,000 young adults in Michigan (ages 18-34) without even a 9th grade education we need more investment. The Senate included an increase in the adult education program, while the House eliminated it all together.

Let’s keep talking. Moving beyond the current budget year, our Legislature and Congressional Delegation need to prioritize many supports for the most challenged, including: services that prevent later problems like child abuse and neglect prevention, home visiting support and Early On; services that improve outcomes for young people in the state’s care through the Foster Care and Juvenile Justice systems and their families; and services that best support college and career success like early learning, expanded learning, family literacy and integrated student services.

Let’s talk about setting goals and let’s keep working to meet them.

— Michele Corey

Support Kids in Families of All Kinds

May 21, 2015 — During this year’s Foster Care Awareness Month, the National Kids Count project released a report, Every Kid Needs a Family: Giving Children in the Child Welfare System the Best Chance for Success. The report suggests that Michigan overuses congregate care options when a family setting would better serve children in our state’s foster care system. The report puts forth three simple recommendations:

  1. Expand the service array to ensure that children remain in families. Michigan has experienced several decades of disinvestment in programs that strengthen families, and has eliminated most state funding from abuse and neglect prevention programs. One bright spot – the recent focus on investments in home visiting programs, proven to identify needs early and connect families to necessary support. Better investments in preventing and intervening with some of the most common reasons for removal are essential. We need to invest more in keeping families stable in the first place, helping parents rebuild their lives, and supporting reunification once situations have improved.
  2. Recruit, strengthen and retain more foster families, and increase the utilization of family members other than parents as caregivers for foster children. In Michigan and elsewhere in the United States there have not been enough available and trained foster families or relatives; and not enough supports for family placements. The Michigan League for Public Policy, who directs the Kids Count in Michigan project, outlines this well in their blog about the recent release.
  3. Support decision making that ensures that children removed from their homes are placed in the least restrictive setting. The public and private systems in Michigan need to be held accountable for developing and maintaining appropriate placement options for children and youth depending on their needs, and adequately investing in these options. In addition, we need to reframe more restrictive care settings as a treatment option, where custody during that placement remains intact with a parent or foster parent, and remove impediments to maintaining existing caregiver relationships during those placements.

Michigan’s Children has talked to many young people over the years, some who have experience in the foster care system (see our most recent guest blog from Ronnie Stephenson, and discussions from a recent KidSpeak on the issue.) All of the young people Michigan’s Children has spoken to about the foster care system talk about the need for the stable support that comes with family ties, including a stable place to call home and adults who are committed to their success for the long-term. Many talk about the need for adequate treatment and intervention settings where necessary. They also talk about wanting to help direct their own services within the foster care system, including establishing or maintaining connections with their birth families and others in their home communities. In addition, young people want better access to the same opportunities for involvement in their learning, peer group and community that other young people do – access to what is now termed as a more “naturalized” environment – whether they are in foster homes, group homes, other congregate care or supervised in their own homes.

In part due to the powerful voices of young people expressed over the last several years, through our work, the Michigan Youth Opportunities Initiative and Fostering Success Michigan and the work of many other partners, Michigan’s Children met this week with a bi-partisan group of Legislators, staff and other advocates to begin to frame out changes that Michigan needs to make in order to better support the range of families that care for young people – their birth families, their foster and adoptive families, and other relatives who serve as caregivers. While Michigan has recognized some deficiencies in its child welfare system, there is still a long way to go before we are giving all children the best chance for success. The Departmental merger between Community Health and Human Services and the Governor’s articulation of the need to better connect services to serve families are opportunities to further this work. Recognizing that reform needs to center around providing family support in whatever way possible for those young people we are responsible for is a necessary step for moving in the right direction. Michigan’s Children is very excited to be part of this effort.

— Michele Corey

A Powerful Voice From the Field: Foster Care Policy

May 19, 2015 — As I was finishing up eighth grade at Grand Blanc West Middle School, my life drastically changed when I was removed from my biological father’s home and swiftly put into the care of the Genesee County Department of Human Services. Over four years, I lived with five families and attended numerous high schools, and discovered faults in the system that I was felt forced into and trapped in.

I found out quickly that no one really asked what I wanted and that my voice was not being heard by the foster parents, case workers, and lawyer in my life. I felt they didn’t hear me when I described what I wanted to happen with my life or what I thought would be a better fit for me regarding schools, foster parents, or any of the decisions that were made on my behalf. It was very hard to get anything done, as well. If I needed school clothes, there was paper work and court papers that needed to be filed out that always got lost without anyone held accountable. It felt like I was always given the run-around. I had so many different case workers that nothing was productive or got done. I was frustrated and finally decided to speak up for myself. I started going to every one of my court hearings and speaking to the judge myself.

As I got older, I was inspired to make a difference and encourage other foster children to raise their voices, also. I wanted to shed light on the difficulties and problems within the system that I had experienced. While attending Western Michigan University, I decided to take a position as a casework aide at a local private agency for foster care and adoptions one summer. This job made me come to the realization that the system was still very broken. No one is held accountable, foster care workers are not trained properly, casework and paperwork gets lost, and then you have policy which holds families up from becoming foster parents and/or adopting. Frustration and anger made me decide that while I didn’t want to work with families and foster children directly, I did want to work on policy solutions on these issues.

The next semester I took a Philosophy of Law class, and my professor came across an internship at the state House of Representatives that he thought I would be interested in. I decided to look into it, and actually got a position with one of the lawmakers, and that was Rep. Martin Howrylak, R-Troy. He hired me the next year and the year after that I went to work for newly elected Rep. Brandt Iden, R-Portage, from the Kalamazoo area.

My experiences in the Legislature included testifying before committees, including discussing the importance of expanding the eligibility age of Medicare to 21 to benefit youth in foster care. (The proposal did move to the House Floor.) I shared and expressed my concerns and helped one of my bosses prepare House Bill 5741, which proposed an interstate compact for the placement of children in foster care. Though it was heard before the committee on Children and Family services, it unfortunately was never reported out. I have attended many events with children in foster care throughout the state of Michigan and even have participated in speaking events for foster parents and children. Having this experience has made me a better legislative assistant in the House of Representatives. I can relate to constituents when they call us with issues regarding the Department of Human Services, know how they feel, and try to help them navigate through the system.

Changes do need to occur within the foster care system for all parties involved — children and the foster families. And, I am a firm believer that changes can and will happen, as long as foster care children continue to express our positions and feelings. And I encourage anyone — foster parent or child –to convey or continue to express your concerns, because nothing will change unless we do.

– Ronnie Stephenson

Besides working at the Capitol, Ronnie Stephenson, now entering her Senior year at Western Michigan University, is an intern for the national non-profit, Together We Rise, and is raising money for suitcases for Kalamazoo-area youths in foster care. Her webpage: http://www.togetherwerise.org/fundraise/HopeForKzoo. Michigan’s Children is honored to partner with Ronnie.

Kids Count Offers an Important Resource for Boosting Your Advocacy Skills

March 9, 2015 — There’s a popular adage about the use of data and how to apply facts when advancing a particular cause or agenda. It is: While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, no one is entitled to their own facts.

In Michigan and across the nation, we are fortunate that the facts that child and family advocates rely on to spark conversation and foster public decision-making are a product of the Michigan League for Public Policy’s Kids Count in Michigan Data Book. Released early each year, the report gives us a reliable annual review of child well-being with a profile of every county and the city of Detroit.

We use it throughout the year to track progress and shortcomings, and point out where public resources should be focused and public support galvanized. Due to Michigan’s long recessionary struggles, it comes as no surprise that our state’s bleak experiences with child poverty has been one of the main yearly talking points and in particular as cited in the 2015 report, which found a 35- percent increase in child poverty over the past six years. The report also references disturbing trends in the numbers of children identified and confirmed as children of abuse and neglect. With economic stressors comes family instability, often accompanied by incidences of domestic violence, substance abuse and behavioral health problems, which can be connected to child maltreatment.

The information compiled in the Kids Count report has been used by policymakers, journalists, advocates and the public at large to detail and discuss the enormity of poverty and poor child outcomes at home and across the state. At Michigan’s Children, the report has served to influence recommended state policies in areas of economic security, child health, family and community life and education.

Staff here routinely answers press inquiries to examine local data against the effectiveness even availability of programs serving children and families. Working with one Northern Michigan journalist recently, Vice President for Programs Michele Corey advised taking a hard look at a local rise in foster care rates which appeared to run counter to a decline in those rates across the state. What’s behind the numbers? Are family supports lacking locally that could improve family stability? What could account for this change?

Long-time health officer Marcus Cheatham, formerly with the Ingham County Health Department and now lead officer with the Mid-Michigan District Health Department in Stanton, says Kids Count’s value arrives from helping to drive needed public conversations that can lead people to care and make a difference.

“It’s a chance to show policymakers what those of us in human services see all the time: that the most vulnerable among us have the fewest resources and are often left behind,” Cheatham said.

Using specific county-by-county data to drive difficult community conversations is critical, he said. “People are often surprised that Michigan has so much rural poverty — it’s not just a Flint thing,” he added. “Also, many people don’t think their community has issues — they think its somewhere else. So showing them can get them going.”

Cheatham’s insights highlight the value that Kids Count data has when used by community activists and average citizens, too. Unless we become familiar with what the data shows about our own communities, and use it to spark conversations with those who can make policy changes, the information won’t do what it’s intended to do – make a positive difference in the lives of our children and their futures.

So arm yourselves with the latest facts here. Check out our Issues Brief, “Kids Count in Michigan Data Book 2015: Using data to Inform Current Policy Priorities,” and explore our “Take Action” pages for tips on becoming an effective advocate.

Then contact your elected representatives to educate them about the state of child well-being at home. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper about what the data says in your community. Talk to your friends, neighbors and family about what the information tells us. Start a conversation that could lead to making a difference in the future of all of our children. In this way, the value of Kids Count will linger long after the report is released.

– Teri Banas

What Children, Youth and Families Need in the New State Superintendent

March 10, 2015 – The search for the new Superintendent of Schools is in the homestretch. Six candidates have been identified.  All but one have led local and intermediate school district work in Michigan, the other is a deputy in Massachusetts’s education department.

This choice has enormous implications for Michigan, particularly in how we build educational success with the most challenged among us. Clearly, we can assume that the candidates are steeped in education pedagogy expertise, and know what they are doing running a classroom and a school building during the school day. The job requires that expertise and more as they face Michigan’s big challenges – some of the largest achievement gaps in the nation; consistently poor showing compared to other states on education measures; and limited improvement on state assessments.

Current Superintendent Flanagan is certainly leaving a legacy. He helped to facilitate the enormous expansion of 4-year old preschool, and has been an outspoken advocate for the importance of the early years for later educational success. Under his watch, the state committed to closing gaps in educational outcomes for African American boys, resulting in shifts in Department practice, and support for local system efforts. In addition, he helped to facilitate several public/private task forces that looked closely at some of the critical issues feeding these gaps including truancy and school discipline practices.

There also have been enormous strides to broaden our methods of attaining, measuring and documenting college and career readiness skills. Partnerships have begun to form with employers, post-secondary institutions and community partners who provide learning opportunities outside the school day. This work points to the need for significant changes in our system that will not only benefit all kids in K-12 schools, but would be a game changer in skill building and credit accumulation for the most challenged young people in this state.

The new Superintendent will need to redouble all of that work. And to be successful, they will need to skillfully collaborate – not only with the Governor and the Legislature (both of whom hold the purse strings), but with the leaders of other state departments, with the rest of the education and workforce continuum, and with other community resources. They will need to capitalize on the broad recognition that what happens beyond the school doors impacts educational success, and call on resources beyond their own purview to help.

Beyond continuing support for current initiatives, what are some specifics priorities for the new Superintendent?

  1. Better address the educational needs of parents. The most consistent predictor of educational success for children remains the educational success of their parents – the research couldn’t be clearer on that. If we want to improve 3rd grade reading and college and career readiness, we not only have to look earlier than kindergarten and bolster children’s experiences beyond the school doors, we also have to look at our support of adult literacy through our adult education system. This system has not successfully served the most challenged adults for quite a while, many of whom are the parents of the most struggling learners.
  2. Focus investment on expanding learning options for children, youth and families beyond the traditional school day. At this point, Michigan relies almost entirely on uncertain federal funds to support before- and after-school and summer programming evidenced to cut equity gaps. In addition, fully coordinating community services through evidenced integrated student services models needs to be given priority.
  3. Extend leadership in improving care for young children beyond pre-school. While Michigan has taken and made strides in improving the quality of our child care system, we’ve done that with fixed federal rather than state investment, limiting our ability to drastically improve access to high quality care. Our subsidy system for the poorest working families consistently ranks us at the very bottom in the nation.  A few years ago, Michigan brought the state’s child care system under the auspices of the Office of Great Start, and additional strides to improve that system are needed.
  4. Develop consistent ways to engage young people in reform strategies and priority development – particularly those experiencing the most challenging educational and life circumstances. This is not easy, but could be done with the help of partners, including Michigan’s Children.
  5. Lead cross-department efforts.  Early on in his 1st term in office, the Governor developed a strategy to connect the dots between state departments by establishing what he termed, the “People Group.” This group is comprised of the directors of the Departments of Human Services, Community Health, Civil Rights and Education. The new State Superintendent is ideally suited to lead that group, in light of the transitions occurring with the merger of DHS and DCH, and the space to focus the group’s work on building college and career success.

Whew!  They have their work cut out for them and we have our work cut out for us.  We realize that this is a lot to ask of the next state Superintendent, but there are a lot of public and private partners available to help, if they can take advantage of them.

– Michele Corey

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