prevention

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.

Doc-Fix Bill Add-Ons Good for Michigan Children

April 11, 2014 – April is Child Abuse Prevention Month – a time to raise awareness on this issue, which is important for Michigan since child abuse and neglect is on the rise as evidenced by the 31 percent increase in confirmed victims between 2005 and 2012.  Coincidentally, April is also Month of the Young Child which aligns very well with Child Abuse Prevention Month since data tells us that young children are more likely to be victims of maltreatment.  Thus, focusing on preventing child abuse and neglect among this age group is critical to change the unacceptable trend we see in child maltreatment.

Coincidentally, this falls right after Congress approved the Protecting Access to Medicare Act of 2014, which was signed into law on April 1st.  Also known as the doc-fix bill, this legislation focuses on Medicare changes but also includes some specific provisions that will benefit challenged families with young children and help prevent child abuse and neglect.  Specifically, the doc-fix bill included funding to extend the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV) until March 31, 2015; and it included support for community behavioral health clinics.

In terms of MIECHV funding, this was essential for the State of Michigan since we rely on these dollars to support voluntary home visiting programs in our most challenged urban communities.  These high quality, evidence-based home visiting programs help families connect to health, mental health, social, and early childhood services needed to support a healthy pregnancy and a healthy start in life for their infants and toddlers.  Evidence-based home visiting programs not only improve birth outcomes and young children’s development and learning, but they have also proven to cut child abuse in at-risk families by as much as half.

Also included in the doc-fix bill was support for a two-year, eight-state pilot program based on the Excellence in Mental Health Act to fund community behavioral health clinics.  These clinics would receive an enhanced Medicaid rate to provide comprehensive mental health services to low-income families and children.  We know that parents with untreated mental health issues face greater challenges when it comes to supporting their children.  This is only exacerbated if the same parents are also struggling financially to make ends meet.  Providing additional supports to mental health clinics to comprehensively serve challenged families is essential to ensure a stable and safe home environment where children can thrive.

Please take time to thank Michigan’s Congressional delegation for the passage of the doc-fix bill – particularly Senator Debbie Stabenow who championed the mental health provision, as well as Congressman Camp, Congressman Upton, and again Senator Stabenow who ensured that MIECHV was included in the final legislation.

-Mina Hong

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

April 2, 2014 – Last year 33,970 children were abused and/or neglected in Michigan. April 2014 is federally designated as well as proclaimed by Gov. Rick Snyder as Child Abuse Prevention Month. It is a time to reflect on that sobering number of abused and neglected children and the work that is still needed to accomplish the goal of every child having an opportunity to achieve his or her full potential within a nurturing and loving environment. However, it is also the time to celebrate the good things communities all over the State of Michigan are doing to promote healthy child development. It is also a time when we can honor each and every child and family within our state.

We have a role to play in healthy child development, and our goal this April is to help others recognize that role and the ways in which we can maximize our impact. When communities throughout Michigan come together to support children and families, we all benefit: our fellow citizens are better educated, employees are more effective and miss less work, and we’ll see a profound impact on the quality of life in the communities in which families live.

To remind all of us about the importance of healthy child development, pinwheels have been established as the new national symbol for child abuse prevention. They serve as a visual reminder that all children deserve an equal opportunity for healthy, happy and care-free childhoods. Beginning April 1 and throughout Child Abuse Prevention Month, nearly 80 pinwheel “gardens” will spring up across our state as visual reminders that we all play a role in ensuring happy and healthy childhoods for all children everywhere.

On April 22 at 11 a.m. the Michigan Children’s Trust Fund, the agency of the State of Michigan whose mission is dedicated to child abuse and neglect prevention, will be hosting its 6th annual Prevention Awareness Day event, a rally, procession and planting of a pinwheel “garden.” The event’s theme, “The Power of One,” serves to remind us that one person, one community, one dollar and one action can help protect our children from abuse and neglect. The event will begin at the Lansing State Capitol steps. The rally portion of the event includes notable speakers and entertainment. Participants will then receive a pinwheel and proceed down Michigan Avenue where they will all plant those pinwheels at the traffic circle garden at Michigan and Washington Avenues. By participating at this auspicious occasion, you and your organization join with others as a positive presence of support in the belief that child abuse and neglect can be prevented. We hope that you will join us in Lansing for this important occasion.

Estimates show that implementing effective policies and strategies to prevent child abuse and neglect can save taxpayers more than $104 billion a year. Imagine the number of children that could go to college with that savings. Please join us in helping make Michigan the best place for children to live, grow and thrive.

To learn more about Child Abuse Prevention Month and Prevention Awareness Day, visit the Children’s Trust Fund website or contact Emily Schuster-Wachsberger via email or at 517-335-0671.

-Emily Schuster-Wachsberger

Emily Schuster-Wachsberger, MA LPC, is the State Local Council Coordinator for the Michigan’s Children Trust Fund.

Child Abuse Prevention Month ≈ Month of the Young Child

This month, child advocates across the country are promoting awareness around two very important issues.  April marks the national Child Abuse Prevention Month and the Month of the Young Child.  Coincidentally, these two topics have a lot of overlap since young children are more likely to be victims of abuse or neglect than older children, particularly infants.  In fact, almost 5,000 Michigan babies were determined to be victims of maltreatment in 2011 according to the latest Michigan Kids Count Data Book.  And unfortunately in Michigan, child maltreatment has been on the rise since 2005, mainly through the rise of neglect cases.  This is directly correlated to Michigan’s rising child poverty rates as evidenced by data – young children under the age of five who are receiving food assistance has also been on the rise from 24 percent in 2005 to 37 percent in 2011.

Unfortunately in Michigan, much of this rise in child maltreatment has been the result of the state’s disinvestment in family support programs.  Ensuring that families have the supports they need to provide a safe, healthy, and nurturing home environment is a strategy that improves outcomes for children, particularly those most challenged by their circumstances.  However insufficient access to basic needs like adequate employment, housing, food, clothing, and health care have resulted in unacceptable disparities in family and child well-being that continue to grow over a child’s life, including child maltreatment.

The good news is that the best time to prevent child maltreatment is to target families with young children.  Child maltreatment typically results from parents who struggle to adequately provide for their children physically, mentally, developmentally, and emotionally.  Supports like home visiting programs and other child abuse prevention programs give parents the tools they need to provide a nurturing and safe home environment to be their child’s first and best teacher while saving taxpayer dollars.  But as a state, we have struggled to provide these critical supports.  While funding to comply with the Children’s Rights Settlement has increased support to foster care and child protective services, funding to support child abuse/neglect prevention has not kept pace.  At the same time, Michigan has put additional stress on the lowest-income families with stricter lifetime limits to the Family Independence cash assistance program, reductions in the Earned Income Tax Credit, almost complete elimination of the clothing allowance for Michigan’s poorest children, and stricter eligibility requirements to access the Food Assistance Program.  Pulling out critical safety net programs from under Michigan’s most challenged families has a detrimental impact on the well-being of young children and increases the already unacceptable disparities in child outcomes.  Reversing some of the damaging changes to basic needs programs while expanding access to child abuse prevention programs are essential to ensure that all children are safe, healthy, and ready to succeed in school and life.

As part of Child Abuse Prevention Month, the Michigan Children Trust Fund is hosting its annual Prevention Awareness Day on Tuesday, April 16th on the Michigan Capitol Steps.  This event is a time to recognize Child Abuse Prevention Month and honor all the children and families in our state.  It’s also a great time for child welfare advocates across the state to talk to legislators about the importance of prevention programs and basic needs programs and how they benefit your family and your community.  As legislators negotiate the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year, hearing about the immediate family and child benefits as well as the long-term savings to the state that child abuse prevention programs provide is critical.  Equally important for legislators to hear about are the detrimental child outcomes that result from family stressors related to income insecurity, inadequate health care, and the like.  Will you take part in Prevention Awareness Day activities on behalf of Michigan’s most vulnerable children?

More information about Prevention Awareness Day is available on the Children’s Trust Fund website.

-Mina Hong

Steps Forward, Steps Backward on Michigan’s Responsibility

As we debate public responsibility for many things, there cannot be any argument about our public responsibility for the children who we have removed from their families and placed in the care of the state.  In 2008, a Federal court oversaw a settlement agreement between the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) and a national children’s rights group who asserted that we were not fulfilling our end of this bargain with children and families involved in our child protective services system.  This month, the sixth settlement progress report was released, assessing efforts made over the first six months of 2012.

We need to commend DHS for progress made, as cited in the federal monitors’ report:

  • Increased placements with relative guardians.  Under pressure to improve our record for permanent placements for children and youth removed from their families, DHS has stepped up their use of guardianship.  In fact, 70% of the children permanently placed out of foster care were placed under guardianship with relatives.  We know from research that when kids are removed, placement with relatives is generally less traumatic and more successful than placement with non-relatives.
  • Supporting youth “aging out” of foster care:   Continuing earlier practice, DHS committed to maintaining Medicaid coverage to youth after leaving foster care as independent – over 97% of the eligible youth were covered after their foster care case was terminated.  In addition, Michigan Youth Opportunity Initiative (MYOI) programs continue to operate in counties around the state, funded and supported by the Jim Casey Foundation and other partners.  Though MYOI results in the three counties reviewed by the monitors were mixed, efforts to coordinate services and increase skill sets for older foster youth are essential.  The work of these initiatives is to provide information, training and supportive services related to education, employment, housing, physical and mental health, permanency, and social and community engagement.  Though MYOI results in the three counties were mixed, efforts to coordinate services and increase skill sets for older foster youth are essential.

Unfortunately, monitors noted that Michigan did not improve on the following crucial pieces:

  • Timeliness of reunification.   Often the best option for kids is placement back into the family after services are provided.  Michigan fell behind other states when it came to timeliness of reunification with the family following removal from home.
  • Length of stay in foster care.  Michigan kids stay an average of 11 months in foster care, compared to the national average of less than 8 months.
  • Opportunities for contact.  For children in foster care, there are few elements more critical than visits between caseworker and child, caseworker and parent, and child and their parents.  Michigan failed to meet agreed upon standards pertaining to frequency of these visits.
  • Availability of out-of-home placement options.  Michigan is lagging in licensing relative homes for placement, and is having difficulty meeting the standard of no more than three children placed in any single foster home.

The goal of the Department of Human Services, also demanded through the lawsuit settlement is to quickly connect families to services following a child’s removal to strengthen connections that result in either a child’s timely return home or safe placement as soon as possible.   Support for families must come from various community-based sources – sources whose support from state resources has been cut almost entirely over the last ten years.  In addition, the fact remains that the child welfare system continues to serve a disproportionate share of children from families living in poorer communities and from families of color.

According to the latest Kids Count in Michigan Databook, confirmed victims of child abuse or neglect rose by nearly 30% between 2005 and 2011, and over 80% of those cases involved neglect.  For families who struggle the most to provide a safe and healthy home environment for their children, the need for early prevention programs has never been more critical.  The lack of adequate funding for home visiting and other family support programming and behavioral health services for adults and children, as well as the dismantling of basic financial support programs like food, cash and child care assistance runs contrary to what is necessary to improve outcomes in the child welfare system.

Fueled by the lawsuit, private philanthropic resources, and good administrative decision-making, DHS has made positive steps towards improving child protection services; but without adequate funding, Michigan cannot ensure that all families have the supports they need to provide a safe and healthy home environment for their children.  The Governor did increase resource in his budget recommendation for DHS staffing, but did not increase investments in other areas of that budget.  The Legislature went on spring break without giving us a glimpse of what they are planning for DHS funding, but they have the opportunity when they return to promote investments that have proven track records in halting child maltreatment, particularly for those families most challenged by their circumstances.

To learn more about DHS’s progress towards improving the child welfare system, visit the DHS website.

To keep posted on the state budget process, see Michigan’s Children’s Budget Basics.

-William Long

William is the former Interim President & CEO of Michigan’s Children, former Executive Director of the Michigan Federation for Children & Families, and current Eaton County DHS Board member.

Pathways to Graduation: Continuing the Conversation

At the November 3rd, Pathways to Graduation Conference, over a hundred people gathered in Lansing to discuss the barriers to bringing disengaged youth back to the education system.  Attendees came from state education and workforce offices, local education agencies, recovery/reengagement programs, county departments, community colleges, universities, philanthropic organizations and other interested non-profit organizations.

Even though our Keynote speaker had to cancel at the last minute because of illness, conference attendees overwhelmingly agreed that the conference identified barriers to disengaged youths educational success. The afternoon breakout sessions brainstormed on these barriers and developed solutions that may need to increase local community development initiatives and make changes to state policies and laws.

Some of the most significant recommendations coming out of the conference are:

Dual Enrollment

  • Change the calculation for Full Time Employees regarding the difference between classes vs. credits.
  • Change the calculation for Full Time Employees regarding the difference between classes vs. credits.
  • Requiring all state-funded post-secondary institutions to accept dual enrollment transfer credits.
  • Developing fiscal incentives for both k-12 and post-secondary institutions to develop dual enrollment programs
  • Develop a communication plan including the benefits of dual enrollment.

Utilizing Technology

  • Fully develop broadband infrastructure so location is no longer a barrier to educational access.
  • Allow for a 5th and 6th year waiver for programs that utilize a non-traditional structure, including some online coursework.
  • Address issues of funding instability for seat-time waivers.
  • Identify ways to add flexibility to teacher contracts to allow hours that are conducive to student’s needs.

Workforce Community Partnerships

  • Programs and schools need understand the staffing needs of the businesses in their communities and develop partnerships to fill those needs.
  • Increase School Administration interaction with the business community and utilize local services when possible
  • Make relationships with model programs, like Michigan Works!, Kiwanis, Rotary, etc… to increase community investment in programs that serve the community’s’ youth.
  • Develop Asset Maps within communities to determine what businesses and community organizations can provide – jobs, mentoring, unique leaning experiences, etc…

Community College Partnerships

  • College faculty teaching at the high school or other K-12 building space – there is room to spare in many school buildings.
  • Utilizing existing K-12 teachers who are qualified to become community college faculty.
  • Develop a bridge from k-12 to college that makes the transition a partnership between the k-12 and post-secondary community.
  • Engage community partners creatively.
  • Recognize dual enrollment as a selling point for both systems – K-12 and post-secondary.
  • Improve local knowledge of existing flexibility for credit transfer options.
  • Facilitate a common definition of readiness – high schools have a readiness definition and post-secondary institutions have different readiness definitions.

We’re currently working on the final report from the conference and will be sharing the recommendations with the legislature and with our partners via the Graduate Michigan Action Network.

-Beth Berglin

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