public policy

Keeping the Momentum Going After the March

January 26, 2017 – On Saturday, millions of people participated in either the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. or one of hundreds of sister marches or rallies across the globe. In Michigan alone, there were sister marches in Lansing, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Traverse City, Marquette and other communities. By targeting the day after President Trump was sworn into Office, the message was loud and clear. Marchers were standing up in solidarity to protect the fundamental rights and safety of individuals, families and communities across the country – a message that was starkly opposite of this during the election season.

And there was appropriately controversy about the lack of diversity in the marches, that other marginalized groups were not a part of the initial planning of the Women’s March, and that the millions of people marching on Saturday were noticeably absent when it came to other previously organized grassroots efforts around the significant societal problems other populations face like people of color. And this is all true. As a woman of color and social worker with my own personal and professional values and ethics rooted in the fundamental importance of equity and inclusion, this was something that I struggled with. At the same time, as a policy advocate always looking to get more people civically engaged, this Women’s March was a momentous occasion to get millions of individuals active in ways that they weren’t previously.

At Michigan’s Children, we often talk about voting being only one component of policy advocacy. That after voting, people must stay engaged by communicating to their elected officials about the issues that they care most about and what they want their elected officials to do about these issues. And we know that people often only enter into policy conversations when they feel strongly and passionately about an issue that personally affects them. The Women’s March did just that. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, the sheer magnitude of political activism should be exciting. It was an amazing starting point to get millions of women and men in the U.S. and thousands of Michigan residents who are concerned about the direction of the country and their rights being stripped away engaged in civic action. Now is the time to harness that energy and passion and keep the momentum going.

The challenge for the marchers and for those of us that want to see more people active in policy decision-making is sustaining the focus and commitment of those that participated and providing them with opportunities to continue their advocacy work. For meaningful change to result from these efforts, it cannot be about a one-time action. Rather, a long-term commitment is needed to raise our voices with each other and with folks who may not have traditionally been our active and engaged allies. And, direct communication with policymakers is essential to help them work toward public policies that can serve in the best interest of individuals and families who face the most significant structural barriers to success in our state and in our country.

Learn more about the federal challenges lying ahead that will impact Michigan children and families.

Learn how your concerns might align with Michigan’s Children’s policy priorities, and think about how we might work better together on issues that matter across the state and nation.

Learn how you can bolster your advocacy skills and continue with the activism coming out of last week’s marches.

-Mina Hong

Connecting My Brother’s Keeper to Policy

October 30, 2015 – Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend the launch convening of the Washtenaw County’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative.   My Brother’s Keeper was launched by President Obama to focus on specific solutions to improve outcomes for boys and young men of color.  Washtenaw County joins a dozen or so other Michigan communities who are part of the MBK initiative, demonstrating that many communities across our state are committed to reversing the trend we see in decades of data  suggesting that  our attempts to reduce disparities by race continue to fall short for boys of color.

The goals of the MBK initiative are to ensure that all children enter school cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally ready and read at grade level by 3rd grade; that all young people graduate from high school, complete post-secondary education or training and remain safe from violent crime; and that all youth out of school are employed.  Michigan is far from those outcomes now.

All of these areas are of great importance to Michigan’s Children, and as a Washtenaw County resident, I’d love to help connect the dots between these localized efforts in my community and public policy priorities.  I was very pleased to see a handful of policymakers in attendance, ranging from local city council to U.S. Congress and everyone in between.  However, the locally-focused conversation felt like a bit of a missed opportunity to connect the great ideas generated at the convening and the role of public policy to help implement or remove policy barriers to them.  As Michigan communities continue to roll out MBK action plans, a few thoughts.

First, the challenges of boys and men of color are important to everyone.  The prosperity of our state relies on the success of all of our future workers.  If data and evidence demonstrate that a significant portion of our child population is falling behind, it is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that programs and services are providing equitable opportunities for all children to succeed.  We can’t rely solely on localized efforts, but rather, statewide public will and policies must support these efforts to ensure that all children and youth – including children and youth of color – can succeed for the future prosperity of our state.

Second, the state department that was represented, and who represents the MBK initiative in Lansing, is the Michigan Community Service Commission (MCSC).  While I am glad to see that there is state-level connection to these localized efforts, the role of the MCSC is to connect its programs like AmeriCorps, Mentor Michigan and other volunteerism initiatives to MBK efforts.  This is an essential piece, but to really impact outcomes, we need other state departments to be part of the conversation like the Education, Health and Human Services, Workforce Development, Civil Rights, Corrections, and others whose investment strategies and everyday decisions impact the lives of boys and men of color.  These departments can help design better investment, policies, rules and programs that can best support MBK efforts.

And finally, along those same lines, we know that public policies and investment strategies have contributed to the  “pipeline” that we see too often play out in the lives of boys of color, and that changes to those policies and investments can and should play a vital role to prevent and mitigate its continuation.  Public policy must support efforts to improve access to high quality early childhood education for the children who are most at-risk of starting kindergarten behind, expanding afterschool and summer learning programs for students who wouldn’t otherwise have access to these equity-promoting programs, connecting students and families to wraparound needs through integrated school services, or connecting the dots between community-based initiatives and state department efforts’ to expand trauma-informed practices across all sectors.  As MBK initiatives across our state continue to develop and implement plans, and local communities take responsibility for improved outcomes for boys of color, Michigan’s Children will stay connected to those efforts to help connect the dots between local innovation and the policy and investment required to support them.

-Mina Hong

Giving for Michigan’s Children

November 25, 2014 – In America, Thanksgiving’s arrival for most people ushers in a month-long holiday season filled with merriment. But for too many Michigan families, the holiday season is a stark reminder of the challenges they struggle with day-to-day.

As politicians boast of a Michigan comeback, we know that family poverty is on the rise as half of all Michigan children are born into poverty and one in four Michigan children live in poverty. Child safety is a constant concern as confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect grew in the double-digits in recent years. Educational achievement eludes many as two-thirds of Michigan 3rd graders aren’t proficient readers and one-quarter of all high school freshmen don’t graduate four years later. For children of color, these woeful statistics are worse than for the rest.

Unless we seek solutions to the systemic failings of public policies that contribute to these serious problems, undermining support and success for children and families, a Michigan comeback won’t mean much. That’s why we are appealing to you to help us carry on the good fight to ensure that our state’s children and families have a better future where opportunities for success in school and life don’t leave anyone behind.

We know it can be done – and that’s why we’re asking for your support during this season. For over 20 years we’ve served as a nonpartisan voice for public policy improvements to ensure that all children have an equitable chance to thrive from cradle to career. And we’ve done it without government funding to maintain our independence; instead, we’ve relied on the generosity of people like you. Please consider donating to Michigan’s Children this season.

If all Michigan families are to have the same outcomes as the most fortunate of us, we need to dig in and create policies that level the playing field. The good news is that we’ve made strides in doing just that. Working with other committed advocates in Michigan, we’ve made some important successes, among them the expansion of the Great Start Readiness Program that resulted in $130 million more to cover all eligible 4-year-olds in state-supported preschool.

Next, we must build on this accomplishment in other meaningful ways that address improving school readiness, ensuring child safety at home, and improving college and career readiness while prioritizing strategies that take a two-generation approach that serves children and their parents simultaneously.

Change is coming to Michigan. Be part of it by supporting us with your financial contributions but also with your voice. Sign up for one of our Action Networks and be informed of the work we must do to give all Michigan families something to be thankful for.

We can’t do it without you!

-Matt Gillard

The Importance of Two-Generation Programming

October 24, 2014 – Last week, Michigan’s Children, in partnership with the Policy Committee of the Black Child Development Institute – Detroit, organized a FamilySpeak forum focusing on two-generation strategies.  This FamilySpeak featured organizations in Detroit and Wayne County that serve families with children in a holistic manner and included the following organizations:

The Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS);

Families on the Move, which supports foster and adoptive caregivers;

Stand Up Parents! Great Start Wayne County Parent Coalition; and

Wayne Children’s Healthcare Access Program (WCHAP).

These organizations brought parents to talk about the challenges they have faced and how these programs have assisted them.  We heard from parents who discussed challenges being in domestic violence situations, parents with diagnosed mental illnesses and the challenges they faced parenting, parents who have struggled with their children’s health issues, former foster care kids who are now adoptive and foster care parents themselves, and more.

This FamilySpeak forum made clear some opportunities to better support more of Michigan’s challenged families through better investment in two-generation approaches.  What the families told us is that traditional programs serving them are essential, but in many instances may not be enough.  Existing two-generation programs that Michigan’s Children has advocated for a long time include Head Start and Early Head Start, evidence-based home visiting, high quality child care, and adult literacy and education.  What families shared at our FamilySpeak forum was that the programs they were connected to went above those traditional two-generation programs by also addressing a particular struggle they were facing.

For example, several women discussed being in domestic violence situations and their challenge with leaving that unsafe environment included being financially dependent on their abuser.  One of the women spoke about the program that she was connected to giving her the opportunity to leave that unsafe environment by connecting her to basic needs like shelter, clothing and food.  Additionally, her children were able to attend a high quality child care while she worked to stabilize her mental health struggles, secure permanent housing, and obtain family-supporting income.  She epitomized a success story coming out of a two-generation program.  Unfortunately, too many other families do not have access to these types of programs due to insufficient programmatic resources for the two-generation strategies that exist, and limited connectivity between those strategies and other needs that families may have.

All of the programs at our FamilySpeak forum exemplified two-generation approaches that help children thrive while parents move ahead.  We are so thankful to the organizations that assisted us in recruiting families, and to the adults who were brave enough to share their very personal stories to ensure a successful FamilySpeak.  Fortunately we weren’t the only one’s hearing the information.  The families were speaking to a listening panel of local, county, and state-level policymakers.  Michigan’s Children is committed to continuing to make family voices heard after the election, and we will all need to hold elected officials accountable for decisions to support two-generation strategies.

Read this brief recap of the FamilySpeak and the policy implications coming out of that forum.

-Mina Hong

Voice for Children, Youth and Families: Then, Now and Into the Future

As a lot of you know, Michigan’s Children has been around since 1993 – 20 years of work to move public policy in the best interest of children from cradle to career and their families.  Lots of victories over that time, including pioneering youth voice and youth engagement in public policy and working tirelessly for two decades to help build the collaborative early childhood successes we see today.  Unfortunately, we’ve seen a few setbacks as well including the organizational challenges over the past year that led us to assess our purpose, unique value and support from partners and funders.

Capacity for the assessment has been supported by funders, and the heavy lifting has been done through the expert guidance of some of the best thinkers around the state. During several months of research, analysis and discussion, we found that Michigan’s Children is unique and needed within Michigan’s policy advocacy landscape. So, instead of packing up, we are reorganizing and refocusing our work so that we are giving our supporters the best investment we can in policy advocacy activities.

Things are changing though.  We are, in fact, packing up but only to move our offices to shared space with Michigan Association of United Ways, our long-term and valued state-level advocacy partner – continuing to strengthen all of our work. And, of course, we’ll continue to build and strengthen partnerships with other great advocacy work going on in our state.

So, what’s next?  As you know, there is no shortage of urgent policy work in Michigan.  Our staff is small but smart, and we have continued to advocate for better public policy for kids and families through this time of reflection and restructuring.  Our mission to be a trusted, independent voice working to reduce equity gaps in child outcomes from cradle to career through policy change remains as consistent as our commitment to being an independent voice for children present in policy decision-making.

We know that this is no time for Michigan’s Children to slow down or to turn our backs on the issues facing our state’s children, youth and families – the challenges are still too great.

I have been honored to help shepherd the organization through the last year, and will be intimately involved as we move into our next 20 years.  As we all know, the well-being of our children, youth and families is critical to the well-being of Michigan.  I look forward to working with you!

-Michele Corey

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