two-generation

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.

Reading and Parenting in March

Wow, I have rarely seen so many legislators embracing March as National Reading Month as I have this year. I have seen lots of their newsletters highlighting their trips to their communities’ pre-schools and elementary schools to take the time to read to young children. At Michigan’s Children, we are thrilled with the focus on making sure every child can read, and are glad that so many members of our legislature are having direct, impactful experiences with their constituents focused on this issue.

Appropriately, March is also Parenting Awareness Month – what an amazing intersection. Parents continue to be children’s first and best teachers and their ability to consistently read to their children has certainly been proven over time to make a huge difference in educational outcomes. Along with the classroom scenes, legislators could have had other experiences with parents during Reading Month as well, maybe looking something like this:

  • A mother who had to give up her children to the foster care system was provided the parenting skills, substance abuse treatment, mental health or domestic violence services that allowed her to regain custody of her children. She was then able to read to her children, possibly even for the first time.
  • A parent who was not ever able to read to his or her children before because of low literacy levels themselves was provided adult basic education or services for English Language Learners (ELL) that allowed them to read to their children.
  • A young parent who was struggling with their own educational challenges was given support through an alternative education program that connected their need for a quality early education program opportunity for their child and a quality high school completion program for themselves. Because the services were co-located, the parent could take time to read to their child during their own school breaks.
  • A parent who had been unable to effectively reach their young child with a developmental delay, like speech and hearing, was given skill-building and support through Early On to adjust their strategies and learn how work on their child’s literacy skill-building.
  • A foster or adoptive parent who had not been able to access support for a child with significant trauma was able to access training for themselves and appropriate mental health services for their child and could then employ the parenting skills that they used with other children in their home to read consistently.

All of these parents (and all of their child readers) are impacted by decisions being made over the next few months in the state budget process. Providing adequate funding for those pre-school and elementary school classrooms is, of course, necessary. As are providing resources for family reunification services and all that is necessary to support that work; for adult and alternative education opportunities; for expanded learning; for Early On; for speedy and appropriate mental health services; and for trauma training in all arenas.

Legislators will be spending time with their constituents over the next couple of weeks while they are on their own spring break. It is up to us to make sure that they have a good understanding of parents, families, children and youth in their communities, and the programs that help them.

Find out who they are. Find out where they will be. Find out what Michigan’s Children is talking with them about. Lend your voice to the work of building better investments so that all families can thrive.

– Michele Corey

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

When Parenting Extends Beyond Mom and Dad: Many Deserve to be Valued, Supported when They Step up

March 4, 2016 — Cradling my first child hours after her birth in a haze of sleeplessness and awe, I was overcome with the responsibilities of raising a new human being. A difficult birth left her under close medical watch for five days, and I spent many hours wondering over the unknowns, and if I would be up to the task. With each mistake and triumph in the months and years to come, I learned to parent aided with knowledge from others around me – my own parents, spouse, child care professionals, teachers and pediatricians. I learned parenting a child often involves an entourage – a team made up of various supporting specialties with mom/dad the quarterback calling the plays.

Parenting, like many disciplines, is both learned and a fine art. Over time, we grow as they grow. In March we observe Parenting Awareness Month in Michigan with the knowledge that this work is seldom effortless or accomplished without support from others. Parenting, as we know, often extends beyond mom or dad, to extended family, adoptive and foster families, even the state. “The village” in which our children are raised include schools, child care facilities, institutions and organizations we rely on and hope are also up to the task of supporting the growth of healthy and happy children, including and especially the most vulnerable among us.

Through March, Michigan’s Children is spotlighting a variety of parenting issues and partners we’ve worked with to highlight the critical nature of raising children with the community supports and services necessary to meet the challenges of 21st Century life. Our advocacy and work is rooted in improving our communities to do that with policies made in the best interest of children, youth and families. We believe supporting parents – a child’s first and best teacher – as they become the best parent they can be is a major part of public policy that results in stronger families, stronger communities and a more prosperous Michigan.

You will read about the importance of parents improving their own literacy and academic skills through adult education programs that recognize not just the economic benefits of a high school diploma and advanced training, but that parent literacy is a major factor in 3rd grade reading skills and a child’s own success in school and life.

We will spotlight the need for expanding services with additional state revenues for Early On Michigan, an early intervention program designed for families with children birth to 36 months who have developmental delays or medical conditions that can result in developmental delays. This home-based program has had great success in working with parents and their children for better outcomes.

Other pieces will describe the necessity for improving supports for foster, adoptive and kinship families in a state that has not invested adequately in those caregivers. Improved mental health services for children who have experienced trauma and better access to services in general are two issues we hear families discuss at our sponsored FamilySpeak events. It’s a timely topic as new foster care legislation is working its way through the state Legislature. Additionally, we will look at pilot programs aimed at family reunification that will help parents become better parents for their children.

Take this journey with us this month. It’s our hope parenting Michigan’s children gains new advocates not just this month but year-round.

Parenting Awareness Month is a Michigan initiative to promote awareness, education, and resources – through state outreach and local efforts – emphasizing the importance of effective parenting in nurturing children to become healthy, caring, and contributing citizens. Parenting Awareness Month is unique to Michigan and has been celebrated since 1993.

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

New Research Supports Proven Two-Gen Strategy

August 3, 2015 — There is no doubt that the Earned Income Tax Credit is one of Michigan’s most effective two-generation program strategies. It is proven to not only help working parents, but lifts more children out of poverty than any other public program and it improves their health and education outcomes. Helping families, it also helps communities by stimulating local economies. A sound investment for sure, based on research and evidence.

Now, there is new research pointing to its heavy lifting for moving more people out of poverty in ways greater than previously thought. The research, reported by the Center for Budget for Policy Priorities, points to impressive results in increasing employment and reducing welfare use for single mothers. In one study of single mothers (ages 24-48) with children and no college degree, researches found the number of such families lifted out of poverty nearly doubled due to the impact of the EITC. Sounds like a strategy worthy of investment?

Despite its proven effectiveness, the state EITC is on the list of funding sources that could be redirected from helping children and families and toward fixing Michigan’s miserable roads. This was a bad idea when it was raised in the dog days of the previous state Legislature, then becoming a cornerstone of the May 5 Proposal 1 campaign which opposed cutting EITC to fix roads, and it’s a bad idea yet again.

While Michigan’s EITC isn’t as sizeable as it once was, it is certainly true that combined with the federal credit – which amounts to $6,242 for families with three or more children — it helps supplement low-wage earners and makes a real difference in many households.

Overall, there are 820,000 families with 1 million children who benefit from the state’s EITC and many are single parents. Working full-time at minimum wage, a single parent with two children receives a tax credit of about $300 annually. Again, it wouldn’t be viewed as a windfall to someone in the middle- and upper-income groups, but it can amount to a full paycheck for the working poor.

Several years ago, the state’s EITC was more substantial, but in 2011 the then-new Snyder administration cut the credit from 20 percent to 6 percent of the federal EITC rate, effectively raising $285 million in taxes from the state’s lowest wage earners. Today, the average Michigan EITC return amounts to $143. Despite the cut in the state rate, the current state EITC alone keeps 7,000 working families out of poverty and helps all receiving families with basic needs or debt repayment.

Able to keep more of their earnings, families who qualify tend to spend more of their income on basic necessities, such as housing, child care and transportation, spreading those funds among local businesses and services, thereby strengthening local economies, as well. For a married couple with two children and adjusted gross income of $16,300, they would receive a federal EITC of $5,372 and a state EITC of $322. A single parent with two children and an adjusted gross income of $30,000 would receive a federal EITC of $2,741 and a Michigan EITC of $164.

In this case, what’s good for local working families is good for communities and the state overall. So, how can you help?

  • • Talk to your elected lawmakers and urge them to continue to invest in the Michigan EITC and help keep more dollars in the pockets of working families who need them most.
  • • Employ the facts, using important data available about Michigan’s EITC and emerging research.
  • • And use your own observations about your community and its residents in stating your case. Every community is different and you know best the struggles faced by families around you in making ends meet.
  • • Most of all, remember that public policy decisions require public input. Local lawmakers rely on hearing from constituents like you to help make up their minds about decisions like the EITC.

 

Other resources:

Save Our EITC

An analysis of the Earned Income Tax Credit by the Michigan Office of Revenue and Tax Analysis, Michigan Department of Treasury (February 2015)

‘’Understanding the Impact of the State EITC infographic, the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan”

 

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

A Much Needed Conversation about Child Care

March 16, 2015 – Last week, Michigan’s Children partnered with the Early Childhood Investment Corporation and several other state advocacy partners to organize opportunities to strategize action around some very important services that touch the lives of families with babies and toddlers.  With national assistance from Zero to the Three, The Ounce of Prevention Fund, and the IDEA Infant Toddler Coordinators Association (IDEA ITCA), the sessions focused on the current landscape of the home visiting, child care, and Early On systems in Michigan, and engaged attendees in identifying necessary steps toward improvement.  Today, I’m going to talk a bit more about the session focusing on child care and some of what that means for Michigan’s Children’s work in the coming months.

First and foremost, a state-level conversation about how to improve the child care system in Michigan hadn’t taken place in years, which is evidenced by the significant challenges faced by that system; and participants, including Michigan’s Children, have felt that the discussion was long overdue.  A significant part of the conversation included reframing child care from a welfare and low-wage workforce support to an early education priority.  The Governor’s third grade reading proposal included child care improvements, reflecting this shift within the administration that many view as a victory for child care, but the connections are not often recognized by other policymakers.

At Michigan’s Children we believe that child care is an essential part of two-generation strategies to help children thrive while their parents can get ahead in life; and that talking about child care from an education perspective – knowing that decades of research tells us that children’s success is strongly connected to their parents’ success – is critical.  To take it one step further, this also means that we need to be supporting parents’ education.  This means allowing parents to access child care assistance while in adult education programs (think, family literacy), as well as allowing adult education to be an allowable activity for families to receive cash assistance.  But I digress.

Another key piece of any discussion to improve child care in Michigan is the need to restructure the child care subsidy system to better match market demands.  This would mean a shift from the current hourly reimbursement rates, which have not enabled consistent care, to part-time or full-time payment rates.  If we want to get serious about child care being an education program, then we must support what research consistently shows us impacts child outcomes in child care – quality interactions between the teacher and child which is dependent on continuous, consistent, quality care.  This type of care is not sustainable with an hourly payment structure – we can’t keep paying child care subsidies like we would a babysitter, but rather pay for it the same way we pay for preschool and k-12 education.

Fortunately, the Governor’s FY2016 budget includes some improvements to the child care system that will support what the research shows us.  And fortunately three of the four recommendations were already approved by the Legislature via supplemental budget to begin implementation in the current fiscal year.  His proposals include:

  • Funding to allow families to access 12-months of continuous child care subsidy that supports the research showing that consistent care matters for children and families and essential for child care providers trying to maintain their businesses.
  • Additional tiered reimbursement acknowledging that higher quality child care is more costly.
  • Allowing families to maintain their subsidies as they begin to earn a little bit more money to not have to suddenly shoulder expensive child care costs on their path to economic stability.
  • Funding to hire additional licensing consultants to ensure that child care programs are maintaining basic health and safety standards. This is the only recommendation that was not included in the supplemental and must be included in the FY2016 budget.

To learn more about the Governor’s budget recommendations including the third grade reading details and child care, read our Budget Basics.   And stay tuned for a future blog on the Early On session.

-Mina Hong

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

The State of Early Childhood

January 26, 2015 – Last week, Michigan residents got to hear two speeches from our political leaders – one from Governor Snyder with his State of the State Address, which was followed by President Obama’s State of the Union Address.  Families with young children should’ve heard opportunities in both of the men’s speeches as it relates to early literacy, service delivery, and better supporting families with young children through two-generation strategies.

In Governor Snyder’s address, I was pleased that he spent some time talking about Michigan’s challenges with third grade reading and how to best tackle this issue.  Instead of repeating last year’s punitive approach, he not only called for a commission of folks outside of state government to identify solutions to get more children reading proficiently, but he also mentioned that he would be recommending greater early childhood investments – beyond the Great Start Readiness preschool investment – to tackle the third grade reading issue with appropriate early interventions.  And if we know anything about the decades of research about early childhood and brain development and the emergence of the achievement gap in infancy, we know that early interventions should start at birth (or earlier) and focus on providing tools to parents to be their child’s first and best teacher – a two-generation approach to tackling literacy.  Given that our state’s revenues are down, I am glad to hear Governor Snyder continue to talk about supporting early learning and look forward to the details in his budget recommendations to be released on February 11th.

Additionally, Governor Snyder talked about merging the Departments of Community Health and Human Services.  I am sure that we will see ways to streamline efforts through this merger, and I hope that any cost-savings from service delivery is reinvested in two-generation approaches that simultaneously provide opportunities for young children to thrive while their parents get ahead in life.  We know that many families qualify for two-generation services provided by these departments that they cannot currently access due to insufficient state investment – this includes evidence-based home visiting, child abuse and neglect prevention services, family-focused mental health interventions, and other critical services that ensure young children are healthy, developmentally on-track, and that their families are on paths towards stability.  I hope we will see more of this type of holistic people-focused services coming out of the new department.

At the national level, we heard President Obama talk about a critical two-generation program in his State of the Union address.  He stated, “In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality child care more than ever.”  Child care is a key component to two-generation programming and without child care, we cannot expect parents who are trying to obtain a GED or complete a workforce training program to obtain family-supporting employment without child care assistance as they work towards family self-sufficiency and success.  Obama’s child care plan will require a big lift to get approval from Congress, and Michigan’s Children will work with our Congressional delegation to ensure this issue remains a priority; and at the same time, we will continue to fight for reforms to our state’s child care system to ensure that more low-income working families can access high-quality child care.

Hearing both our Governor and President talk about better supporting families is encouraging.  Both of them – whether intentionally or not – have identified clear ways to better support young children and their parents through two-generation strategies.  Michigan’s Children will continue to lift up examples of best practice that utilize two-generation approaches and will continue to advocate for good public policies – starting with the state budget next month – that best support parents and their children simultaneously.

-Mina Hong

CCDBG Reauthorization a Huge Win

November 19, 2014 – Today, President Obama signed the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act of 2014 into law.  First, I think it’s important for us to recognize that though the general population believes that Congress is broken, when something as important as the safety and well-being of our children are at-stake, our political leaders can come together in a bipartisan fashion to reauthorize a law that hadn’t seen Congressional action for nearly two decades.  This is a huge win for Congress, for President Obama, and for working families across the nation who access high quality child care – particularly for low-income working families who rely on their state’s child care subsidy to ensure they can stay employed or in education programs to better the futures of their families.  Child care assistance is clearly a two-generation strategy that helps parents and their children simultaneously, and I applaud Congress and the President for getting this done during challenging political times.

For Michigan, the reauthorized CCDBG law includes welcomed changes that will push our Child Development and Care program – Michigan’s child care subsidy system – to better serve struggling families.  My latest Issues for Michigan’s Children brief highlights some of the policy changes included in the new law and what that means for Michigan.  But in this blog, I want to focus on one of those changes – the 12 month eligibility rule.

Currently in Michigan, we evaluate families’ eligibility for the child care subsidy every 12 months but if families experience job loss or income changes, these must be reported to the state and families risk losing their child care subsidy at any point in time.  The reauthorized law will require states to provide 12-months of continuous eligibility to families receiving the child care subsidy that would not result in fluctuations based on changes in parents’ work status or increases in family income.  This is a welcomed shift to current policy that will have significant impact on families, child care providers, and the state.

First and foremost, low-income working families will greatly benefit from the CCDBG changes.  Michigan’s income eligibility threshold for the child care subsidy is one of the lowest in the nation at 121% of the federal poverty level.  That means a family of four has to make an annual income of $28,858 or less to be eligible for the lowest end of the subsidy (currently as low as $0.95 per hour).  For a family whose income might shift slightly after being deemed eligible – say $30,000 after picking up a couple of temporary overtime shifts at work – would risk losing their subsidy and would have to re-apply when their income fluctuated again.  Or if a family experienced job loss, they would automatically lose their subsidy even if they needed child care while they searched for jobs and attended job interviews.  The reauthorized CCDBG law would require Michigan to continue to provide the child care subsidy for the full 12-month eligibility period in these types of instances – a huge benefit to those working or newly unemployed parents.  For children, this means they can stay in their same child care setting, which we know to be beneficial to healthy attachment and development.  So from a two-generation perspective, 12-months of continuous eligibility is a significant win for Michigan’s struggling families.

This is also a win for child care providers and for the state.  For providers, they won’t have to worry about a child suddenly losing their subsidy and the resulting shifts in their program’s revenue.  We know that providing high quality child care is expensive, so having reliable and continuous revenue through the subsidy reimbursement for 12 continuous months will be helpful to providers as they work to maintain and increase the quality of their business while serving low-income families.  For the state, our administrative costs will go down as we no longer have to track families during their 12-month eligibility periods and can continue to increase our focus on ensuring access to higher quality care.

This, and other policy shifts to the reauthorized CCDBG law, have been a long time coming and we look forward to seeing these changes come down in Michigan to improve the child care system for Michigan’s low-income working families.

-Mina Hong

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

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