youth voice

Reflections on My Internship

When I started graduate school, my very first class was a social policy class. It sounded a little boring, and I couldn’t imagine enjoying it. Much to my surprise, I loved the class and I loved learning about the social policies that affect the well-being of all people. I wanted to learn more and experience what it was like work for an organization that helped shape these policies. For the past 8 months, I’ve had the honor and pleasure of doing that as an intern at Michigan’s Children.

I remember the first day of my internship. As with any first day at a “new job,” I was excited and more than a little nervous. Would I do well? Did I really know enough about social policy?  I spent the following days reading everything I could about issues affecting the welfare of children. In staff meetings, I heard legal terms that were new to me and discretely (I hope) scribbled them down, so I could look them up later.  The following weeks and months were an exciting time as I tried to learn everything I could about policy work and advocacy.

From the first day, I was treated like a member of the team, not “just an intern.” The work was challenging, but I loved every minute of it. Not only did I do research, analyze policies, and make recommendations, I also had other great opportunities such as attending House and Senate appropriations meetings, meeting with people from other organizations, and talking to individuals in the community. Additionally, I had the pleasure of working with Courtney, another very talented social work intern at Michigan’s Children.

During my time there, I learned so much from Michele, Matt, Bobby, and Kali. Valuable things that I’ll remember and carry with me throughout my social work career. Here are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned.

1. Change takes time, and often a very long time. When advocating for better policies, sometimes you have to start with small requests and continue to build on small changes to get the big changes you really want.

2. Doing your research is critical. To analyze policies to determine their potential effectiveness and offer recommendations, you need to know the facts about the issues.

3. Networking and building relationships with individuals and groups in other agencies and organizations is essential. The more people you bring to the table with a shared goal, the more power you have to affect change.

4. This most important thing I’ve learned. It is crucial to talk to the people directly affected by the issues. Reach out to community members in diverse populations and listen to what they have to say. They are the experts on their own experiences, their needs, and how to best address those needs without creating more barriers.

In addition to learning about policy work and advocating for positive change, I learned many things about myself.  I can do so much more than I ever imagined, I have good ideas, I love meeting people and building relationships, and I am passionate about advocating for children and families. The world should be a safe place for children and youth where they feel loved and have opportunities to learn, grow, and thrive. Part of creating that world is ensuring that parents and grandparents also have the supports they need.

My time at Michigan’s Children has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my graduate school education both professionally and personally.  Now that I’ve graduated and am ready to begin my professional career, I leave the organization knowing that I’ve made 5 amazing, extremely knowledgeable and talented new friends whom I will never forget. It has been a joy and a privilege to work with them and learn from them.

 Sherry Boroto, MSW is a former intern at Michigan’s Children.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Michele Corey

This blog was originally published in Bridge Magazine.

Youth Lead, Candidates Follow

October 28, 2016 – On Tuesday, October 18, Michigan’s Children partnered with Ingham Academy and Peckham Inc. to facilitate Michigan’s Children’s 2nd 2016 youth-led candidate forum in Lansing. The youth who spoke at the forum were youth currently or formerly involved with the juvenile court system, who attended Ingham Academy and programs through Peckham Inc. The young people had a lot of great questions to ask the candidates present running for the 67th Michigan House district, and Ingham County Sheriff and Prosecutor.

This forum was particularly interesting because the youth were able to stand and ask candidates who make decisions regarding their lives questions about some of the things they have experienced firsthand. The youth asked about topics from foster care, substance abuse services, transitional programs, human trafficking, and community violence, to mental health and holistic practices for sentencing youth in juvenile court. The candidates responded to the youth placing an emphasis on enhancing the relationships between the county officials and the community, along with community policing, and advocating for the allocation of funds for programs that the youth need in their communities. Through their stories and questions, the youth were able to utilize the forum as a safe space to advocate for a better, more-resourced community environment. Personally, it is truly refreshing to see so many youth communicate the needs of their communities in such a strong way to the candidates. It is equally as refreshing to see the candidates take time out of their busy schedules during this election season to hear the youths concerns, and learn more about the issues that are pertinent to the communities that they are hoping to serve for the next several years.

The forum elicited many spectators who were from local non-profit organizations, the Lansing courts, and other interested community members, family, and friends of the youth. The size and strength of the audience illustrated community support for the youth, which clearly boosted their confidence as they told their stories and asked their questions. It was refreshing to hear the youth claim and embrace their journey as they provided support for the importance of their questions by sharing their own life experiences. As an audience member, I can only hope that the candidates take all of these personal stories into consideration after the election. For the winners: as they create and advance their agenda once in office; for the others, as they continue with other opportunities to serve the community. The candidates offered solutions, and even though complete answers could not be provided to every question, the youth stated that just by putting their concerns on the table they felt as if they made a difference in their communities.

As an advocate for youth voice, and including the practical experiences and knowledge from youth about their communities and schools in policy change decisions, I could not have asked for a better response from the youth. It is my hope that the youth continue to grow, and create and participate in spaces for dialogue about the changes in their communities as they continue through their educational and life endeavors. The youth in this forum had great perspectives and the candidates made sure the youth felt heard which made for yet another successful forum.

– Briana Coleman
Briana is an MSW intern at Michigan’s Children.

Recommendations From the Source

October 6, 2016 – Earlier this week, the National Dropout Prevention Conference (NDPC) was held in Detroit with a focus on empowering students, improving educational success, and mitigating the long-term effects associated with dropping out of school. This month is also National Dropout Prevention Month, encouraging groups across sectors to raise awareness of the issue and work harder toward helping all students stay in school.

The NDPC brings to our attention that, too often, the need for dropout prevention awareness and viable solutions is underestimated. While progress in reducing school dropout rates has been made, the need for greater awareness still exists. Notably, 6.5% of people between the ages of 16 and 24 in the US are not enrolled in school and have not earned a diploma. These young people, on average, will be qualified for only 10% of available jobs and earn $8,000 less per year than high school graduates. Yet as many are aware, individual lived experiences are not captured in these nationally reported numbers.

To provide space for students to share their experiences, the NDPC hosted several Youth Led Sessions. Michigan’s Children assisted with coordinating these sessions, and I was honored to attend several on the afternoon of October 4. Student presenters represented several impactful organizations throughout Michigan focusing on a variety of points along students’ journeys, including: Ozone House, Fostering Success Michigan, Swartz Creek Academy, Crossroads High School, Neutral Zone, Oakland Opportunity Academy, Youth Action Michigan, Lansing Community College, The Children’s Center, Developing K.I.D.S., Metropolitan Youth Policy Fellows, and Washtenaw Technical Middle College.

The Youth Led Sessions covered a wide range of topics, from the importance of embracing technology in the classroom instead of fighting against it to actualizing the idea that students should feel cared for by their teachers. Similarly, presentations varied depending on the students leading them: there were skits, panels, ice breakers, interactive activities, internet memes, and lots of comradery. One common thread among all sessions was the prompting of self-reflection by teachers, administrators and others with influence over students’ learning experiences: What are we doing to make school a place where students want to be? After hearing what students had to say and the thoughtful discussions about their ideas for solutions, I reflect on two key takeaways:

  • Consideration of the multiple factors that go into students’ school-day experiences. Decisions to drop out – or engage in behaviors that lead to punitive responses by school officials – rarely have to do with only one factor, and the intersection of young peoples’ school, home, and community lives cannot be ignored. This highlights the importance of moving toward a trauma-informed educational system in each district and classroom. School should foster a sense of belonging and connectedness to the world students are preparing to enter, rather than serve as another stressor.
  • Raising awareness of resources that can make postsecondary education more of a possibility. In addition to making financial and compensatory resources known to students and their families — e.g., Michigan’s Fostering Futures Scholarship & Tuition Incentive Program for those who have experienced foster care – teachers’ and administrators’ awareness and willingness to engage in discussions about what is helpful to each individual student is also crucial. Students emphasized that their perception of education as a key factor in their future shifted their attitudes toward education in the present.

It was an honor to attend the Youth Led Sessions and engage in these discussions. While the NDPC and awareness campaigns through National Dropout Prevention Month have amplified these discussions to new audiences, the importance of dropout prevention work is ongoing. In Michigan, there are several things candidates can do to promote graduation. To effectively honor what was heard in the Youth Led Sessions, these issues must continue to be highlighted throughout the election season and into the next legislative session.

–  Leann Down

Leann is a former Michigan’s Children Intern, and is finishing up her dual Master’s degrees from the University of Michigan School of Social Work and the Ford School of Public Policy.

Join With The Voices of Young People This Fall

August 26, 2016 – A couple of weeks ago, Michigan’s Children joined the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), University of Michigan Blavin Scholars Program, Eastern Michigan University MAGIC Program, Michigan Youth Opportunities Initiative, Enterprising Youth Program, Center for Fostering Success, Western Michigan University, Wayne State University, and the Student Advocacy Center in sponsoring the 2016 Michigan Young Leader Advocacy Summit, a gathering of about 70 young people who have experienced the foster care system, their supporting agencies, and decision-makers interested in building a better understanding of critical issues facing them. It was one of the most impactful days I’ve been a part of.

The Summit proceedings raised familiar issues about the barriers to young people “aging out” of foster care that are completely fixable:

  1. Our services are based on arbitrary ages and arbitrary designations (foster care, adoption, guardianship), instead of making sure that no young person is leaving the system (or coming in and out of the system) without adequate support.
  2. Work and education requirements don’t always fit the lives of young people facing the most challenges as they move into adulthood. Requirements need to be flexible enough to work for all young people under a variety of life circumstances that will likely shift over time.
  3. There are so many changes in the people responsible for helping young people as well as the services available to assist them as they move from traditional to voluntary foster care, as they move from county to county (as we would expect young adults to do.)

The fact is that we wouldn’t place arbitrary age or location requirements on our own children. If they faced similar barriers, we would work to help them remove them, for as long as it took, in as many different ways as we could. These children are also our own.

I am inspired, as always, by the knowledge I gain from these conversations, and the energy of the young people.  This fall, there are many ways for us all to utilize that knowledge.  The Michigan House and Senate need to agree on and pass the Assurance of Quality Foster Care legislation before the end of the year, or that process will have to start over again next Legislative session.  This legislation would require some additional diligence to make sure that our foster care, education and other systems are working well for all young people in the foster care system.   Summit attendees committed to take action to make that happen.  See our Act Now page for more about how you can join them.

In addition, most candidates running for office around the state have limited experience and expertise with the child welfare or foster care systems, but we think they need to build some knowledge there if they want to be elected. Take the time to find out where your candidates are going to be, get there, and ask some questions to at least raise your concerns and offer yourself as a resource.

— Michele Corey

Read more about the Summit from Fostering Success.
Read more about services for youth transitioning out of care from MDHHS.

Stories Lend Strength To Advocacy

August 18, 2016 – On Monday, August 5, Michigan’s Children held our third KidSpeak event in partnership with Wayne State University’s Transition to Independence Program (TIP). Youth ages 16-24 stood bravely and told the stories of their experiences in the foster care system to a group of panelist made up of policy makers from various organizations. The youth provided their emotionally-driven testimonies in a way in which they were advocating for change within the foster care system to impact generations to come. While some youth were still involved in the system, many had aged out and are now pursuing post-secondary degrees from Wayne State University or other Michigan institutions. Youth spoke about topics including their safety in their placements and the community, educational and mental health resources, mentorship, and the importance of remaining connected with their siblings upon separation. All of the youth’s stories gave compelling reasons as to why policy makers need to make revisions to the foster care system in Michigan.

As a listener at this event, I was moved by not only the stories of the youth but by their confidence in standing and communicating how their experience, or the experiences of their friends in the foster care system, shaped their goals and where they are now. As an advocate for systemic change for youth, I enjoyed being a part of an event where youth can be an advocate for themselves with the support of those around them. Moving forward, I challenge myself and my colleagues at Michigan’s Children to keep hearing from young people through events such as KidSpeak, while also being a voice for youth who are not presented with the opportunity to have their stories heard. Additionally, in listening to the uniqueness of every youth’s journey in that room and how they were individually effected, I would encourage policy makers to take both the commonalities and the differences that they heard in each story into consideration when advocating for policy change.

A major part of the conversation was the lack of awareness of the availability of higher educational resources available to youth in foster care upon graduating high school. Youth also spoke about the need for mental health and counseling resources in their high schools. As a strong advocate for equity in schools and for youth being able to access a higher education, both of these conversations stuck with me. They inform my current work to better explain to policymakers what trauma-informed education looks like for foster youth, or any youth experiencing adverse experiences in their school, familial, or community lives. The testimony reminded the panelists of the importance of considering whole-child approaches when making policy decisions about the educational structure, opportunities, and resources for foster youth.

The KidSpeak event seemed to have resonated with many of the panelist as well as the audience, and I hope it encouraged the youth to continue to tell their stories so that society understands the complexities of the issues that these youth are facing.

– Briana Coleman

Briana is an MSW intern at Michigan’s Children.

Youth’s Questions Spark Dialogue on Policy Solutions at Detroit Candidate Forum

July 12, 2016 – On Thursday, July 7, Michigan’s Children partnered with The Children’s Center in Detroit to hold the first Youth-Led Candidate Forum of the 2016 election season.  Youth from various programs of the Children’s Center came together to elicit answers from candidates in regards to some of the most compelling issues that they are facing in their communities.  The forum consisted of incumbents running for re-election and candidates who are first-time runners seeking to represent State House districts 2, 5, and 6.  The six candidates proved an interest in addressing a number of issues which the youth considered to be barriers to their personal safety and the safety of their community, their academic success, health, and their families’ economic issues.  The youth asked questions regarding crime throughout the City, high unemployment rates, racism and discrimination in their schools, substance and alcohol use by minors, the Detroit Public Schools crisis, and in light of recent events, redefining the roles and perceptions of police officers by residents in their community.  The space was truly uplifting as I heard the passion in these youth’s voices and listened as youth shared their personal stories of growing up in Detroit, specifically as it related to their growth and their families’ experiences facing various systemic barriers.

During the forum, most candidates shared their experiences growing up in Detroit which reinforced their passionate concern about the issues that the youth were most concerned about.  The candidates spoke about their extensive community involvement throughout the City of Detroit explaining why their commitment to serving and restoring the City was significant.  Often times the candidates mentioned the importance of working together within communities to create change, and encouraged the youth to continue to advocate through activities and conversations, such as the forum, that bring communities together to bring about change.  The youth were given opportunities to challenge answers from the candidates if they were in disagreement or wanted more information about how the solutions mentioned would come about.  Subsequently, this created a dialogue between the youth and candidates to critically think of policy solutions that would truly bring about real change.

Afterwards, the candidates expressed the value of, importance of, and showed gratitude for being involved in such an event.  Many said that it reinforced their commitment to running for State Representative and truly pushing for change in Detroit so that this generation of youth and those to follow can have a more enriching environment to be kids, grow, and succeed.  Candidates stayed around after the forum to thank the youth and applaud them on their courage and efforts to create change in their communities as a group.

Overall, this forum allowed candidates to hear about concerns from young people in their communities and consider potential solutions to bring about change.  And it showed the youth that they can have a say in what the future of their community looks like, and I believe that it did just that.

-Briana Coleman

Briana is an MSW intern at 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

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

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