youth

Elections Are Inspiring

I’m consistently educated and inspired by constituents and policymakers alike when the two groups are brought together. I’ve been so fortunate to have been part of Michigan’s Children’s intentional creation of these opportunities for the last 18 years. They take many forms, but always include direct communication between young people, families, the people who serve them and policymakers. During the campaign season, these opportunities are so critical as our citizenry decides who will be representing us in Lansing and Washington, DC. It is important for constituents to hear what candidates for office are saying about issues of concern to them, and for candidates to hear those issues and be held accountable for articulating solutions that they will be prioritizing if elected.

This week, we kicked off our youth- and family-led candidate forum season with two forums (one in two-parts) led by families in two very different parts of the state. The first, at the Zeeland Early Childhood Center in Ottawa County, and the second at The Children’s Center in Detroit. Circle back to our Learning from Youth and Families page for more details about both of these successful events, check out what we tweeted through the forums, and here are just a couple of highlights for me:

  1. Most of the eight candidates running for the 30th State Senate and the 90th State House districts in Ottawa County looking down the table at each other and remarking about their commonalities in supporting early childhood programming and wanting to help to improve the mental health system in our state.
  2. The vast experience and enthusiasm that all five of the attending candidates running for the 13th Congressional District are bringing to that race, a race in a district that had been represented by single Congressman, John Conyers, Sr. from the time before these candidates were even born.
  3. The flexibility and responsiveness of the single candidate running for the 1st State Senate attending (though others had confirmed) to forgo the more formal forum style and just sit with constituents and answer question after question.

Of course I didn’t think EVERYTHING that the candidates said would lead to investment and policy strategies helpful to the most vulnerable children and families in our state, but I couldn’t help but be inspired by the insight provided by the families themselves in the thoughtful questions that they asked, and by the time committed by the candidates to answer them comprehensively.

During the next four months, people are vying for the jobs that we will be hiring them for in November. On August 7, in the primary election, our first round of job interviews will be completed, and the field of applicants will significantly drop. Our elections matter. The people who we hire by electing them to office matter. Expressing our priorities and helping others to express theirs to the people who are tasked to represent those priorities matters.

We will continue to create and assist with opportunities to express those priorities around the state, and if you are interested in partnering with Michigan’s Children in your community, let us know. Personally, I can’t wait for the next one!

–  Michele Corey is Michigan’s Children’s Vice President for Programs

Meet Grant, Our Newest Intern

Hello! My name is Grant Rivet and I have the great opportunity of being an intern for Michigan’s Children this semester. My primary duties will be assisting with social media, updating our 2018 elections page, and briefing policy reports. Originally I am from Bay City, Michigan where my father was a former State Representative for the 96th district. It’s no stretch to say I have been around politics my entire life. From the fundraisers, to gathering election results after the polls close, to passing out popsicles at local parades in the summer. It’s not hard to see the influence that my father has had on my passion for politics.

I heard about the opportunity to intern for Michigan’s Children through my stepmother and Michigan’s Children board member Kristen McDonald. She has always been an advocate for the advancement of underprivileged youth throughout her entire professional career, especially in her position as VP with the Skillman Foundation, which seeks the advancement of Detroit’s youth. There, I had several opportunities to be around and volunteer, which opened my eyes to the disadvantages and harsh reality of life for many children in Detroit. I took a step back and realized just how fortunate I was growing up and realized many kids will not have nearly the opportunities I have just because of their socioeconomic status. I can honestly say I enjoyed volunteering and found the work to be extremely satisfying knowing it would benefit those who really need it. So, when the opportunity to get hands-on experience with Michigan’s Children to get a better understanding of the policy aspect of advocacy came up, it was an easy decision for me.

I find 2018 Michigan Gubernatorial election extremely intriguing as young adult. I think the state is at a crossroads between the two parties and with leadership within the state. With an increase in polarization of both parties and an eight-year term by Rick Snyder coming to an end, it will be intriguing to see if the 2016 Presidential election results will hold in Michigan’s Gubernatorial race. This election features established candidates with a long track record of success against progressive, upstart candidates who have also attracted a large base.

Personally, I would love to see the candidates talk about guns, education, and healthcare. All three of these issues affect the youth in our great state and are issues that should not be discussed lightly. Education and healthcare equity gaps are at an all-time high in this state. For a lot of families, higher education is not affordable, which leads to a generational cycle of poverty that is nearly inescapable. These two issues are fundamental rights that should be afforded to everyone regardless of socioeconomic status. It’s also critical for me to see some advancement in terms of guns this upcoming election. It’s always been a topic that I have been very passionate about and even more so in light of increasing amount of mass shootings in the U.S. It should be one of the most interesting gubernatorial races in the country next year and I am very excited to see who comes out on top. My primary role to update our followers on the 2018 election cycle is designed to help inform, engage, and update our followers on each candidate and their specific views on policies that effect Michigan’s Children.

Grant Rivet is an intern at Michigan’s Children. He is a graduating Senior at Michigan State University majoring in Political Science, and hopes to one day become a lobbyist.

Casting A Vote for Kids and Families

November 2, 2017 – I still remember the first time I ever voted – it was 2000, a waiter at a restaurant in Washington, DC passed a ballot to me, a first grader who had just learned the names of our “founding fathers”. Eager to show off my new skill, I proudly voted for my own hybrid ticket of Al Gore and Dick Cheney.

It’s probably for the best that six-year-olds aren’t allowed to vote, but their interests and, ultimately, their futures will be front and center on November 7, 2017, when communities across Michigan will vote for municipal and county officials, school board members, and a number of property tax increases, many of which would fund local public school facilities improvements.

Choosing the right local candidates is vitally important because not only will the winners make decisions that immediately impact the well-being of Michigan’s children, youth, and families, they also, more often than not, will be the people running for state house and Congress, governor or state-level office, and, maybe, even for President.

Local elected officials have the power to direct available resources towards issues of interest to local voters, including matters like education, health, and human services, and criminal and juvenile justice policy. School board members, for example, can ensure that diverse voices are included when planning facilities renovations and build relationships with community partners to bring the whole community’s resources to bear in public schools. County commissioners can allocate funds to court programs that divert youth from the criminal justice system or promote maternal and infant health. Sheriffs can work with their police departments to promote more equitable practices and build relationships with youth in their community. Simply put, local officials have a say in policies that affect the day-to-day lives of children, youth, and families.

It’s also incredibly important to elect local officials who uplift the voices and tend to the needs of children, youth, and families because, one day, those same people will run for a state-level or higher office. If you’re not satisfied with your own elected official for being out of touch with the needs of struggling kids and adults, you can begin to turn the tide by filling the benches of all political parties with candidates who truly put the interests of children first.

All politics is local, and all politicians get their start somewhere. We can ensure that youth and family voices, especially the voices of those who are struggling the most, guide policy change, and simultaneously lay the groundwork for a new generation of committed child advocates in our state and federal legislatures, by getting out on November 7 and choosing local political candidates who share these values.

Bobby Dorigo Jones

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.

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.

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

Youth Voice Improving Public Policy

February 6, 2015 – Last week, we gathered a group of 18 young people who were either still in the foster care system, or who had been served by that system, to share their experiences with a group of more than three dozen local, state and national decision makers at the 2nd annual Oakland County KidSpeak®. The policymakers heard about challenges and recommendations for change directly from the people whose care is the state’s responsibility, and who experienced how our systems worked to support their success, or created barriers to that success.

Michigan’s Children has been creating opportunities like Monday’s for young people to share their stories, concerns and suggestions directly with policymakers since 1996. Their voices have changed the trajectory of policy conversation and have resulted in additional champions for youth-driven solutions in the Legislature, state Departments and other local policymaking bodies. But still, the challenges continue. We have a long way to go. In fact, the KidSpeak® testimony given has already been referenced by a member of the House Families, Children and Seniors Committee meeting this week, as legislators asked the director of the Departments of Community Health and Human Services why it appears that those departments are still failing to shift policy and practice to address needs brought up by young people in foster care.

That gives me hope. We know that we have a group of Legislators on key committees who have heard the challenges of the system, and are interested in doing something about them. I’m also hopeful that the Governor means what he says about adjusting public service delivery to be about people rather than programs. A great place to start would be in services for the young people under our guardianship. While improvements to that system have been made, the young people themselves continue to ask for more from our care, including more stability, better resources for transition, and opportunities to direct their own life planning.  We’ve highlighted more details about these on-going concerns and policy recommendations to address them in our recent Issues for Michigan’s Children, Critical Issues in Foster Care.

A recurring, and often heartbreaking theme through much of the testimony this year was about the barriers they had faced to be part of their own life planning, including their attempts to keep in touch with their siblings and other members of their birth families. Michigan’s Children will be working with officials to determine what might be done to improve this situation.

While progress has been made to extend supports beyond 18 for young people in foster care, the testimony last week clearly illustrated that it isn’t enough. Michigan’s Children will be supporting efforts to require documented stability before removing young people from the foster care rolls, regardless of age and providing certain types of needed assistance, like legal help, much longer than is currently the norm.

The young people also talked again about being punished for behaviors born of disappointment, isolation and anger directly impacting the stability of their homes, their education and career. Michigan’s Children, as part of our work with the Children’s Trust Fund as the Prevent Child Abuse America Chapter in Michigan, has joined the national effort to better understand the impact of adverse childhood experiences. Efforts toward trauma-informed care are underway, and need to be an essential component of the services we provide to children and youth in foster care.

As we’ve said time and time again, current outcomes for young people who have been involved in the foster care system are unacceptable. Multiple sectors – health, mental health, education, human services – must work together to make sure that under our care, young people are better able to rebuild what has been lost and move successfully toward supporting themselves and their own families now and in the future.

We have the experts at our disposal to help. We will be working to make sure that we have the resources and the champions to move forward.

-Michele Corey

This New Year, Let’s Resolve to Improve the Lives of Michigan’s Children & Families

January 5, 2015 — In most ways, the future is written by the individual actions we take each day.

For more than 20 years, Michigan’s Children has consistently acted with one goal in mind: to make a positive difference for children and families. As a result, the policies we’ve researched and promoted were selected with the intent to create a brighter future for all children, especially those from low-income families, children of color, and children, youth and families shouldering other challenging circumstances.

With the start of a new year, we begin to look at the future with a fresh pair of eyes once again. As a child is born prematurely in a Detroit hospital, as an older teen ages out of foster care in Muskegon, as a Saginaw family struggles with mental health issues and economic self-sufficiency, and as a Northern Michigan community strives to re-examine ways to boost third grade reading, we’ll be looking at those issues too, but from the perspective of moving ahead public policies that have the best chance for helping children and families.

Won’t you join us in advancing public policies that give kids and families a fighting chance for success in life this year? Make the choice to keep informed and connected through our bulletins, blogs and reports, follow us on social media, help us bring the voices of youth and families to policymakers through KidSpeak, FamilySpeak and other opportunities, and answer our calls to action when it’s imperative to reach out to decision-makers. Each action matters.

Our public policy agenda is straightforward and detailed on our website under the caption, Policy Opportunities. But here in a nutshell is how we see the future getting better for children, from cradle to career, and their families, if Michigan invests more in its people:

Improving school readiness: It’s now a universal truth that success in school and life begins years before a child enters kindergarten. Scientists have shown that as much as 90 percent of a child’s intellectual and emotional wiring is set in early childhood. A healthy prenatal experience, support when there are developmental delays early in life, and high quality early care and education can make a huge difference in a child’s later school and life success. That’s why we fight every year for strong investments in services such as evidence-based home visiting, Early On early interventions, services that prevent child abuse and neglect, high quality child care and preschool and family supports as their children move toward third grade.

Ensuring safety at home: To grow and thrive, children physically and emotionally need to feel secure and supported in their homes and communities as they mature, move through school and reach adulthood. While Michigan’s poverty has shot up by 34 percent in recent recessionary times, child abuse and neglect cases sadly have risen too. The state can counter the negative impacts on children, however, by offering economic supports to help stabilize families and also offer support for behavioral healthcare when needed. Specifically, mental health services are needed for children in foster care and the juvenile justice system, where children have experienced high incidents of damaging abuse and neglect. We continually need to push for better investments in assessments and intervention, mental health and substance use/abuse, domestic violence prevention and treatments to quell the numbers of children entering both systems. Then as youngsters age out of foster care, transitional services are needed to help them get on their feet, earn a diploma, and find a post-secondary path that leads to self-sufficiency.

Improving college and career readiness: We know Michigan’s future is linked to all children getting ready for a post-secondary education, work and life. Bottom line: Without a high school diploma, today’s youth have little chance for a good outcome. In addition, we know that the achievement gap among poor children and children of color leaves too many of our youths without good prospects for success. Consistent support for integrated services that help students and their families focus on education; providing second and third chances for high school graduation for those who need extra time and different kinds of opportunities to succeed are essential to ensure more young people can obtain their high school credential. If Michigan is to have a strong future, we can’t leave any of our youth behind.

Supporting families: Because the well-being of children is inextricably tied to their parents, we strongly believe in the value of public policies that are based on two-generation strategies. Policies that take into account the needs of both children and parents include education and job training for parents so that they can better provide for their children and high-quality child care and education to help children thrive. Successful two-gen programs often include services such as evidence-based home visiting, Early On early intervention, adult and community post-secondary education, behavioral health services and connections to family and community resources.

Throughout the year expect to hear from us as we monitor Legislative and budget decisions and promote those that can make a positive difference for Michigan’s children and families. Better yet, join us as we promote a policy agenda that promises to do just that! Together we can make a difference.

— Matt Gillard

Starting School and Staying There

September 2, 2014 – Here we are, the day after Labor Day, with all eyes toward young people returning to school.  Now that they are back, we need to keep them there – making sure that they aren’t losing opportunity because of multiple absences, and making sure that they stick it out until high school graduation and beyond.

September is national Attendance Awareness Month and the noteworthy Attendance Works national organization released today a study about the impact of attendance, or lack of attendance, on educational success in Michigan and around the country, titled Absences Add Up: How Attendance Influences Student Success.  As the report authors discuss, and Michigan’s Children has discussed many times in our blogs and elsewhere, it has never before been so essential that we move all of our young people to educational success.  One of the barriers to doing this is when young people aren’t getting all of the learning opportunities that they could.  This happens during the summer, it happens during the 80 percent of waking hours that children and youth aren’t in school and it happens when they are absent.  Bottom line:  they miss out and have limited opportunity to catch up.

So, not surprisingly, what Absences Add Up reports is that in Michigan and around the country, your assessment scores have EVERYTHING to do with how often you are absent.  Being present in school matters to academic performance for each grade and subject studied, for every group of children and in every locality.  The report states that “in many cases, the students with more absences have skill levels one to two years below their peers. While students from low-income families are more likely to be chronically absent, the ill effects of missing too much school hold true for all socioeconomic groups.”

In Michigan, there was a 15 point difference in average math assessment scores between 4th graders with no absences in the past month and those who missed at 3 or more days.  Similar gaps are seen in 4th and 8th grade reading.  The largest gap in Michigan is the 23 point difference for 8th grade math.  I see the impact of the cumulative nature of math instruction with my own kids, which is clearly hampered by multiple absence.

What are the keys to keeping kids in school?  Ah, that is the complication.  There are many reasons why children and youth are absent from school, some of which are under the control of the school system and some that are not.  The State Board of Education and the Michigan Department of Human Services recently staffed a Truancy Task Force with the purpose of building a common definition for truancy that could be utilized across the state.  In the course of that discussion, what was also apparent is that there are as many reasons for absence as there are absences themselves and a myriad of ways that local school systems both report and deal with absence.  So if it is this complicated, what can be done?

  1. Support integrated services in schools.  When schools are able to connect families with other community resources, there are more chances to find and address the causes of school absence – be they related to physical and behavioral health issues, unstable housing, bullying or disengagement by parents or students.
  2. Support expanded learning opportunities.  There is ample evidence documenting the impact of quality afterschool and summer learning programs on in-school attendance.  When expanded learning opportunities are utilized to engage and re-engage young people in their learning, they are more likely to engage and re-engage with school as well.

As we’ve been saying over and over again, this election season gives all of us a platform to see what the candidates for office suggest we do to keep kids in school and learning.  When kids miss school, they miss opportunity.  They can’t afford it and neither can we.

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