Connecting with Candidates in Traverse City to Support Young Children
Traverse City – Candidates vying to represent parts of Northern Michigan gathered to hear from constituents about the early childhood issues that they care about, and assert their early childhood priorities if elected. Candidate Betsy Coffia (D) in the 103rd state House District, candidates Cathy Albro (D) and Rep. John Roth (R) in the 104th state House District race, and Dr. Barbara Conley (D), seeking the 37th state Senate seat fielded questions from community members at the Traverse Area District Library on Oct. 17, 2022.
Invited candidates Rep. Jack O’Malley (R), Courtney Evans (Lib), Zachary Dean (Lib), and Rep. John Damoose (R) did not attend. Forum sponsors included the Northwest Chapter of the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health (MI-AIMH), Michigan’s Children, and Think Babies Michigan.
Community members spoke passionately for the need for state investments in young children, and bemoaned the negative consequences on kids stemming from inadequate funding. Candidates agreed. A theme that emerged touched on the often repeated phrase that ‘kids are our future.’ Saying those words without supporting programs that help kids thrive simply rings hollow, they said. Speakers addressed the need to better fund high quality, affordable children care, early intervention for kids with developmental delays and disabilities, and voluntary home visiting programs that are proven to improve the academic, social, emotional, and behavioral development of young children.
A member of MI-AIMH spoke in favor of expanding access to early intervention services across Michigan to address the development delays and disabilities of young children before they enter school. Another speaker stressed the importance of making the state’s child care subsidy allowance more accessible for families and child care providers by removing barriers such as a lengthy application review process, and increasing rates to providers who accept child care subsidies their families quality for. Another attendee shared the need to expand the Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation Program, which provides support to children with behavioral challenges and equips teachers with more skills to support these children and prevent expulsions that have dire consequences as young children enter elementary school and beyond. The consultation program is currently only available in 18 counties, and are not available in counties located in the 103rd and 104th state House districts, and the 37th state Senate district. Other speakers urged greater awareness and outreach around voluntary home visiting programs so that more parents realize they are available to help them with accessing medical visits and fostering positive parenting skills, among other benefits.
Candidates suggested reaching out to parents where they commonly gather – at grocery stores, doctor’s offices, schools, shopping centers, in order to provide them with early childhood resources they are not likely to be familiar with. Candidates and constituents alike said they looked forward to forging a stronger relationship with each other, in order to find ways to better support young children and their families.
Madeline Elliott is a policy and program associate for Michigan’s Children.