April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

Last year 33,970 children were abused and/or neglected in Michigan. April 2014 is federally designated as well as proclaimed by Gov. Rick Snyder as Child Abuse Prevention Month. It is a time to reflect on that sobering number of abused and neglected children and the work that is still needed to accomplish the goal of every child having an opportunity to achieve his or her full potential within a nurturing and loving environment. However, it is also the time to celebrate the good things communities all over the State of Michigan are doing to promote healthy child development. It is also a time when we can honor each and every child and family within our state.

We have a role to play in healthy child development, and our goal this April is to help others recognize that role and the ways in which we can maximize our impact. When communities throughout Michigan come together to support children and families, we all benefit: our fellow citizens are better educated, employees are more effective and miss less work, and we’ll see a profound impact on the quality of life in the communities in which families live.

To remind all of us about the importance of healthy child development, pinwheels have been established as the new national symbol for child abuse prevention. They serve as a visual reminder that all children deserve an equal opportunity for healthy, happy and care-free childhoods. Beginning April 1 and throughout Child Abuse Prevention Month, nearly 80 pinwheel “gardens” will spring up across our state as visual reminders that we all play a role in ensuring happy and healthy childhoods for all children everywhere.

On April 22 at 11 a.m. the Michigan Children’s Trust Fund, the agency of the State of Michigan whose mission is dedicated to child abuse and neglect prevention, will be hosting its 6th annual Prevention Awareness Day event, a rally, procession and planting of a pinwheel “garden.” The event’s theme, “The Power of One,” serves to remind us that one person, one community, one dollar and one action can help protect our children from abuse and neglect. The event will begin at the Lansing State Capitol steps. The rally portion of the event includes notable speakers and entertainment. Participants will then receive a pinwheel and proceed down Michigan Avenue where they will all plant those pinwheels at the traffic circle garden at Michigan and Washington Avenues. By participating at this auspicious occasion, you and your organization join with others as a positive presence of support in the belief that child abuse and neglect can be prevented. We hope that you will join us in Lansing for this important occasion.

Estimates show that implementing effective policies and strategies to prevent child abuse and neglect can save taxpayers more than $104 billion a year. Imagine the number of children that could go to college with that savings. Please join us in helping make Michigan the best place for children to live, grow and thrive.

To learn more about Child Abuse Prevention Month and Prevention Awareness Day, visit the Children’s Trust Fund website or contact Emily Schuster-Wachsberger via email or at 517-335-0671.

-Emily Schuster-Wachsberger

Emily Schuster-Wachsberger, MA LPC, is the State Local Council Coordinator for the Michigan’s Children Trust Fund.

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The Power of Us Parents

March is Parenting Awareness Month, and there are lots of events and activities going on around the state celebrating Michigan families and highlighting the importance of effective parenting in the lives of children.  It is the perfect time to also celebrate the power of the voices of parents and other caregivers supporting public policies in the best interest of their families.

As we’ve seen in policy conversations about improving the situations of young children in this state, parents are uniquely positioned to bring messages to policymakers about what is important.  Who knows more about how programs that used to work, just don’t work anymore?  Or how those programs work well for certain groups of people, but not for everyone?   Or how there isn’t enough resource to go around and everyone who needs a service can’t always access it?   Too often, the people making the decisions about how we spend our tax dollars don’t hear enough from parents about their challenges and opportunities as they raise their families and try their best to be their children’s first, best and most consistent teachers.

Now is a great time to make sure that policymakers do know these things.  We need to hold policymakers accountable for the decisions that they make, and ensure that those decisions are in the best interest of families.  How can we do that?  We need to talk to them.  They can’t make their best decisions without our help and the help of our neighbors and friends.  Don’t know where to start?  Feel confident that you know what the issues are, and that you are the best person to talk about those challenges and opportunities that mean the most to you.  Tell your elected officials what you see working for your family and other families in your community; tell them what you see putting roadblocks in the way of good parenting and healthy families.

Share the Parenting Awareness Month resources to celebrate families in your community, but also take some time this month to talk with your elected officials about how their decisions can celebrate families as well.  They need to hear from you.

– Michele Corey

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Equity vs. Equality and the State Budget

We, at Michigan’s Children, say this all the time because it’s true – the single best predictor of economic prosperity is a state’s success in educating and preparing its workforce.  As Michigan, like the rest of the nation, continues to become a more racially diverse state; focusing on equitable outcomes for all children is essential to ensure future prosperity.  We must be clear that equity is different than equality, which can be confusing to many.  And while the equity conversation typically focuses on the glaring disparities in child outcomes by race and income, Michigan’s Children also looks at equity promoting strategies that support children with other significant challenges, such as those served by the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

From a public policy and programs perspective, equality means that all children have the same access to public services and programs.  Equity, however, ensures that children with more significant challenges can access additional services and programs proven to work for them to help level the playing field.  For example, all children have equal access to a public K-12 education experience.  However, students that experience challenges at home and in the classroom may benefit from additional services such as a high-quality after-school program that helps them with some of the educational challenges they may face, a school-based health center where they can access quality health care, and free- and reduced-lunch.  In other words, programs that work to increase equity provide targeted services to children who face the most barriers to ensure that they can have a similar chance of success as their peers.  Increasing equitable outcomes means that disparities will shrink such that data will no longer show a gap between the outcomes of children of color, poor children, and children shouldering other challenging circumstances than their less challenged peers.

How the Governor and Legislature prioritize spending in its annual budget and how this spending is targeted towards children that face the most significant challenges can shrink or increase disparities by race and income, thus affecting equitable outcomes for children.  Last month, the Governor released his budget proposal for fiscal year 2015 – a proposal that provides a truly mixed bag for equity.  Some of Governor Snyder’s recommendations will improve equitable outcomes for kids such as another significant increase in preschool funding through the Great Start Readiness Program, continued expansion of the Healthy Kids Dental Program, and an expansion of evidence-based home visiting programs to rural communities in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.  However, many of his budget recommendations continue to fall short when it comes to prioritizing Michigan’s most challenged children.  These include the continuation of under-funding programs that work to prevent child maltreatment, no funding for high quality before- and after-school programming including summer learning opportunities, and underwhelming increases to programs that have historically been underfunded or have experienced significant cuts in recent budget cycles.

Learn more about the Governor’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2015 and the potential steps forward, steps backward, and mixed results they will produce for equitable outcomes for Michigan children.

-Mina Hong

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Taking The Challenge

This week, young people who are currently being served by the foster care system and those who were formerly served by that system, gathered to share their expertise with a group of elected and appointed officials, those who develop and run programs within state departments, and those who lead in their Oakland County communities.  The testimony given was inspiring, as was the range of decision-makers who listened to the more than three hours of expert perspective.  The testimony challenged all of us to do better for the young people for whom we as a state have taken responsibility and to keep doing better for them.  Michigan’s Children is glad to take that challenge.

Many of the issues raised have direct public policy solutions:

  • We can make sure that young people are provided some stability in their educational careers by using resources we already have available to keep them in the same school for long enough to build relationships and gather credits.
  • We can make sure that there are 2nd, 3rd and 4th chances for young people to get through high school by rewarding programs that serve the most challenged kids well and serve them beyond the traditional four years of high school.
  • We can make sure that there are well trained and sufficiently supported staff who are helping the young people, their birth families, foster families and surrogate families succeed.
  • We can make sure that behavior born of disappointment, isolation and anger that result from insufficient resources and support for kids in the foster care system does not result in a direct path to the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

As communities, we can take advantage of their resilience, their tenacity and problem solving skills.  And we can make sure that current and former foster care kids’ voices and voices of their peers are heard in places of policymaking.  Their voices were definitely heard Monday night by dozens of decision-makers in attendance who chose to listen.  Michigan’s Children and other partners will make sure that they now use what they’ve learned to act.

more information about the speakers and the listeners:

Oakland Press coverage of the event:

– Michele Corey

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Child Care Realities

This month marked the end of my maternity leave and the start of Lennon’s time in child care.  As a mom whose day job focuses on early childhood public policy issues, I am familiar with the ins and outs of what a high quality child care provider looks like and subsequently, what that means for costs.  As we were shopping around for child care providers; I, of course, was asking about Great Start to Quality ratings, curriculum, whether programs utilized a lower teacher-to-baby ratio than required by state licensing, and other questions that a typical parent searching for child care might not think to ask.  Lennon now spends a couple days a week in a NAEYC accredited, five-star rated program that we all love.  And our monthly finances have taken a significant hit to reflect that.

I say this because at the same time that Lennon was embarking on his child care experiences, Governor Snyder made some recommendations to strengthen Michigan’s public child care subsidy system – the Child Development and Care (CDC) program – in his budget presentation early this month.  One of his recommendations is to provide tiered reimbursement rates such that higher quality child care providers would receive a higher rate.  In theory, this is a step in the right direction since higher quality care is more expensive.  However, if you take a step back and look at the CDC program, you’ll see that this is a positive recommendation built upon a very weak structure.

For Lennon’s child care, we pay a monthly fee for his spot at the center.  In fact, his child care center doesn’t even accept payment on an hourly, daily, or weekly rate because they know that they need to rely on a certain amount of revenue each month to maintain the operations of their quality program.  For families who rely on the state’s child care subsidy, providers are reimbursed on an hourly rate.  Clearly this makes it extremely challenging for child care providers to support their businesses if they have to depend on on a less reliable hourly payment based on attendance.

Additionally, Michigan’s reimbursement rates are pitifully low, making it impossible for a low-income family who relies on the child care subsidy to afford a high quality program.  The current rate for an infant to attend a 5-star rated program in a child care center is $3.75 an hour.  Governor Snyder is proposing to increase that rate to $4.00 an hour for 3-star rated programs, $4.25 an hour for 4-star rated programs, and $4.50 an hour for 5-star rated programs.  Finding a high quality child care provider willing to accept $4.50 an hour to care for an infant is pretty much impossible.  For the very low-income families who are eligible for the CDC program, paying the difference between the subsidy and the true cost of care would be extremely challenging if not impossible.

What does this mean?  While tiered reimbursement is a positive step, Michigan must also restructure its payment system to better support parents and providers.  Not only do we need to address our hourly reimbursement system, but we also need to take a closer look at the reimbursement rates and what the marketplace demands.

Another one of Governor Snyder’s recommended changes to the CDC program is to increase the number of reimbursable hours from 80 to 90 hours in a two-week period.  This is a step in the right direction but continues to fall short.  At Lennon’s child care center – understanding that most full-time individuals work at least 8.5 hours a day once you factor in a lunch break, and that parents need time to travel to and from their workplace to the center – they allow parents to leave their children in care for up to 9.5 hours each day.  At that rate, we could access 95 hours of child care in a two-week period.  If I had to work multiple jobs to support my family, I would clearly need more hours of child care.  So while the Governor’s recommendation moves the state towards better supporting full-time working parents, it continues to fall short of the realities of what parents need.  Michigan should look to what many states have done and have no cap on the maximum number of subsidized child care hours that our state’s lowest-income working families can access.

In a nutshell, I’m glad to see the Governor begin to take a closer look at the CDC program and to move Michigan towards better supporting low income families.  These small steps are steps in the right direction.  However, to truly support families, we must consider more significant shifts to the structure of the CDC program.  While I feel fortunate to be able to send Lennon to a high quality child care program that provides a nurturing environment that promotes healthy development and early learning, I know that the children who could benefit the most from his program are the ones who likely can’t access it.  Michigan must do more to ensure that our state’s most challenged young children can benefit from high quality child care experiences – the quality experiences that can ensure all children have a great start in life.

-Mina Hong

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Building Champions for Education and Life Success

Bridge Magazine released their ranked list of Academic State Champions – the Michigan schools considered to be over-achievers, that is that their students have better test scores than other schools with similar student and family demographics.  We applaud the Bridge and Public Sector Consultants in their efforts to examine student achievement a little bit differently, acknowledging that different schools serve different families and students, and that success for schools with higher educational resources available to them and higher resources available to their families needs to be measured differently from that of schools and families with fewer resources available.  And beyond resource and demographics, we also need to listen to young people themselves on the challenges they face and how well their schools and communities assist them in overcoming those challenges.

I just emceed a YouthSpeak event yesterday at the Washtenaw County Chambers.  Michigan’s Children, the Washtenaw Alliance for Children and Youth, the Washtenaw Intermediate School District and State Representative David Rutledge brought together State Representatives, County Commissioners, School Board members and administrators from several school systems in the area, and 18 young people from a variety of geographies and circumstances together to talk about building more educational success in their communities.   As always, the young people articulately expressed their concerns and recommendations.

Based on this and many other conversations with young people, in addition to the Bridge’s evaluation of success, we would like to see Michigan evaluate and congratulate school systems on several other essential components:

  1. On their ability to provide alternatives to disciplinary practices that cause young people to miss educational opportunity and access community resources to assist.
  2. On their ability to reconnect with young people who have disconnected – through support of programs for the 5th and 6th year of a diploma path, and through support of GED and other alternatives for students with extremely challenging circumstances to continue on their post-secondary paths.
  3. On their ability to individualize educational strategies to accommodate life challenges, and their ability to support real and consistent supportive relationships between adults and students inside the classroom and beyond.
  4. On their ability to connect their students with extended learning opportunities beyond the school day that help young people better see their own strengths and build on their own successes and leadership potential.
  5. On their ability to assess early issues outside the school walls that impact educational success like mental or behavioral health needs, homelessness and mobility challenges and intervene with the help of community partners.
  6. Finally, and maybe most importantly, on their ability to consistently involve the voices of the most challenged young people in policy decisions and priority setting.

None of these suggestions are new.  They come up every time we allow young people to tell us about strategies that matter to them and to their success.  Let’s listen and act.  Policy conversations are happening right now about the state budget, about teacher evaluation, school discipline and “any time, any way, any pace” learning opportunities.  Michigan can prioritize resources and options for the most challenged children, youth, families, schools and communities in proven effective ways that can make a difference in our state’s success.  We will continue to work with policymakers to help them see those policy options and we need your help to show policymakers that you support those decisions.

-Michele Corey

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Raising Our Voices in 2014

With the holiday season behind us, the 2014 election season will soon take center stage. Unfortunately the future of children, youth and families in Michigan often gets lost during campaign hullabaloo, despite the fact that it is consistently a top priority for voters. Now is our chance to change that.

Of course Michigan’s Children will be closely following this year’s state budget process that began with clues in the Governor’s State of the State last week and will continue with his budget release in early February.  Of course we will be working with national partners like First Focus to intervene in strategic federal budget and policy conversations.  We will be keeping you posted about all of that, as we always do.  But my thoughts today are focused on the core of our democracy – how we chose the people who represent us and who we expect to make the best public policy decisions on our behalf.  Voters like yourselves around the state and around the country are deeply concerned about the challenges children, youth, their families and their communities face today and their prospects for the future. We know that the majority of voters believe that children’s lives are worse today than they were 10 years ago, and that our own children will be more challenged in building their lives, families and communities than we were.   Here’s the good news:  voters want to help. Even voters who believe government does too much want the federal budget to prioritize investments in children.  The dilemma is that people don’t always cast their votes with this in mind.

As in each election, decisions made by those we elect this November to local, state and federal offices will have direct and immediate consequences for our communities.  As the recent Kids Count in Michigan Databook again revealed, increasing shares of children, youth and families in Michigan are becoming even more vulnerable as poverty continues to rise and child abuse and neglect reaches additional victims.  To change this trajectory, Michigan needs leaders who will champion policy and program decisions proven to work.  Consider…

  • The federal Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) lift five million children out of poverty every year, but Congress will decide whether those defenses shelter more children or fewer from poverty’s reach. One-fifth of children live in homes affected by hunger, and with nearly half of Food Stamps funds going to children, Congress will decide which children get the food they need and which go hungry. Efforts over the last several years by the Michigan Legislature to cut supports for low wage workers like the state EITC are counter-productive.  Michigan’s subsidized child care system needs major changes to make staying on the job the best family choice for parents struggling to meet children’s needs.  Workforce development resources need to be much better targeted toward the most challenged families and include better supports for education and training.  Members of our Legislature and the Governor will determine if we will chart a more family-friendly course in the coming years.
  • Our schools continue to struggle, in large part because a parent’s income rather than a child’s ability determines whether kids begin school ready to learn, have great schools to attend, and can continue with the extended learning supports that are so critical to building life and career success.  A federal-state pre-school partnership could help to level the playing field, but whether that proposal advances or falters will be up to the men and women we send to Washington. Michigan has taken huge steps in improving pre-school access, but has not advanced programming for infants, toddlers and their families, failing to close literacy and other gaps when they first appear – as early as nine months. And, our elected officials have failed to prioritize programs that improve the educational success of the most challenged young people and adults.
  • The most vulnerable children and families – those at risk of becoming or already involved in Child Protective Servies, foster care and juvenile justice systems continue to share with us that we’ve done little to prevent their suffering, even though we know so much about the factors that contribute to parents’ inability to appropriately care for their children.  We know so much about the relationship between involvement in juvenile crime and the failure of systems to help young people succeed.  We’ve seen some leadership from members of our Congressional Delegation on these issues, and hope that they continue to press for more investment and better services.  We have also seen a disinvestment in prevention by our State Legislators and need to expect more from them.

If citizens remain on the sidelines, these are not the issues that will dominate the airwaves this election year.  You have to be clear about what you want to hear from the candidates.  When a candidate gives a speech in your community, go, and ask about child poverty, about child maltreatment, about educational success. When a campaign calls you for a contribution, a yard sign, or to attend a rally, tell them to first send the candidate’s position papers on topics to improve the lives of children, youth and families in your community. When the local TV anchor signs up to moderate a candidate debate, send an email urging her to ask real questions about preventing child abuse and neglect, or improving the educational outcomes of all children, regardless of their race or ethnicity, where they live or how much their parents earn.

Don’t ever doubt that in a democracy, our voices are still enough to make a real difference.

Portions of this blog were published as an opinion piece in the Detroit Free Press on 1/22/14 and offered to other news outlets around the state.

 

-Michele Corey

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