A Michigan where all kids thrive

I am a self-described data and policy wonk, which suits me well as the Kids Count in Michigan Director. But my work is equally informed by growing up as a kid in Michigan and now being a mom of a young child myself. And as both a parent and a child advocate, I can’t help but wonder about the type of place we are creating for our kids and our future.

My daughter’s childhood experience and that of her friends seems to be so different from the one I had. In addition to the anecdotal evidence and stories we hear, we also have data, charts and numbers that show us how kids are doing in our home state.

The 2017 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book, an annual report reviewing several measures of child well-being in the state and its communities, was released this week. It shows that while there have been some improvements since 2008 and recent policy wins for kids and families, there are still a lot of areas that should be concerning to everyone. Many kids in Michigan are struggling, and the numbers show that some kids face significant challenges based on where they live, their race or ethnicity and how much money their families make.

2017_Health-and-Safety_WebWhile most families with low incomes are not more likely to abuse or neglect their children, living in poverty causes many hardships that can impact a caregiver’s ability to provide basic needs. According to the 2017 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book, there was over a 51 percent increase in the rate of children confirmed as victims of abuse or neglect from 2009 to 2015 with over 80 percent of incidences due to neglect. This means that there was a failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter or medical care or that the child’s health or welfare was at risk.

For example, a single-parent working two jobs has difficulty affording safe and quality child care, so is forced to leave an eight-year-old child at home while he or she works to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. Another example is a family who doesn’t have access to affordable housing and may be living in substandard conditions, or even a car, if a family shelter space is unavailable.

Some other key data findings from the report include:

  • Working a full-time, minimum wage job leaves a parent with a family of three $1,657 below poverty each year;
  • Nearly 20 percent of mothers report smoking during pregnancy, with higher rates in rural communities;
  • 31 percent of mothers did not receive adequate prenatal care throughout their pregnancy;
  • About 10 percent of children in Michigan are impacted by parental incarceration;
  • On average, monthly child care consumed 38 percent of 2016 minimum wage earnings; and
  • Nearly 17 percent of Michigan children live in high-poverty neighborhoods—but the rate is 55 percent for African-American kids and 29 percent for Latino children.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress, such as poverty and abuse or neglect, have profound impacts on short- and long-term well-being. The data show that some kids face significant challenges based on where they live, their race or ethnicity and how much money their families make. This is not right. If we are to truly improve outcomes for all kids, then policies must be crafted with the goal of achieving equity and targeted to help those who need it the most. Systematic reforms should include elimination of barriers that often result in inequitable outcomes.

From improving prenatal care, making quality child care more accessible and investing in education at all levels to changing how kids are treated in our justice system, our new report outlines solutions that can move us towards this goal to help all kids in Michigan thrive. Now it’s up for Michigan lawmakers to act on them to improve child well-being in their communities and around the state.

— Alicia Guevara Warren

The League’s top blogs of 2016

The League’s staff blog is one of my favorite communications tools. It is always current, as we aim to post at least one new blog a week, sometimes more. It is personal, as many of us share about our personal lives and experiences in connection with what we do at the League. The blog provides a variety of perspectives, as they are written by everyone from our CEO and board members to our interns and even former staff. And our blog strives to make public policy issues interesting and accessible.

A blog is only as effective as its reach, and what I love the most about our staff blog is that people actually read it and share it with others. So, as 2016 comes to a close, I wanted to take a look back at our most popular blogs of the year. Each of these blogs was shared over 100 times, showing that these issues struck a chord with our supporters. If you’ve already read these, I encourage you to take a look at them again. And if these are new to you, I hope you’ll give them a read.

  1. When are we going to really value education?: Michigan Kids Count Director Alicia Guevara Warren talks about Michigan’s disinvestment in education and how the state spends dramatically more on corrections than education.
  2. Why we fight: I wrote about the aftermath of the 2016 election and why policy advocates need to dust ourselves off and keep fighting the good fight.
  3. Angry about Flint? Be part of the solution: Policy analyst Peter Ruark writes about his volunteer work in Flint and the need for people to get involved on the ground and in the Capitol to help residents.
  4. Changing minds by touching hearts: League Vice President Karen Holcomb-Merrill blogs about the lives and hearts our work touches.
  5. Top ten voting tips: League CEO Gilda Jacobs writes about the importance of voting and dispels some prevalent myths around the process.
  6. Quit spreading misinformation: Michigan is NOT a high tax state: Legislative Director Rachel Richards seeks to set the record straight on Michigan’s tax climate.
  7. Bundle of joy: Gilda Jacobs discusses the birth of her new granddaughter and why we need a better Michigan and a better world for all kids.
  8. Michigan, 20 years after “welfare reform”: Peter Ruark blogs about the impact still being felt in Michigan today from the federal welfare reform of the 1990s.
  9. 14,000 unemployed workers will soon lose food assistance: Peter Ruark writes about a policy change that will take away vital food assistance for struggling workers.

—Alex Rossman

Bundle of joy

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Two days ago, my granddaughter was born, and she has already brought so much happiness to our family (well, the jury may still be out for her older brother).

When I hold her in my arms, I can’t help but think of what the future holds for her. What kind of world awaits her? What will college cost in 18 years? What jobs will be available?

Due to the nature of my work at the League, the joy of this occasion is also marked with an appreciation of the challenges that lie ahead—for my grandchildren and others. I think of the countless little babies across Michigan who are being brought into the same world, but are going to live markedly different and much more difficult lives. (more…)

Michigan improves in overall child well-being, drops to 10th worst state in nation for education

For Immediate Release
June 21, 2016

Contact: Alex Rossman
arossman@mlpp.org
517.487.5436

National 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book ranks Michigan 31st in country for kids; state ranks high for children’s health, poor for education performance and poverty

LANSING—Michigan dropped to 40th in the nation for children’s education, according to the 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book from the Annie. E. Casey Foundation. In Michigan, more than half of young children are not in preschool, 71 percent of fourth-graders are not proficient in reading, and 71 percent of eighth-graders are not proficient in math. (more…)

Mass incarceration and the kids left behind

Losing a parent to incarceration can be very traumatic for children. Not understanding why a parent is gone and can’t come home, wondering why he or she might be far away, being frustrated because frequent visits might not be possible all while the other parent undergoes tremendous financial and emotional stress.

In Michigan at least 1 in 10 children has been impacted by parental incarceration. This is one of the highest rates in the country—only Indiana (11%) and Kentucky (13%) have higher percentages of children who have had a parent incarcerated. As a result of mass incarceration and the “tough on crime” movement many children and families have been left behind in communities without adequate support and resources. (more…)

Do kids really count in Michigan?

Over the past year our state has received a significant amount of attention from the Flint water crisis—exposing an entire city to poisonous lead—and the deplorable and dangerous conditions of the Detroit Public Schools. These two incidents alone beg the question of whether kids really do count in Michigan. State leaders have become extremely focused on the bottom line and reducing spending so much that basic needs like clean air, safe drinking water and quality schools have become issues. (more…)

A two-generation strategy to reduce poverty and increase school success

The message was loud and clear at the State Board of Education meeting last week: family income and school success are inextricably linked, and Michigan’s school reform efforts will not succeed if the state doesn’t address that reality.

League President and CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs was invited by the State Board and new Superintendent Brian Whiston to address what it would take to make Michigan a top ten state for education. The Board is seeking input from education and business groups, advocacy organizations, teachers and parents—with the goal of developing a much-needed plan for action. (more…)

Schools out! Why some kids aren’t as excited for summer

As we counted down the last days of the school year, most of us were excited planning our summer vacations and camps. At the same time, too many kids were wondering how they were going to eat over the summer – something most of us take for granted. (more…)

Michigan Must Ensure the Safety of Young Children in Child Care

 

Child care is a fact of life for the majority of Michigan parents, yet federal audits and studies have shown that because Michigan does not have enough child care inspectors, parents cannot rest assured that the care they choose is safe and meets even basic state licensing standards. To ensure basic health and safety, all child care centers and homes in the state are required to be licensed or registered, whether or not they accept low-income children receiving a state subsidy.

Nearly 60% of young children in Michigan live in homes where all parents are working, and more than half are in care at least one time each week. Without safe and stable child care, parents cannot work to support their children, and employers face threats to their bottom line from employee absenteeism and turnover.

Michigan’s Failure to Protect Children Exposed in Federal Audits

In unannounced visits, federal auditors found:

  • Half of the child care home providers and all of the centers that they visited had not done all required criminal record and protective services background checks on employees and other caregivers.
  • Centers that were not safe for children because of such violations as a blocked fire exit, hazardous substances within the reach of children, recalled cribs and unsupervised toddlers.

In national studies, Michigan was given a D grade because even though the state’s licensing regulations are adequate, it fails to ensure that providers are actually following the rules. Child care homes received a grade of F because Michigan is one of eight states that does not inspect homes before registration, and state law could allow for inspections only once every 10 years.

The Problem: Too Few Child Care Inspectors and High Caseloads

  • Too few child care inspectors: Federal auditors point to the insufficient number of child care inspectors as the primary weakness in Michigan’s licensing system. Michigan currently has 70 child care licensing inspectors, with caseloads of 153 child care settings for every inspector. By contrast, the national average is 98:1, and the recommended standard is 50:1.
  • Thorough inspections are needed to ensure child safety: Currently, the on-site inspection of a child care center takes between five and 15 hours, depending on the amount of travel time required as well as the size of the center and the existence of any safety violations. Child care home inspections take between three and 10 hours. In addition to on-site inspections, workers must complete incident and other reports, review and approve corrective action plans, conduct investigations on facilities operating without a license or registration, and respond to complaints. Because there are 70 inspectors spread out over 83 counties, travel times can be as high as 60 minutes one way in south central lower Michigan to 120 miles in northern lower Michigan. In the Upper Peninsula, workers may need to drive up to 200 miles one way to complete an inspection.
  • Changes in federal law will increase workload: 
    • With high caseloads, Michigan cannot meet its current responsibilities to ensure safety for young children in care.
    • By Nov. 2016, the state will be required by federal law to step up its oversight to include a pre-licensure inspection for all centers and homes, as well as a yearly unannounced visit.
    • In addition, annual inspections of unlicensed providers receiving a state subsidy will be required. The Office of Great Start has testified that it cannot meet the new federal standards with its current staff.

The Solution

The governor’s 2016 budget includes $5.7 million in federal funds to hire new licensing inspectors and bring caseloads to the current national average of one inspector for every 98 child care settings. Because of declining child care caseloads, Michigan has additional federal Child Care Development Fund dollars to spend on quality improvements next year. Federal funds that are not spent will be returned to the federal government and reallocated to other states. No state dollars will be needed to provide this extra protection for Michigan’s children.

 

Making kids count in the state budget

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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Conditions for Michigan’s kids are progressing in some areas of child well-being but in others…. well, let’s just say we’ve got some major work ahead of us, particularly when it comes to economic security. That’s the upshot of the newly released Kids Count in Michigan Data Book.

Fortunately, the budget plan spelled out by Gov. Rick Snyder last month does a good job in a tight budget year of addressing inequities by making some investments that will drive improvements for Michigan’s kids.

Most welcome is a $49 million initiative, including $24 million for child care quality improvements, to increase the chances of more children reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

(more…)

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