I recently had the pleasure of presenting before the Upper Peninsula Children’s Coalition in Marquette with several Great Start Collaboratives connecting via video conference. The annual event brings together many child advocates working on the ground to get updates on how kids in the U.P. are doing, and most importantly, for invited lawmakers to hear this information and make the connection to public policy changes that could improve the lives of children and their families.
During the nearly eight-hour drive, which was my first trip to Marquette and a very beautiful drive since the weather cooperated, it was so easy to see the many barriers that families in the U.P. face when trying to access anything—groceries, child care centers or the doctor, to name a few. When we think about families who may be experiencing additional barriers, such as housing, lack of transportation, unemployment and/or low wages, you can appreciate the need to improve how different service delivery and outreach is structured.
I had the privilege of hearing from local experts who outlined the issues that are impacting kids and families in the region. They discussed two issues that are hardest-hitting in rural communities, such as neonatal abstinence syndrome—where they are beginning to see improvements—and the high rate of mothers smoking during pregnancy. While some of the issues raised were unique to the U.P. and more rural areas, there were also a number of areas of concern that are shared in all types of communities—urban, suburban and rural. Using two-generation strategies, increasing affordable housing, creating trauma-informed communities and expanding evidence-based programs that work, such as Early On, to meet the actual need are goals throughout the state.
All of this information was presented before several policymakers in attendance, including State Representatives John Kivela and Scott Dianda, along with staff representatives from the offices of U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters. These lawmakers not only took the time to listen to people’s concerns and respond to a number of questions, but they reaffirmed that the folks in the room were the experts in these issues and strongly encouraged them to be active in helping them to make policy changes to improve outcomes for kids and families.
There are so many amazing child advocates in the U.P. and throughout our state who work hard every day for families in their communities and whose voices need to be heard. The work in our communities to support kids is invaluable, but sweeping policy changes will have the greatest and longest-lasting impact. With the budget process just underway, learn about how you can be more engaged in ensuring that children and families are a priority or join our mailing list to keep informed of critical times that child advocates need to take action. In these uncertain times in our policy institutions, our children need us to speak up and stand for them.
— Alicia Guevara Warren