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September 2011

Detroit Children and Families Lose Once Again

g_ask_kurt_bustAs Steve Neavling reported on September 9, “The City of Detroit chose not to apply for a $7.5-million grant that would have helped serve 1,500 low-income children through the education program Head Start, council members were told Thursday. Officials at the Department of Human Services, which is under an FBI investigation for misspending, said the city lacked sufficient licensed locations to handle an additional 1,500 children.

“We have had problems finding licensed facilities,” Head Start manager Virginia Burns-Saleem told the council. “We didn’t go after the grant because Detroit Public Schools said it was not going to provide space.”

It is unconscionable that Detroit officials would not do everything in their power to find facilities, either in Detroit, or working with partners in Wayne, Oakland or Macomb to serve their children.  Head Start provides a tremendous pre-school experience that has been shown to provide supports for children from impoverished families – supports that increase kindergarten readiness and lead to educational success.

Head Start is a federally funded program designed for children in low-income families to help prepare them for school. Children are eligible for Head Start if their families’ incomes are below the poverty line, or if they are eligible for public assistance.  Children in foster care, regardless of income, are also eligible. In addition to educational services, Head Start provides health and social services, and encourages parental involvement in all aspects of the program.  One rigorous national evaluation, the Head Start Impact Study, found gains for Head Start children in pre-reading, pre-writing, vocabulary and literacy skills.  Children assigned to participate in Head Start also had fewer behavior problems, better overall physical health, less hyperactivity, and more access to dental care than did children with comparable backgrounds who did not participate.  More positive effects were found for children who entered the program as three-year-olds than for those entering as four-year-olds.  Another study found that four-year-olds participating in Head Start did better in receptive language and phonemic awareness than four-year-olds of similar backgrounds who were wait-listed for the Head Start program.  Other studies find that children who attended Head Start are more likely to stay in school and have lower rates of grade retention in early elementary school.  Head Start participants are also more likely to be fully immunized and to have better access to health care.

Head Start programs also have benefits for the parents of the children attending.  In comparison to a group of families with similar backgrounds, parents of children attending such programs are more likely to report good health and safety practices than are parents of children not attending. First-year findings from the Head Start Impact Study also found that parents of children attending Head Start were more likely to read to their children frequently, less likely to use physical punishment, and more likely to engage in educational activities with their children.

The latest numbers for Detroit show that, as of 2009, 52 percent of Detroit children under 5 years of age – a total of 35,065 – met the poverty criteria.  One can add another 4,840 5-year olds (58 percent of their total).  Coming at it from the family side, 48 percent of Detroit families with children 5 and under are in poverty – 21,436 in total.

The work of Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Childrens’ Zone has documented the language deficiency that accompanies children from poor families and poor neighborhoods.  We cannot expect the Detroit Public School system to make up for these deficiencies when teachers must face classrooms numbering 25 – 35 children.  We fail our children when adults don’t do everything they can to make sure they have the necessary tools for success.

Detroit’s decision is setting a large numbers of its children up for failure.  When will we stop mouthing the words “our children are our future” and start acting the words.  When will we Walk the Walk instead of always Talking the Talk?

Southeast Oakland County Gets It -Why Can’t Michigan???

g_ask_kurt_bustIn spite of what I would term a clearly anti-gay posture on the part of politicians in Michigan, the 2010 U.S. Census shows that 21,782 same-sex couples call Michigan home, according to a report released by the Williams Institute.  However, this is likely just a sliver of the state’s LGBT population, which is a difficult community to measure, due to concerns when answering the Census questionnaire and the fact that there is no way to count those living alone or not in a “partnership” situation.

In June, Republicans on the Oversight, Reform and Ethics Committee voted to bar employers from offering benefits to anyone not married or related to an employee. Although the rules don’t say “gay” anywhere in them, it’s clear who they target, according to Equality Michigan.  “While these benefits are often used by both straight and gay couples, anti-gay lawmakers are specifically trying to deny gay couples the ability to care for their families,” Emily Dievendorf, director of policy for the group, said in a statement.  Republicans also voted to make it illegal for any union to negotiate on benefits for unmarried couples.

Michigan already banned gay marriage in its constitution, defining marriage as “the union of one man and one woman.” The state’s law claims “a special interest in encouraging, supporting, and protecting that unique relationship in order to promote, among other goals, the stability and welfare of society and its children.”  What a welcoming message to send!

The illustration accompanying this blog shows dots for the Top 10 same-sex couple hot spots in the country over the last 10 years.  If you look closely you will see a dot show up in Michigan in 2010.  That dot belongs to Pleasant Ridge, which ranks 7th in the country based on density of same-sex households.  Also ranking high on the national list was Ferndale, while Huntington Woods, Ypsilanti and Royal Oak rounded out Michigan’s Top 5.  Clearly, in spite of state policies, Southeast Oakland County represents a welcoming atmosphere.

Regardless of the difficulties in counting all same-sex couples, Gary Gates, who has researched the LGBT community for years,  said the census shows a 50 percent increase in same-sex couples self-reporting nationwide, which is a huge jump that he did not anticipate.  Michigan’s rate of increase was 42 percent.  The Williams Institute data is not only adjusted to accommodate the 15 percent of couples who would not report, but also to accommodate the heterosexual couples who accidentally report as same-sex couples. This means that the overall increase in reported same-sex couples is quite remarkable.

The census does not ask individuals about their sexual orientation, but Equality Michigan, a statewide advocacy group, estimates at least 287,000 gay and transgender adults live in Michigan. The organization applauded the news of the increase in same-sex couples and reminded Michiganders that LGBT citizens still lack basic protections in employment and housing.

Michigan politicians speak to the need to be a state that attracts and retains young, educated individuals.  But young, educated individuals repeatedly tell researchers that they are looking for places that value and promote diversity – diversity of race and ethnicity; diversity of housing options; diversity of transportation options; diversity of gender; diversity of opinions.  When will we get that message!

I wanted to finish this blog with a Letter to the Editor that I sent to the Free Press, commenting on a column that followed the approval of gay marriage in New York state.


I was thrilled when New York approved Gay Marriage – one more state showing some sense – and was pleased to hear that it was Andrew Cuomo who fought the good fight.  Nancy Andrew’s opinion column in Sunday’s paper added the personal touch that showed why the ruling was so important.  As she said…  “We could have held commitment ceremonies anywhere or gotten married in other states or countries, but it’s not the same. You go home to be married. You go home to unite your families and friends.”

As good as the column made me feel, it was her last sentence that left me with a hollow feeling.  “But when we come back to Michigan where we live, we’ll still be single.”  My daughter is getting married in Detroit in August.  She is getting married because she has chosen a man to spend her life with.  There will be a number of couples attending her ceremony who do not have that option.  They are no less in love or committed to each other than my wife and I, or my daughter and her fiancee.  Yet, because they are from Michigan they can only celebrate the marriage of others.

Who in Lansing will champion the cause? Where is our Andrew Cuomo?