I had the privilege recently of chaperoning my daughter’s fourth-grade class to our local children’s museum for two days in a row. Wow, they are amazing little people, who are also full of an enormous amount of energy (Thank you to all the teachers who care for these kiddos every day of the school year!).
A report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and national KIDS COUNT project, Race for Results, revealed some very disturbing information: African-American kids in Michigan fare worse in child well-being than their peers in every other state in the country. That’s right, worse than Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and Alabama—states that all fall in the bottom rankings nationally for overall child well-being. Out of a child well-being index score of up to 1,000, African-American kids in Michigan score 260, while the national average—albeit troubling as well—was 369. That’s a difference of over a hundred.
When we look at how most kids of color in Michigan fare compared to their White peers, not only are their index scores significantly lower, but their well-being by key milestones in early childhood, education and early work experiences, family resources and neighborhood context are also worse. How did we get here and how do we change this?
A quick look at history shows how many disparities were created and perpetuated over time. And many of today’s policy decisions have led to the overrepresentation of people and kids of color in the child welfare and justice systems, disparate job and educational opportunities and unfair targeting in immigration policies. This has to change. Michigan’s future depends on how well we care for all children, and that includes eliminating current racial and ethnic disparities that appear in just about every indicator of child well-being.
We need to urge our policymakers—at all levels of government—to use a racial and ethnic equity lens to review current and proposed policies. Some local governments in Michigan, like Grand Rapids and Washtenaw County, have started taking those steps by joining the Government Alliance on Racial Equity to use tools to address and reduce racial and ethnic disparities in their communities.
As child advocates we can also support efforts like “Raise the Age” to address racial disparities in the justice system. The most recent figures show that while kids of color make-up only 23% of the 17-year-old population in Michigan, they are 53% of the total number of 17-year-olds entering our state’s corrections system. By raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18 years old, we can ensure that kids are treated like kids and receive age-appropriate treatment and services and begin reducing the lifelong consequences that these youth of color endure with an adult criminal record. This is only one example of how we can start addressing disparities in outcomes for kids of color. There are many others.
My community is important to me—as yours is to you! I want to be sure that as I’m watching my daughter and her classmates grow up that we are doing our best to implement solutions that work to remove barriers for children and families of color, so that all of our kids have access to better opportunities to reach their potential, and so that Michigan is stronger and better for everyone.
— Alicia Guevara-Warren, Kids Count in Michigan Project Director