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State of Opportunity

Wednesday during Morning Edition and All Things Considered

State of Opportunity is a special project produced by Michigan Radio with major financial support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The project features documentary reports, first-person storytelling, youth journalists, an online portal, and Michigan Radio’s Public Insight Network.

The goal is to expose the barriers children of low income families in Michigan face in achieving success.

Dustin Dwyer

It's no secret that pre-kindergarten education can have a profound impact on the future prospects of children - studies have shown it for decades. But in Michigan, and in the rest of the country, only about half of kids actually attend preschool. Plenty of parents want to send their kids to preschool, there just aren't enough classes available.

Lamanda Coulter

In 2010, one out of three kids in this country lived in a house where neither parent had full-time, year-round work. That new figure comes from the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Kids Count report.

It shows one of the uncomfortable truths of the Great Recession: that kids were among the hardest hit. 

Ronnie Coulter can’t tell you much about the recession. 

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

What if we told you there was a man in Harlem who thinks he's figured out how to break the cycle of poverty?

You'd probably want to meet him, right? We sure did.

woman in cap and gown
Schlüsselbein2007 / Flickr CC / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

We've been taking a look at what research can tell us about getting ahead in America. Last week, we brought you "Five facts about achieving the American Dream." This week, we're keeping the format, but changing the focus. Here's our list of five ways to improve opportunity for disadvantaged kids:

1. Start in the home.

So let’s meet Angela Ducket, and her daughter, Aurora.

Pew Economic Mobility Project

Our State of Opportunity team is looking into ways disadvantaged children in Michigan can get ahead, and we're planning on bringing you many personal stories of families that are working to do just that. But for the next two weeks, we want to take a look at what research can tell us about getting ahead in America. Today, we have a list of five facts about the American Dream.

Before we get to our list of facts, I want to tell you about a dark and dingy room in the basement of the Institute for Social Research building at the University of Michigan.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

What would it take so that all kids in Michigan have the chance to reach their full potential?

To help us find some answers, we're doing things a little bit differently.

Sure, we're talking to national experts and researchers about what does and does not work when it comes to overcoming poverty. But we're also spending time with real people who are struggling to get ahead.

Our goal is to follow several kids and families over the course of the three-year project to better understand what challenges they face, what resources are available, and where the gaps are. 

Here's a preview of one of the families we've been spending time with:

I don’t know you. I don’t know what your life is like. But if there is an average you, that is, an average NPR listener, I can guess that odds are, you are not poor.

At least, that’s what our audience research tells us. You’re educated; you’re well off.

It may not be true for you.

But if it is true, let’s assume two things: One, you already know life is hard for people in poverty. But, two, you still have no idea what it’s like to live with poverty day after day.

user Seattleye / Flickr

Right now, nearly a quarter of all kids in Michigan live in poverty. We want to believe these kids will have an equal shot at success in life, but there’s a pile of research that suggests otherwise.

So, how is life different for kids growing up in poverty?

Let’s try to imagine the life of a child. We’ll call him Jacob.

Is foster care in Michigan getting better?

Jul 3, 2012

Michigan’s foster care system is huge, the sixth biggest in the country. So many kids in the system were being abused, neglected or just forgotten about under the state’s care that a group called Children’s Rights sued the state to force it to change in 2006. Two years ago, the state entered into a court settlement and is now being monitored as it makes changes to its child welfare system.

Toni Williams grew up in foster care. She spent almost her whole life in the system, from the time she was a baby until a year ago when the state says she became too old for the system. Williams was 20. Under recent legislation some young people in Michigan can now receive transitional services until 21.

Williams just graduated from high school and is going to community college in the fall where she’s going to study to be a childcare provider and maybe work with the foster system.

“The reason why is because I know what it feels like, you know, to not have your family," says Williams. "You know what I’m saying? So it’s actually a good feeling to know that there’s someone out here who is willing to take a place for being a mother, or a father.”

Williams knows somebody needs to step up and be there for kids who need love, and guidance. The state for too long, was not stepping up.

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