Families & Community

The connections that build opportunity.

Photo courtesy of Eddie Hejka

There are a few talks nearly all parents have with their kids. There’s the "birds and the bees" talk, and the "don't do drugs" talk. Some parents also find themselves needing to have the race talk.

We reached out to two mixed race families to get their take on the race talk, and hear some of the parenting challenges that brings. 

Just the 17 of us

There is ample evidence that talking to your children early and often can truly make a difference in their future success. The challenge lies is getting all parents to do it - specifically low-income parents whose children historically start kindergarten with far fewer words than their wealthier counterparts. This article highlights a new program in Rhode Island called Providence Talks, "the most ingenious of several new programs across the country that encourage low-income parents to talk more frequently with their kids."

The Washington Post's Wonkblog has a writeup of new research that shows nearly half of kids in one large study lived in "doubled up" households. That is, these kids lived in house with their mom and/or dad plus another family. The headline describes the high percentage of "doubled up" families as "shocking." But is it really?

Steven Depolo / flickr

We'll see you in 2015. You can make it your New Year's resolution to share some stories with us. We'll look forward to it.

screen grab from YouTube

There's a list of movies I sit down to watch nearly every December. Most of the movies are terrible. Any other time of year, I'd be ashamed to admit how much I enjoy such corny classics. That's what makes Christmastime special, for those of us who celebrate it. It's like a free pass to just think happy thoughts. It's a collective suspension of disbelief that lasts for the better part of a month. 

When I sit down to watch my favorite Christmas movies, one thing I'm definitely not expecting to get is a cutting commentary on race and class in America. But that's what you get with the 1983 comedy Trading Places

flickr/nasamarshall

Earth is a terrible place to grow up. 

Many of us know this intuitively, but there is also plenty of data on the subject. A report released by UNICEF today shows how bad things were for the world's children, just in the past year. A press release announcing the report declares that as many as 15 million children around the world were caught up in armed conflicts this year:

“This has been a devastating year for millions of children,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. “Children have been killed while studying in the classroom and while sleeping in their beds; they have been orphaned, kidnapped, tortured, recruited, raped and even sold as slaves. Never in recent memory have so many children been subjected to such unspeakable brutality.”

Life was not nearly so brutal for children in the United States. But, for millions of kids, life still wasn't great. More than 7 million kids in the United States live in extreme poverty. About 1 in 8 American kids lives in a neighborhood with concentrated poverty. About 60 percent of kids in the U.S. are exposed to some type of violence each year. One in nine American girls, and 1 in 23 boys, will report being forced to have sex, before they even graduate high school. 

With such terrible conditions for children, even in developed parts of the world, many parents have to ask themselves: Is Earth even the right place to raise my children? Should I just raise them on Mars? 

San Jose Library / flickr

We are thankful for our State of Opportunity community and hope you all enjoy some time with family or friends over the next few days. We will see you again on Monday.

Michael Coglan / flickr

I can add little of value in the midst of the seismic event of national importance that is Ferguson in the wake of Michael Brown's shooting. These events weigh heavily, even from my geographically and experientially removed position. 

My colleagues Dustin Dwyer, Jennifer Guerra, and to a lesser extent, I, have been reporting on the combustible issues of race, poverty, violence, and opportunity. 

The following is a digest of some of these pieces.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The goal for children in foster care is to find them permanent homes. If they can’t live with their birth parents, the next best thing might be adoption. But the road to adoption can be bumpy, and for some children their dreams of a permanent family are dashed before the papers are even signed. 

"I refuse to sink"

Nineteen year old Candice Sponaas is a blonde tomboy with a 1000-watt smile. 

Like a lot of teenagers, Sponaas is really into tattoos. She designed the one on her forearm. It’s a big, floral infinity symbol with an anchor on one end and a rose on the other. In between are the words “I refuse to sink.” As she starts to talk about her broken adoption, I notice her glance down at the tattoo on her arm. It seems to give her strength just looking at it. 

Sponaas moved in with her soon-to-be adoptive family just before she turned 18.  They planned to adopt her in a year or two. But ten months in, things were not going well – especially between Sponaas and the mom of the house. So Sponaas moved out.

"And then we just stopped talking," says Sponaas. "And then she said I think it’s better if we just don’t try to force everything here. I wish you nothing but happiness, but that’s all that there is. So, that adoption is never going to happen."

Patrick M / flickr

The Department of Human Services Office in rural Van Buren County is pretty indistinct. There's a waiting room with a toddler crying. Through double doors and down the hall there is a sea of cubicles. Rows and rows of them where case workers take calls. It’s a big operation, some would say a big bureaucracy that exists, at least in part, to do right by kids like Durwin.

He introduces himself like this, "I'm just a foster youth."

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