Families & Community

The connections that build opportunity.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Lake County in central northern Michigan is the poorest part of the state, with nearly half of all its children living in poverty. That’s according to the latest Kids Count data. So I went north to visit the rural county to see what life is like there for families.

Before I introduce you to some of the current residents of Lake County, there are two things you need to know about the area:

  1. It’s a nature lover’s paradise, with hundreds of lakes and streams and endless acres of forestland. 
  2. Lake County wasn’t always poor. In fact, back in the late 1800s, things were relatively booming.

Here to give us a little history lesson is Bruce Micinski, president of the Lake County Historical Society.

"The first big boom would’ve been the Civil War soldiers...they could get 80 and 160 acres of land from the government," says Micinski. "They were trying to give opportunities to these soldiers in starting up farmland in Lake County."

We're rolling out a few programs and events all about how the American family is changing and how that matters for children who grow up in these families.

Next Wednesday, July 24th, we'll be meeting at the Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti for an Issues and Ale event talking about the role of men in kids lives. (We refer to it in State of Opportunity shorthand as throwing out the question,"Do kids need dads?")

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

I'm in Lake County this week and next working on a series of stories about rural poverty in Michigan. When it comes to child well-being, this part of the state has some serious struggles.

Can Michigan make aging out of foster care easier?

Jul 9, 2013
Young people at the Fostering Success conference, trying to prepare  to age out of the foster care system.
Maddy Day / Fostering Success Michigan

The roughly 14,000 young people in Michigan’s foster care system are expected to live on their own once they turn 18, if they're still in the system at that time. It is a transition that for many, does not go well.

In recognition of these bleak outcomes, there were about 200 young people ages 14 through 21 milling around a business school building at Ferris State University late last month, for the first day of a two day conference.

user Childrens Book Review / flickr

More than 400,000 children are currently in foster care in the U.S. Once a child has entered the system, they remain there on average for nearly two years, according to a federal report. As part of our State of Opportunity project, we looked into a unique program that’s working to prevent kids in Michigan from even entering foster care in the first place.

When all five of your children are placed in foster care, who do you call?

Dispatches from the Storybooth: Girls Group

Jul 2, 2013

State of Opportunity's story booth has been busy the last few weeks. It has traveled to Lansing, Big Rapids, Grand Rapids, and around the corner in Ann Arbor. Plenty of these stories will be on the air throughout the summer. 

Almost all of the interactions start out the same. Someone sits or stands in front of the microphone, takes a deep breath and is forced to recount for me what they had for breakfast so I can sound check.

Photo courtesy of Jacquise Purefoy

The latest Kids Count data show that roughly 11,000 teens gave birth in Michigan in 2010. Statistically speaking, teen parents are more likely to drop out of high school, and their children are more likely to wind up in prison. But it doesn’t have to be like that. For our State of Opportunity project, a former teen mom named Jacquise Purifoy tells us how she was able to defy expectations.

Here's her essay:

Do you remember your first time? I do. I was 13, and I got pregnant the first time I had sex. I was too afraid to tell my mother, four brothers, and even my daughter’s father out of fear of what would happen. That meant no prenatal medicine, no routine doctor’s visits. The night before I gave birth, I went to basketball practice.

On April 8, 1996, my daughter Jasmine was born while I was still in eighth grade at Joy Middle School in Detroit. In the hospital, my mother, who worked as a bus driver for 30 years, made me promise I would graduate from high school and then college. She told me people would expect me to fail, to keep popping out more babies. So I made up my mind then and there to be more than a statistic. My mother and I shook hands on it in the hospital room.

Annie E. Casey Foundation

The Annie E. Casey Foundation has released its 2013 Kids Count Data book, and the results for Michigan seem to be improving. 

The Data Book provides an annual statistical snapshot of kids' well-being across all states. Last year, we wrote of the alarming downward trends for Michigan's kids. From 2005 - 2012, Michigan dropped seven spots in the state rankings for overall child well-being, going from 25th to 32nd. In my blog post last year I asked, "When will it turn around?" 

Now, we have an answer. In the Kids Count Data Book released today, Michigan's overall rank improved one spot, going from 32nd to 31st. It's not a huge jump. But it's an improvement relative to other states.  

So, what, exactly, has improved? 

voxphoto / flickr

This morning I was scolded via email by a listener who'd gotten a request from me for help on a story we're working on right now. (For a list of some of the stories see below.)

One of the things the listener objected to was that I was asking for help in the first place. This person felt I must not understand the issue I wanted to know more about. That by asking for audience experiences I was trying to pass off any research I could do myself onto folks too busy with their own lives to also do my work for me. 

Kids Count data

When I think of kids in poverty, my mind more often than not conjures up an image of a child in some kind of urban setting. And our stories at State of Opportunity tend to reflect that. We've done tons of reports from Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Flint, Detroit and its suburbs.