The Elections are Over.  Now What?

By Mina Hong and Michele Corey

As you know, in our wonderful and imperfect democracy that we call the United States of America, citizens recently had the opportunity to vote for elected officials who will make decisions on our behalves.  Many, many decisions.  And in our imperfect democracy, half of us are excited and half of us are concerned about what the future holds, but it is clear.  The government isn’t working for many many individuals and families.  And now is the time that we all need to take action.

Policymakers report hearing from only about 10 to 20% of their constituents.  That means that very few of us are holding our elected officials accountable for the decisions they are making that impact the lives of Michigan families, even though we, the people, are their bosses.  And then we wonder why policymakers make choices that we don’t agree with…

This is where democracy only works as well as what we are willing to put into it.  This is where you come in.

I would bet that at best, perhaps a handful of people in the State Legislature understand the challenges of foster care, and even fewer understand the individual barriers faced by young people who have been in that system and are trying to move successfully to post-secondary or career.  If the vast majority of policymakers don’t understand the specific challenges faced by young people formerly or currently in the child welfare system, and how different programs and services throughout our state are working well, or not so well, to address those challenges, how can we expect them to make informed public policy decisions based on lived experience, evidence and research that you know to be true?

Voting is just one step in the democratic process of an engaged electorate.  Now is the time for you to make sure that those victorious candidates – and those who weren’t up for re-election and will continue to serve in the next legislative session – understand that consistent support for young people who have been involved in the foster care system is essential.  And while they certainly don’t need to become experts, policymakers should have a foundational understanding and know that they can turn to you when they have questions and need more information.

So what can you do?

Get to know your policymakers.  Sign-up for email bulletins from your State Representative and your State Senator and follow them on Facebook.  Visit them at their local coffee hours or request to meet with them when they’re home in their districts (Fridays through Mondays).  Invite them to visit programs, or engage them in other ways with children, youth and families who have been involved in the foster care system.  Now is the time to begin educating them and building a relationship with them so they turn to you when they have questions and can start making informed public policy decisions.

Learn more on how to strengthen your advocacy skills by visiting Michigan’s Children’s website.

This article was first published in The Infant Crier, the newsletter of the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health and has been adapted for the Fostering Success Michigan network. Special thanks to Michele Corey and Mina Hong for their guest blog contribution!