Bang!

Mar 27, 2015 by

Tom Watkins – U.S. District Judge Terrence was shot outside his Detroit home by two young adults. Berg’s wife, Anita Sevier, told the community, “Instead of being angry, be part of the solution for the hopeless teens and children of Detroit.”

Ms. Sevier is right- except the problem is larger than Detroit.

The latest statistics from the recent Kids Count report (http://www.mlpp.org/kids-count/michigan-2/mi-databook-2014) brings to the forefront, once again, how we are failing to meet the needs of Michigan’s children. Where is the outrage and action plan to address these issues?

We witness the failure to truly met the needs of our children in every corner of Pure Michigan.

Fitness for Life program

I began my career as a childcare worker. My first professional job in 1975, as a recently minted MSU grad was to help create- from scratch, a shelter for runaway youth still in operation today as part of Starfish Youth services.

Sadly, the problems I witnessed impacting children and families in 1975 remain today.

Stop pointing fingers at the City, Governor Snyder and the Legislature. It is ALL of our fault.

We know the problems, we have known the problems for decades, the only question remains: Are we going to shrug our collective shoulders, or are we going to do something about the issues that plague our state and should plague our consciousness?

Children are born into this world every day – innocent and helpless. If they are lucky they are born into a stable family of love, good health and the options for a promising future. But far too often our children are being born into circumstances beyond their control – poverty, abuse, neglect and abandonment. A child without a decent start in life is likely to become an adult without much of a future.

“Those” Kids
We can’t write off “those” kids. Those kids are OUR kids.

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If you don’t care about ALL children for the right moral reasons –you ought to care for your and societies own selfish reasons. A child who is emotionally scarred, physically abused or without a decent education today is walking into your community or business tomorrow.

These children don’t simply disappear. They wander our streets as thugs, homeless, populate our jails, prisons, psychiatric hospitals and morgues.

Up to 20-25% of American youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder, and the prevalence is higher for those children living in poverty. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in young people below the age 24. Substance abuse plagues our children as they typically start using/experimenting around age 11.

It is of utmost importance to make caring for children a priority. High quality, primary and behavioral health, dental, social services and a rich and quality experience – Pre-K through at least high school must be the norm.

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According to Dr. Carmen McIntyre, Chief Medical Officer of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority: “The longer a child lives in conditions of poverty the more severe and prolonged the adverse effects will be.”

We will never reach our potential as a great city, state or nation while these troubling Kids Count statistics are our reality.

River Of Opportunity

Governor Snyder is to be commended for calling on us all to put, “people over programs” in his “River of Opportunity” State of the State address. The governor launched his second term by calling for, “revolutionizing how government operates” to move all Michiganders into the mainstream “river of opportunity” where he says most residents already swim.

The governor has challenged us to get our priorities straight and align our resources around people, not programs. To act like a two-year-old and challenge old assumptions. To ask, “Why?” Why do we do things that don’t make sense rather than simply serve the people in need and maximize taxpayers’ resources?

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The Governor has it right when he says, “This is truly an opportunity to revolutionize how we operate and realize we work for real people. They deserve results. They don’t deserve to be a number in 15 different programs.” Amen!
Now, it is up to us, ALL of us to find ways to make the vision a reality; especially for our children.

Our Future

As adults we make investments to better our own lives better. These investments must also be a societal focus for our youth. The failure to do so deprives our society of its greatest asset – the children of today whom should lead our city, state and nation tomorrow.

A Call to Action

The health and human services community should take up Governor Snyder’s “River of Opportunity”
challenge. To do better by the children and families we serve we must embrace the governor’s call to put people ahead of programs. We must be the sails that capture fresh ideas, not anchors.

Our children are indeed our future and they require ALL of us to rally around them and offer the best opportunities for success.

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We gather in times of crisis and ask ‘how did this happen?’ Yet, too many of our children are victims of the society we created. This is OUR doing, this is OUR crisis, this is OUR opportunity. It is OUR responsibility.

The DWMHA will collaborate with Kids Count and our community partners; cutting across typical bureaucratic lines to address the perennial issues facing our kids. Our work will culminate with a Detroit/Wayne youth and family conference to be held in early 2016.

I respectfully call on Governor Snyder to consider forming a youth commission, modeled after the successful, bipartisan mental health commission to address the problems spelled out in the Kids Count report. There are many efforts underway, but much remains to be done. To not make greater progress is unacceptable.

I want nothing less for ALL of the children of Michigan than I want for my grandson Owen.

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Owen Daniel Watkins

ALL our kids should indeed count.

Need help? Call the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority’s 24-hour Help Line at (800) 241-4949.

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Kids Count Profile for Detroit
http://www.mlpp.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Detroit-databook-2015.pdf

Kids Count Profile Out Wayne County
http://www.mlpp.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/OutWayne-databook-2015.pdf

Kids Count Profile Southeast Michigan
http://www.mlpp.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/SEMichigan-databook-2015.pdf

Tom Watkins  is the president and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority (www.dwmha.com). He has served the residents of Michigan as state superintendent of schools and state mental health director. He can be emailed at: tdwatkins88@gmail.com, or followed on twitter at: @tdwatkins88.

Bang!.

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