Commentary
11:29 am
Tue February 8, 2011

Save the Children

We could argue endlessly over who is responsible for the state of Michigan’s economy. Some people blame globalization. Others, the short-sightedness of the domestic automakers. Some say, Jennifer Granholm‘s failure to lead.

Some say it was the callous selfishness of the Republican Party, and on and on. But one thing is clear: today’s toddlers aren’t to blame. Neither is any child. They didn’t make the policies or the mistakes. But they are suffering as a result of them.

That’s not only unfair to them, but sabotages all of our futures, and that of Michigan. If we live long enough, our destinies will all be in the hands of people much younger than us. And right now, we aren’t serving them well. Certainly not well enough.

That’s the clear message emerging from a document released today, The Kids Count Data Book. This is an annual, joint project of two non-partisan, non-profit institutions, the century-old Michigan League for Human Services, and the newer Michigan’s Children.

Jack Kresnak, a longtime newspaper reporter who left journalism to run Michigan’s Children a few years ago, had this to say about it: “We have more kids living in poverty, more kids being abused and neglected, and almost a third of all babies receiving less than adequate prenatal care.

 That ought to worry you, even if you have the heart of Scrooge, because all that is a blow to the future prosperity of our state.

Why does prenatal care matter? Because mothers who don’t get it are far more likely to have babies who have physical and developmental disabilities. This stunts their potential, and has an astronomical cost to all of us.

Remarkably, there are still a lot of so-called intelligent adults who still don’t get that. Fortunately, Governor Rick Snyder clearly does. During his State of the State message, he called for what he called a P-20 council that would do everything it could to make sure Michigan help educate children even before they were born.

Experts have long known that if children’s needs aren’t met and their minds  stimulated from birth, by the time they get to school, it is too late. Yet that night one of the commentators on Detroit television, a former football broadcaster, ridiculed the governor for advocating prenatal care.

Evidently, he didn’t read the playbook. According to a study cited by Michigan’s Children, every dollar invested in high quality early childhood care and education services produces a return to society of more than seventeen times that amount.

Not all of the news in the new Kids Count book is bad. Fewer teenagers are having babies. A smaller percentage seem to be dropping out of high school.

But most indicators are very grim -- and show that the recession has clearly taken its toll, especially on minority kids.

The report’s conclusion, backed by hard evidence is that Michigan isn’t responding to the needs of children and their families.

Nationally, we’ve lost ground on child well-being, both absolutely and when compared to other states.

There are those who say we can’t afford to do any better right now. But the truth is that if we don’t take care of our children, there won’t be much point in worrying about Michigan’s future.

We just won’t have one.