Haveman (Sara J. Martin / Courtesy: Michigan Department of)
In its Feb. 2 editorial, “Rally to save Detroit’s children,” The Detroit News urges swift action on child safety to help save the next generation of Detroit’s children.
We agree 100 percent. And we have already acted and will continue to act to protect the safety of children.
Statistics in Detroit have shown for years what we are up against. Infant mortality remains at a rate higher than in many emerging nations. Regrettably, few older children in Detroit have escaped a life of poverty. Instead, too many continue to live in generational poverty.
Detroit’s comeback is underway. But our hope of long-term success for all children in poverty depends on valuing each and every child. Our departments are working together to improve outcomes for children, in collaboration with the private sector and local governments.
Detroit’s infant mortality rate, although unacceptably high at 12.6 deaths for every 1,000 live births in 2011, has begun to show a decrease and is moving in the right direction. We are beginning to see progress as we work collectively to save lives in Detroit, but the work is not over.
For the first time in recent memory, infant deaths statewide due to unsafe sleep practices dropped — from 145 in 2011 to 134 deaths in 2012. Tragically, nearly 40 of those deaths occurred in Detroit. Each death was entirely preventable. Last year, Beaumont Hospital became the first medical center to partner with our departments promoting infant safe sleep to all their new parents. They won’t be the last.
The state of Michigan will continue to invest in programs in Detroit to reduce teen pregnancy and repeat teen births. Recently, Michigan received a four year $1.5 million annual grant to reduce repeat pregnancies, with Detroit being one of five communities that will benefit from this opportunity. And while the teen birth rate in Detroit has decreased 12 percent since 2007, we know that we can do better.
In child protection cases, we just launched Signs of Safety, a program new to Wayne County. With Signs of Safety, we have already reduced child abuse in Saginaw County by 20 percent. In this program, the question is always asked: “How can the worker actually build partnerships with parents and children in situations of suspected or substantiated abuse?” We know Signs of Safety can better protect children, engage their parents with wraparound services and, where it is safe, keep families together.
Our Pathways to Potential program has expanded to virtually every Detroit public school since fall 2012. Caseworkers, called “success coaches,” are embedded in the schools and help break down barriers to attendance. In evaluating the first 21 schools, data shows that chronic absenteeism fell by 9 percent.
We have demolished hundreds of dangerous structures around our neighborhood schools in Detroit. This helps children make their way safely to and from the classroom daily.
This year, Pathways workers will be placed in hospitals and businesses, part of our concerted effort to help interrupt the cycle of generational poverty that has gripped Detroit for far too long.
We recognize that to realize change in the city of Detroit, this effort requires support throughout the entire city.
To save our youth, we need faith-based organizations, business leaders, education leaders, the health care industry, and community coalitions alike to join us as we collaboratively find ways to improve the future for our children.
When a child in Detroit dies, it’s not just a tragedy for the family, for the city, Wayne County or even the state. It’s a tragedy for every one of us.
Maura D. Corrigan is director of the Michigan Department of Human Services.
Jim Haveman is director of the Michigan Department of Community Health.