You Voted. Now What About the Babies?
By Mina Hong, MSW, MPP
As you know, in our wonderful and imperfect democracy that we call the United States of America, citizens get the opportunity to vote for elected officials who will then make decisions on our behalves. Many, many decisions. And while in our imperfect democracy about half of us eligible voters filled out a ballot on Nov. 8 (and thankfully the elections are behind us now!), policymakers report hearing from only 10% to 20% of their constituents. That means that once the votes are tallied and balloons and confetti have been swept up, very few of us hold our elected officials accountable for the decisions 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 you come in.
I would bet that, at best, perhaps one person in the State legislature understands infant mental health. Maybe a few understand the importance of social-emotional well-being. Maybe a few more understand the foundational importance of the first three years of life. But if the vast majority of policymakers don’t understand the importance of those first three years, the importance of safe and secure attachment of babies with caregivers, and how various programs and services throughout our state promote a strong social-emotional foundation for babies and toddlers, how can we expect them to make informed public policy decisions based on 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 — as well as those who weren’t up for re-election and who will continue to serve in the next legislative session — understand that the social-emotional well-being of babies and toddlers is incredibly important. They, like all of us, need to be asking themselves, “What about the babies?” And while they certainly don’t need to become experts, policymakers should have a foundational understanding of the issues 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 during their local coffee hours or request to meet with them when they’re home in their districts (Fridays through Mondays). Invite them to visit your program, join you for a home visit, or engage them in other ways to speak to families who have been assisted by your services. Now is the time to begin educating them and building a relationship with them so they turn to you when they have questions about the needs of Michigan families with babies and toddlers and can start making informed public policy decisions.
Learn more on how to strengthen your advocacy skills by visiting the Michigan’s Children website.