Public child support calculator can reduce conflict

By ISAAC CONSTANS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan has launched a free child support calculator to help parents determine what their unique child care responsibilities are.

The public online tool, which existed earlier through several private websites, lets parents enter a number of variables into the state formula for child support and returns a payment estimate. The result is the same as would be determined by Department of Health and Human Services staff although missing or misentered figures could lead to variations.

State officials said they hoped the calculator would help reduce the conflict between parents that can come from child support settlements, helping both parents understand how support payments are determined and improving the chance for dependable and prompt payments. Continue reading

Some Michigan fish safe for pregnant women, sometimes

By CAITLIN TAYLOR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan health professionals still want pregnant women to eat fish in safe amounts, despite local fish advisories throughout the state.

Fish provide nutrients, like omega-3 oils, that are important to fetal brain development, Jennifer Eisner, public information officer for the Department of Health and Human Services, said. But some of the state’s water bodies are contaminated with toxins like mercury that could harm a growing fetus, she said.

“We do want pregnant women to eat locally caught fish,” Eisner said. “But we want them to check our guidelines to find out how often it’s safe to eat them.”

The department develops Eat Safe Fish guidelines that  provide information on the health effects of chemicals in fish by geographic area. The guidelines apply to all Michiganders, but offer specific recommendations for pregnant women, children and those with chronic illnesses. Continue reading

Care centers may see more regulations for reporting injuries

By LAURA BOHANNON

Capital News Service

LANSING — Day care centers, adult care centers and foster homes would have to meet higher standards for reporting injuries on an online database, under bills introduced in the state House.

Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, who sponsored the bills, said the increased record-keeping will make it easier for people to evaluate centers when choosing one.

Although those institutions already face state reporting requirements, Lucido said his bills would ensure that patterns of more minor incidents would not be overlooked.

Lucido said, “I don’t think a registry or database is so wrong when dealing with loved ones, people we’re trying to protect.” Continue reading

Internet says: Michigan ranks high in bullying

By CAITLIN DeLUCA

LANSING — Michigan schools may not be so welcoming for students, according to two recent studies.

Both Wallethub.com and Backgroundchecks.org did studies based on information from the National Center for Education Statistics, Centers for Disease Control, National Education Association and other organizations.

Both websites say they have community outreach programs with writers, open data analysts and statisticians who produce studies on statewide levels.

And both ranked Michigan as one of the worst states for bullying in America.

“The purpose of the study was to understand bullying on a state-to-state basis,” said Jason Quimby, the director for outreach at Background Checks which Quimby called an organization devoted to public safety, open government and transparency. Continue reading

Homegrown and served without a moan

By BRIDGET BUSH

Capital News Service

 

LANSING– A program designed to increase schools’ use of local produce is cooking up resources for K-12 school food and nutrition directors so they can better incorporate healthy Michigan foods into cafeteria meals.

The effort by a group called Cultivate Michigan is part of the trend pushing local produce into meal plans in large institutions, including schools and hospitals.

“People are more educated than ever about the benefits of healthy eating,” said Barbie Ward-Thomas, the food service director at Gwinn Area Community Schools that participated in the project.

The program provided school menu recipes incorporating Michigan products, Kaitlin Koch Wojciak, Community Food Systems educator in southeastern Michigan,

said. The program targets cooks and kitchen supervisors who deal directly with the food. Continue reading

Communication key to fighting increase in child suicide

By KAREN HOPPER USHER

Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan health officials say there isn’t enough help for kids with mental health problems.

Beds are closing, community mental health is underfunded and there’s a shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists, said Dr. Bernard Biermann, medical director of the inpatient child and adolescent psychiatric unit at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. There’s a major crisis in treatment availability, he said.

The number of Michigan kids ages 10-14 who died by suicide doubled between 2011 and 2014, the most recent year for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has data. That year, 20 kids died by suicide compared to 10 kids in 2011. Michigan’s rate of 3.1 deaths per 100,000 is higher than the national average of 2.1.

The center says the number of child suicides is up for that period nationwide. In fact, suicide rates are up across all ages nationwide, according to an April report from the center. Continue reading

State may ask to change school tests again

BY CAITLIN DELUCA

Capital News Service

LANSING — State officials are considering whether to recommend a more advanced standardized test for students while reducing the number of years they have to take it.

The Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, M-STEP, is taken every year. Proposed changes would reduce the number of years students take it to once in elementary school and once in middle school. In grades 3 and 8, students would take M-STEP with the additions multiple times, and in other years they would take other tests.

State Superintendent Brian Whiston recently announced the proposed change and said it could help meet the Michigan Department of Education’s goal of becoming a top 10  school system in the country in the next 10 years.

The new test, as yet unnamed, would put additional focus on communication, problem solving and critical thinking. Continue reading

Drug epidemic leaves more Michigan children with uncertain future

By RAY WILBUR

Capital News Service

LANSING — The use of prescription opiates, heroin and other drugs is a rising statewide epidemic that threatens the future of more children.

Drug overdose was the number-one cause of injury-related deaths for Michigan adults in 2014 when they jumped to 1,745. That’s about a 12 percent increase over the previous year, according to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services data.

The illegal use of drugs, specifically prescription opiates, has steadily increased during the past five years, said Alicia Guevara-Warren, Kids Count project director for the Michigan League for Public Policy.

But the real state-altering issue here is the children’s lives that are uprooted as a result, she said.

The number of children of parents with substance abuse problems and who entered foster care rose from 6,989 in 2011 to 7,971 in 2013, which Guevara-Warren said is the latest reliable data. Continue reading

State works to improve payments to county child care programs

By ALEXANDER SMITH

Capital News Service

LANSING — Delays in paying for programs that help troubled youth are prompting an overhaul of how the state reimburses county courts for the services.

The Child Care Fund reimburses half of county court expenses for programs that support abused, neglected and delinquent youth.

A recent state audit disclosed slow payments but also said some of them may be ineligible for reimbursement — even though counties’ budgets had previous approval.

“If the state can’t uphold a budget it approved, kids and courts suffer,” said Eric Stevens, administrator of the Muskegon County Circuit Court. Continue reading

Bill to reduce zero-tolerance policies in schools has bipartisan support

BY CAITLIN DeLUCA

Capital News Service

LANSING — A bill aimed at reducing the number of suspensions and expulsions of students in Michigan schools could move to the Senate floor soon.

In Michigan, a zero-tolerance policy covers a plethora of situations in schools, including physical violence, possession of any weapon, tobacco, alcohol and bomb or similar threats.

That means that a student who commits any of those behaviors must be suspended or expelled for at least a year. The mandatory punishment leaves the schools’ hands tied.

The bill would remove mandatory suspensions or expulsions for some of these misbehaviors. It would exclude firearms, which are included in a zero-tolerance policy mandated by the federal government.

The bill would leave the decision up to the district, where administrators would have to consider factors such as age, history of discipline, disability and intent of the action. Continue reading