Tricia Denton


Last November, the residents of Leelanau County approved an early childhood millage to support expanded services for the county’s young children and their families.

Leelanau’s County Commission contracted with Benzie-Leelanau Health Department to design and provide initial programming starting in March. So, even as the coronavirus pandemic spread throughout our country, our families began receiving services. While Leelanau’s young families may not be directly suffering from COVID-19, they are feeling the effects of related unemployment and, if still working, of limited childcare options. Many have the additional responsibility of home schooling their children, even as they’re working from home themselves.

This additional stress compounds physical and mental health problems that families already may have been experiencing. The community health workers and social worker, contracted through millage funding, are communicating with families by phone, texting and video platforms, providing outreach and also responding to specific requests. In combination with the public health nurses and social worker, they are offering early intervention and prevention that is both family-focused and available close to home. Intervention and prevention take many forms, ranging from offering families specific guidance and referrals to helping them access basic necessities.

One recent example of family support, available in part because of the millage, is that of a parent who received an outreach message shortly after she and her husband became unemployed. It took this mother several weeks to respond as she was reluctant to ask for assistance. While her immediate need was baby formula, she had not yet received any unemployment benefits. She needed help in following up on her filing, as well as meeting basic family needs due to lack of income.

In addition to receiving guidance about getting these needs met, she also received a “care package” delivered to her porch that included baby formula, books, art supplies and materials about activities to do with children and about self-care for parents. This package was the result of collaboration between the Health Department, Power Book Bags and Leelanau Christian Neighbors. This parent’s outcome was made possible through a combination of millage, government and nonprofit funding and dedicated staff and community organizations working together.

The League of Women Voters Leelanau County supported the early childhood millage as part of its education and advocacy role in supporting public policy positions. Since 1920, the League of Women Voters has been an activist, grassroots organization whose leaders believe that people should play a critical role in democracy. One of the League’s guiding principles is that responsible government should share in solving economic and social problems that affect the public’s general welfare.

This solution orientation includes supporting a system of comprehensive and coordinated services for all children and families, a system that provides basic resources for an adequate quality of life. The early childhood millage funding is helping Leelanau’s families with young children access preventative and protective health services in both the physical and behavioral realms. We can all be proud that our county has chosen to support our young children. We all benefit from their well-being — both now and in the future.

About the authors: Tricia Denton is the president of the League of Women Voters Leelanau County.

Sue Miller chairs the Early Childhood Needs and Service Committee of the LWVLC.

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