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Support for Children of Migrant Workers

Programs at the Leelenau Children's Center are educational and fun. / Beth Price

Without migrant laborers, many Michigan farms wouldn't get their crops in. But the groups of temporary residents can challenge the services available in rural areas. Groups across northwest Michigan provide help with day care, health care, dental services, and summer school for children of the migrant workers who pick crops or do other farm labor for a living.
Just as Northwest Michigan migrant farm workers need apples, cherries and other crops to pick to earn their living, so do their children need the help of various programs with various necessities of life. We're talking about facets of life as necessary as quality day care, preventative dental care, health services, education, and more. 
Fortunately for these children, there are groups available that provide such help. Some can offer assistance for very little cost; some, through scholarships, grants and other charitable contributions, are able to help with no charge at all.
One such organization is the Leelanau Children's Center, which has a center in Leland (111 N. Fifth Street, 231-256-7841) and another in Northport (164 S. High Street, 231-386-5144). 
Staffers from the center also make home visits to migrant worker families to give added support to the preschool children, bringing learning materials with them to show the parents and leave for the children to have at home.
"Our center-based programs are play-based learning programs that give children opportunities to explore the world," says Molly Grosvenor, Leelanau Children's Center Program Director. "We always are challenging ourselves to support and nourish children in the programs. We play inside, outside, in informal and in structured settings.
"We provide places for contemplative play, social play, discovery play, active play, anything we can think of that can help expand the learning experience. These are things the typical migrant workers' children wouldn't be exposed to."
There also is parenting support for migrant workers. Staffers Bea Cruz and Patti Yearn make house visits to further the education that the children receive at the center. These provide a vital role in enhancing the children's development, says Grosvenor.
"When you support the parenting process, you are supporting the children," she says. "We bring materials, we have discussions, techniques, all kinds of things that can add assistance in the parenting process in the difficult circumstances that migrant families live in."
LCC definitely is making a difference. Thirty-three families, most with multiple children, are part of the LCC experience. There are funding sources available for families who can't afford the tuition. LCC is a Head Start partner, a Michigan School Readiness Program and a Parenting Communities Site. It accepts Department of Human Services childcare payments. Donations are always welcome, and you can donate by visiting the LCC website.
Preschool education is one facet where help is available for migrant workers' children in Northwest Michigan. Another is health and dental care. Quality care given by expert professionals is available through Northwest Michigan Health Services Inc.  NMHSI doesn't exclusively serve migrant workers' families, but those families comprise a large segment of those receiving help at little or no cost.
NMHSI has three clinics. Traverse City Clinic (10767 Traverse Highway, Traverse City, 231-947-0351) and Shelby Clinic (119 S. State Street, Shelby, 231-861-2130) provide both health and dental care. Bear Lake Clinic (6433 Eight Mile Road, Bear Lake, 231-889-5600) provides only health care.
More than 70 percent of the patients belong to a migrant family, and more than 80 percent are Latino. More than 30 percent of the patients are children, most uninsured and most living in poverty.
"The migrant farm workers are the poorest of the poor, and the need for quality health and dental care is huge," says Linda Shively. "For whatever reason, I don't think people realize what kind of conditions the families are living in, how difficult it would be to receive any kind of care at all."
That care is possible because of NMHSI. The organization sees migrant workers year round. Perhaps one of the more impressive parts of the organization is the fact that it offers hundreds of free preventative dental visits to migrant worker children.
"You have to realize, these families are just trying to survive," Shively says. "You and I took it for granted that we went to the dentist when we were kids. But these families couldn't afford dentistry without these free visits being available.
"It's just the nature of the migrant environment. Preventative dental care would not be part of the picture."
Since 1968, when NMHSI was founded, health and dental care has been accessible to migrant farm workers and their families. At first it was aimed exclusively for them, but now other noninsured or underinsured families also take advantage of the services.
Under the watchful eye of Dr. Allen Hoeft, chief dental officer, University of Michigan Dental Students see the children. The visits also are made possible through a partnership with Telamon, a Head Start program.
Another program that helps migrant workers' children, although not exclusively, is the Suttons Bay Summer School program, which celebrated its 20th year in 2013. Many children take advantage of this educational experience while their parents are working.
"There is such a need out there for these children," Shively says. "Any help they get is help they need."
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