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Parents, caregivers share challenges of raising young children in Detroit


What unique challenges do Detroiters raising young children face? What does Detroit need to do better in order to ensure that children aren’t left out of the city’s turnaround?

Earlier this year, we commissioned a series of focus groups to engage directly with dozens of Detroit parents, grandparents, and caregivers, in three Detroit neighborhoods to better understand the answers to these critical questions. We hoped to hear honest, open feedback (in English and Spanish) about the experience of bringing up little ones in the city.

What we heard was at times encouraging and at other times upsetting. It was uplifting to learn that a majority of participants clearly recognize the importance of the early years of their children’s lives. They appreciate how much brain development happens at an early stage and know there are lots of things they can do to help develop their children and prepare them emotionally, academically and socially for kindergarten.

We also heard that despite this knowledge, many barriers and challenges make it difficult to give children the healthiest, best start possible in Detroit. Some of what we heard were universal parenting stresses and concerns. Other comments represented issues that might be more germane to raising babies in Detroit in particular. With a $20 million commitment to improving early childhood outcomes through our Kresge Early Years for Success: Detroit initiative, these conversations were just one step in helping us build an understanding of what’s happening on the ground with Detroit children and families.

In the end, we know that Detroit parents are no different than parents anywhere in the most fundamental sense. They love their children and want the best for them. But Detroit’s early childhood system isn’t always doing its best to support them.

Here’s a little of what we heard.

The importance of early childhood

Overwhelmingly, we heard that the stage of life from birth to age 8, and even more critically from birth to age 3, is a time of growth and major development.


Caregivers were looking for quality in their child care options, and gauged that quality on factors such as the cleanliness of a center, how their children seemed to be progressing academically, and whether their children were happy in that setting.

Some found the type of quality they were looking for.


Others expressed frustrations at long waiting lists to get into the best care centers.


The caregivers interviewed shared how they evaluated their children’s success, from comparing them to other kids, speaking with their doctors, asking friends and family or fellow churchgoers for advice, or finding online resources to help them identify milestones and development norms.


Most caregivers said they thought their children were prepared for school, or were on track to be ready for school. They cited their kids’ abilities to read at age-level, to count, do simple math, to know their address, and to recite the ABCs as indicators of being prepared to succeed in kindergarten.


Most parents and guardians also shared that they believe the technological talents of the children they care for is a positive sign of intellectual achievement and likely academic success. Many parents mentioned their young children using tablets and computers for fun and learning.

At the same time, parents and caregivers worried about their kids getting too much screen time and not enough time playing outside.



What’s causing stress?

While many participants noted that their circumstances and neighborhoods are improving, there was a large portion that stated that a lack of long-term, sustainable employment has made parenting difficult. They also struggle to find jobs that align with the typical hours of most child care centers, often working nights, weekends and other times that many centers don’t stay fully staffed.


Alternatively, some fully employed parents faced a different set of work challenges – exhaustion from working sometimes multiple jobs, leaving them tapped out when it came to time with their kids. Others juggled work as well as parenting multiple children or grandchildren, often with competing schedules and demands.



Detroit-Specific Issues

While many parents around the country face issues with paying for child care and balancing work and parenting, we heard that Detroit parents do so amid a backdrop of other issues that complicate their lives and add additional layers of stress.

One area of concern is the lack of reliable, far-reaching public transportation that could help simplify parents getting children from homes to care centers or preschools and then to work. Some parents said access to the best child care centers was simply nonexistent due to this issue.


Many caregivers also shared fears about letting their children play outside due to erratic driving, concerns about safety (although violent crime rates are falling) and roaming or unsecured dogs.




Some Spanish-speaking participants had their own set of worries, including fear of deportation, a constant worry that has been heightened during the divisive election cycle.

That’s just a sampling of what parents and caregivers told us. We’ll be hearing more from Detroit residents about what they want for their young children throughout our KEYS: Detroit work, and will use what we hear to inform how and where we invest our dollars.

Thanks to all of the residents who participated. We know parenting is a difficult challenge in the best of circumstances. We’re working hard to ensure that the systems in Detroit that provide support are the strongest they can be, to eliminate added stress on caregivers and to ensure each child is fully ready for kindergarten and all that follows it.

Subscribe to our KEYS: Detroit newsletter here to stay in the loop as we continue this work.