Think Babies Michigan Parent Leader Spotlight – Chrissy Vines

Meet Chrissy Vines, a community messenger, ensuring families have access to crucial information on child development and care. 

“I felt cheated because he was already two.” Recounted Chrissy Vines, Think Babies Michigan Governance Board member, and mother of a 23-year-old daughter and four-year-old son.

Chrissy Vines has become an advocate out of her own realization that opportunities and information about early child care and development are not readily available in every Michigan community. “I’m learning about the data that some kids are not at the third-grade reading level and African American kids are more behind than any other race. That right there helps me subscribe and make sure Caden is not behind…some people say he’s only four, right…but it starts early, because if he wants to check out of liking and wanting to go to school now, he’s going to check out in high school and middle school, and I don’t want that for my baby” said Vines.

Chrissy’s son, Caden, was two when he was diagnosed with an ear infection that required ear tube surgery. Vines was proactive, however, ensuring that any hearing issues Caden experienced would not cause a speech delay. She voiced her concern to their pediatrician who referred them to Early On. Caden, fortunately never had a speech delay, but it was not until an Early On Coordinator visited their house, that Vines heard about home visiting or Early Head Start for the first time. “I felt cheated because he was already two and I could have been receiving that [home visiting services] when he was in my belly all the way up until that time…I wouldn’t have been privy to the information because nobody told me about it. I didn’t see it on a flyer anywhere, I only got the information because I pushed so much to get him evaluated to make sure he wasn’t behind in his speech. What if I wouldn’t have pushed for anything? I wouldn’t have known.” Chrissy said.

The Early On coordinator referred Caden to Early Head Start, and was assigned a teacher who visited Caden and Chrissy at their house and helped her begin the paperwork to enroll Caden in Head Start. Even with the additional support, Vines quickly realized how much of an advocate she had to be in order for her son to receive the high quality care and development she wanted. “He’s a Bubble Baby, as they call them.” Chrissy explained. “Since he was younger than the other kids, to start school by September 1, you had to be three years-old, and on September 1, he was still two. So, I had to wait an additional week to see if any three and four-year-olds were enrolled first because they had first priority. They didn’t have full capacity, so he was able to attend half a day of Head Start last year.”

After his first year of Head Start, Chrissy decided she wanted to enroll Caden in another program. He was finally enrolled in the new program after being placed on a waitlist for a year and-a-half, only for it to close its doors a year later. Chrissy waited again for the older children to enroll the next year before Caden was admitted to preschool across the bridge in Grand Haven, MI; 20 minutes further from the previous facility.

The challenges Vines faced of enrollment and availability, having to wait to ensure there are enough slots available before a spot was secured, and finding a different program after a child care business closed its doors, is not an isolated story. With the abrupt end of federal COVID relief funding, 1,200 child care business across the state, and some 56,000 kids will be left without available child care; the effects of the end to funding are already felt amongst many Michigan families, communities, and the its economy.

Without the state’s full investment in early care and education, and early child care services like home visiting and the Early On program that Chrissy barely discovered, there will continue to be a deficit in the number of eligible Michigan families compared to the number of families enrolled and serviced.

Vines currently serves as a Think Babies Michigan Governance Board Member and works with Muskegon’s Great Start Collaborative (GSC) to lend a voice to necessary policy changes and ensure that as many families are proactively aware of early childhood opportunities as possible. She tells people about Early Head Start and passes along numbers they can call. Vines also visits festivals, churches, and libraries to pass out books and sign people up for the GSC newsletter and text messages to receive age-appropriate development activities.

As a Think Babies Parent Leader, Chrissy has shared her experiences and provided buy-in to help establish early childhood policy priorities. “When I first started with TBMI, I started as a parent leader. Some of the issues I heard I didn’t even know were issues. My struggle is not the next person’s struggle, so it’s nice to hear about different issues that are big for other people or things we can make a difference on, even in the legislative area. I like that the capacity for Think Babies Michigan is even bigger than my community.”

“Being a parent leader is being my child’s biggest advocate and being an advocate for other people and parents too and helping them and giving them the information I’m learning along the way.” – Vines continued.

As the state moves closer to deciding whether to adopt the Governor’s proposed FY25 budget, and implementing Universal Pre-K, it’s clear that parent leaders like Vines, who will go through any feat, whether driving further for quality care, or waiting on year-long waitlists, will be an instrumental part of ensuring our youngest children are their families are prioritized, and have every opportunity that they deserve to thrive.

Learn more about the True Cost of Care.