The study of Flint’s children and their hopes: What we can learn and how it can lead to better ways to help them succeed

November 30, 2017

The trauma of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, has undoubtedly left its mark on the city’s residents, yet by all accounts they have shown impressive resilience as many businesses, non-profits and academic institutions restore hope by looking for ways to help the city make a comeback.

Michigan State University has been no stranger to Flint. In keeping with its commitment to the city, four students from the Department of Human Development and Family Studies went to Flint with researcher Christin Carotta to study one of its most important resources: its children. The researchers wanted to know what keeps the kids going and what gives them hope.

“I think the most difficult part of this research is recognizing how much of an influence the children’s environment has had on their aspirations towards the future,” said recent graduate Brianna Dines who was one of the student researchers. “For such young children, their aspirations I felt were hindered by their views of their reality and situations.”

Dines graduated last May with a degree in Human Development and Family Studies and is currently attending Grand Valley State University to obtain a master’s degree in occupational science and therapy. She initially got involved in the research hoping to make a difference in the lives of the children of Flint.

“It was an opportunity to continue to work toward better futures for children living in underprivileged areas,” she explained. “I appreciated the positive outcomes that could potentially result from the findings and felt that it was an opportunity to shed light on the resilience and aspirations of these young children.“

This study was able to accomplish that and more. It found that kids from Flint dream both rationally and compassionately. Many prioritize their academic and career aspirations highly but are also extremely concerned about being able to take care of their families and give back to their community. Instead of dreaming of living large, many of these children vie simply for the ability to sustain a moderate lifestyle.

Carotta, an assistant professor at South Dakota State University, is the lead author and worked as a post-doctoral researcher with Human Development and Family Studies Chair Amy Bonomi and the four student researchers, including Dines. The study was originally published in TQR’s The Qualitative Report.

“The research gives voice to the hopes and concerns that children have in Flint. It also highlights areas in which children are most in need of hope engendering strategies,” Carotta said. “The finding can help enhance community and school-based programs so they further attune to children’s lived experiences and the hopes they have for the future.”

In short, the research helps us better understand Flint children’s personal experiences with hope in the context of adversity.

“Recognizing hope and fostering it could be very effective in helping children recognize their aspirations and how to achieve them,” Dines said. “Incorporating hope and aspirations in classroom material and after-school activities could have a tremendous influence on the motivation of the children who are living in underprivileged areas. I am hopeful this research will provide the narrative of these children so they are not seen as a number but as a people with dreams and hopes.”