States Emphasize Collaboration in the Development of Child and Youth Policies
Florida’s new secretary for the Department of Juvenile Justice, Wansley Walters, is shaking things up with the help of some key partners in her state.
At the recent Children’s Cabinet Symposium and Congressional Briefing hosted by the Forum for Youth Investment, Secretary Walters said her state is taking a dramatically different approach in dealing with children and teens who are charged for the first time with minor offenses: "We’re putting all first-time misdemeanors into a civil diversion program. We’re no longer putting them into residential care,” she said.
This shift marks a significant change for Florida’s approach to juvenile justice, which is traditionally know for being tough on young offenders and, in eyes of critics, emphasizing punishment over rehabilitation. Secretary Walters said these changes are possible now because state agencies are collaborating in new ways, supporting a shift in focus from incarceration to prevention and deterrence.
Tracking, for the First Time, How Children's Cabinets Work
Florida is not the only state to have adopted a cooperative approach to developing child and youth policies. On June 8, The Forum for Youth Investment and The RAND Corporation released the results of the first comprehensive biennial survey of state child and youth policy coordinating bodies.
Known in most states as Children’s Cabinets or Children's Councils, these coordinating bodies bring together the heads of different agencies such as education, health care, and juvenile justice to coordinate child and youth policy. Some Children's Cabinets focus on early childhood, pre-school through college and/or career (P-16 and P-20), or on higher education and workforce readiness, and some cover all areas, birth to adulthood.
The first of its kind, the State Policy Survey had some surprising results even for those deeply involved in Children’s Cabinets.
The survey found that coordinating bodies are common among the states, identifying 110 in operation across the country. Of the 55 that participated in the survey, nearly half of those were Early Childhood Councils, while those that focused on child and youth issues came in a close second, and P-16 and P-20 councils collectively came in a distant third.
Most of the coordinating bodies were made up of a diverse range of official members, primarily the heads of government agencies. Less than half of the Children's Cabinets included parents and community-based organizations and only 11 percent of those responding included youth as official members. The majority preferred to have youth in advisory roles instead. Meanwhile, the data suggests that more research is needed to determine the depth with which these members engage in the collaborative efforts of the coordinating bodies.
Most Children's Councils take a holistic approach to child and youth development, focusing on at least four of the following areas: academic, social/emotional, physical, vocational and civic engagement. More than half of the coordinating bodies studied reported that they address at least four age ranges (0 to 5, 5 to 10, 11 to 15, 16 to 20 and 21+).
When Children’s Cabinets are in place and well managed they can have a significant impact on state policies and systems. In Maine, for example, the Governor's Children's Cabinet has been successful in securing $40 million in new funds for children's and youth services since 2001, despite the economic climate. In Florida, the Children and Youth Cabinet Information Sharing System creates efficiencies by enabling caseworkers to access information from multiple agencies in one place.
The survey also found that in many states, the coordinating bodies were behind progress in gathering and sharing data to inform policies and programs: nearly 75 percent of the Cabinets collect child and youth data as well as fiscal indicators. State “children’s report cards” and “children’s budgets” are two examples of common publications by coordinating bodies.
Partnerships that focus on shared planning and improving child- and youth-serving programs have been successful, according to the survey findings. However, coordinating bodies have found less success in reducing overlapping services, leveraging resources and putting policies into place.
The State Policy Survey showed there is significant collaboration happening at the state level that shows great promise for creating lasting, sustainable change.
For More Information
- The full results the Forum for Youth Investment/RAND survey, Ready by 21 State Policy Survey: Child and Youth Policy Coordinating Bodies in the U.S., are available here (in PDF format).
Tara James is SparkAction's senior associate for outreach & engagement. Contact her at email@example.com.