Testimony Before the Maryland House Ways and Means Committee

March 10, 2005

Madame Chair, Members of the Committee, I want to thank you for the opportunity to address you today. I am delighted to be here, on behalf of the Forum for Youth Investment, to testify in support of House Bill 293 as amended.

The Forum for Youth Investment, based in Washington, D.C., is a national think tank that helps the federal government, states and localities ensure that all young people reach age 21 ready for work, college and life. The Forum identifies, documents and publicizes successful efforts by states and localities across the country, provides technical assistance to those interested in adapting and using these innovative strategies, and forms networks so state and local policy makers can learn directly from each other.

In my testimony, I intend to make the following four points:
1. Better coordination of child and youth policy is becoming an increasingly important national issue;
2. Better coordination of child and youth policy could position Maryland as a national leader;
3. Better coordination of child and youth policy is good government; and,
4. Better coordination of child and youth policy is good for Maryland?s children, youth and families.

1. Better coordination of child and youth policy is becoming an increasingly important national issue

Support for coordinating government efforts for children, youth and families is growing from the Federal Government, the National Conference of State Legislators, and the National Governor?s Association.

Recently, the Federal Youth Coordination Act was introduced in the U.S. Congress with strong bi-partisan support. This Act creates a National Youth Development Council with the Secretaries of all relevant departments and agencies. It also authorizes the Federal Council to provide funding to State Councils such as the Children?s Cabinet established in Maryland House Bill 293.
The National Conference of State Legislators is about to announce a major national Youth Policy Initiative, highlighting the roles state legislators can play in promoting better coordinated child and youth policies.
The National Governors Association recently released a report entitled ?A Governor?s Guide to Children?s Cabinets.? This report found that ?At least 16 states have a Children?s Cabinet, and all indications suggest that many others are likely to follow.?
By advancing the coordination of children, youth and family services, you would be backed by a growing movement and the best thinking of experts across the country.

2. Better coordination of child and youth policy could position Maryland as a national leader

Maryland has a long history of attempting coordination for children, youth and families; if Maryland were to be successful, it could quickly become a national leader.

The components of the coordination infrastructure are comprehensive. Some states have a Children?s Cabinet. Others have an Advisory Council. Still others have an interagency fund. By putting all of these structures in place in a single piece of legislation, Maryland could be perceived as a national leader.
The local linkages are strong. While some Children?s Cabinets do demonstration projects connecting to one or more localities, very few have in place a robust system to connect with all localities across the state. By linking the work of the Children?s Cabinet to the Local Management Boards, Maryland could be perceived as a national leader.
Lessons from across the country have demonstrated that three additional elements will be critical for House Bill 293 to live up to its potential during implementation:

Leadership. Effective interagency collaboration requires strong ongoing leadership from the Governor?s office and the legislature. Asking departments to collaborate among themselves is not enough ? the Governor?s office and legislature has to devote leadership, time and energy to encourage the departments to collaborate, and to hold the Children?s Cabinet accountable for achieving its results.
Partnership with non-governmental organizations. Government does not, and can not, do everything alone. Weaving a web of support for children, youth and families requires the active and engaged participation of non-profit organizations. States and cities which have actively involved non-profits in the work of their Children?s Cabinets have a significantly stronger track record than those who do not.
Youth participation. The people who know best what works and does not work for serving youth are young people themselves. Youth are uniquely positioned to provide insights and perspectives that even the most diligent adult policy makers and advocates overlook. States that have created a Youth Council to work closely with the Children?s Cabinet have discovered a powerful symbiotic synergy, where the young people and the public officials learn from each other, energize each other, and hold each other jointly accountable.
Many states are attempting aspects of coordination, but there is no state that experts can point to as a model for other states to copy. If House Bill 293 is passed as amended, and if it is implemented with significant leadership, partnership with non-governmental organizations, and youth participation, Maryland could well become this national model.

3. Better coordination of child and youth policy is good government

The White House Task Force For Disadvantaged Youth found that ?the complexity of the problems faced by disadvantaged youth is matched only by the complexity of the traditional Federal response to those problems. Both are confusing, complicated, and costly.? The Task Force found that there were 150 programs in 12 federal departments and agencies that focus on children and youth, and that there is little coordination and communication among them.

A similar situation exists at the state level. Better coordination could make the state response to the problems of disadvantaged youth less confusing, less complicated, and more cost-effective. If passed with the advocates? recommendations, and if implemented effectively, House Bill 293 could achieve these ends through such measures as:

Recommending policies that implement interagency strategic budgeting;
Facilitating performance measures and coordination in child and family services; and,
Implementing interagency policies for the application, review, evaluation and award of grants that will promote an effective and efficient approach to addressing the needs of children and families
When the Federal Youth Coordination Act was introduced, US Senator Coleman said. ?Unfortunately, the federal government?s effort to assist disadvantaged youth has been fragmented and poorly coordinated. The Federal Youth Coordination Act will make sure that the federal government?s response is delivered efficiently.?

A well-implemented coordination strategy could make sure Maryland?s response to the needs of young people is delivered efficiently as well.

4. Better coordination of child and youth policy is good for Maryland?s children, youth and families

Too many young people are falling into the cracks between government departments and agencies. Thomas is one such young person, who grew up not far from here. Thomas was adopted at the age of 10. He said his adoptive parents were abusive. Eight years later, when Thomas couldn't take it anymore and started hitting back, his adoptive parents called the system and asked for his removal from their home. At the age of 18, Thomas was out on his own and without identification. To survive on the streets, Thomas said, "I went asking for money, and basically stole. I had to. For the time that I was out in the streets, that's what I had to do, and that's what I did."

After drifting for years in the cracks between systems, Thomas finally found help, and is now working as a security guard, receiving independent living training, and is finishing his GED.

Employment skills. Independent living training. Education. Health care. And yes, juvenile justice. It took concerted efforts among a number of departments to reach and save Thomas.

Right now, as I give this testimony, there are other young people just like Thomas drifting across the state, lost in the cracks between government systems. House Bill 293 as amended provides an opportunity to find and close these cracks, and in so doing, find and save these young people.

I thank you for your time and consideration of this important piece of legislation.