More than 350 leaders and organizations across the U.S. have called on President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris to establish an Office on Children and Youth in the executive branch. The push for cohesive national leadership is spearheaded by Nemours Children’s Health System, Mental Health America, First Focus on Children, The Education Redesign Lab at Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the Forum for Youth Investment. The coalition notes that factors like the COVID-19 pandemic, longstanding racial injustice, and the economic downturn have created a critical inflection point for our nation’s future.
“Investing in the health of children is the single most powerful lever to create a healthier society and a stronger economy. We should honor the lives lost to COVID-19 due to chronic health conditions by taking action in child health that will prevent these diseases from occurring,” said R. Lawrence Moss, M.D., FACS, FAAP, president and CEO of Nemours Children’s Health System. “This office would be a powerful force toward improving the nation’s future health and economic potential. It is our nation’s responsibility to ensure that every child, regardless of socioeconomic circumstances, race, ethnicity, or gender, receives coordinated support to achieve lifelong health. The payback is huge and continues for decades.”
Through executive order, the president could create a White House Office on Children and Youth that would improve the health, wellbeing, and education of America’s youth. Some of the office’s proposed goals include advancing equity, eliminating disparities, and ensuring that federal policies prioritize our youth’s needs. The office would assemble a “children’s cabinet” of federal agencies to serve as a point of coordination across and within existing programs and services. The office and children’s cabinet would also set a clear national agenda with outcome metrics and a cohesive, multi-agency budget to prioritize the health and wellbeing of children and youth.
Outside experts and stakeholders, including youth, would receive an invitation from the office to participate in a White House Conference on Children and Youth as a catalyst for progress.
“50% of youth age 11 to 17 who took a depression screening at MHAscreening.org in September reported frequent thoughts of suicide or self-harm,” said Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America. “This is a troubling trend. President-elect Biden must act quickly once in office to ensure the mental health of children, youth, and families is a top priority.”
To satisfy this need, the lead partners propose a structure for a federal children’s cabinet to support the office. This interagency structure would bring together federal leaders to advance, communicate, and coordinate goals and priorities. Various states, including Maryland, which created a Child Wellbeing Scorecard to track outcomes for eight measures of wellness, and Virginia – which has shown improvements in school attendance, school suspensions, student nutrition, and school accreditation – have successfully used this cabinet model.
“Children’s needs do not fit neatly into one box,” said Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus on Children. “Federal policies covering everything from healthcare to education to hunger and taxes deeply affect our nation’s 74 million children. Yet children are often an afterthought, with no single federal entity making sure that each agency fulfills its obligation to them. A White House Office on Children and Youth would ensure that leaders at every level prioritize and coordinate children’s needs, offering the services and support that will allow them – and our nation – to flourish.”
The nation’s strong economic recovery depends on policies and resources that support schools and communities, rebuild the childcare sector, and address the physical and mental health needs of children and youth to allow them to rise above the obstacles created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, raising a nation of young people ready to learn, work, and live requires public systems that actively promote youth development based on science and equity. Focusing on these issues could lead to decreased rates of childhood mental health disorders, more educational opportunities, and stability with food security and housing opportunities as part of a long-term investment in the health, quality of life, productivity, and lifespan of America’s youth.
“In communities and states across the country, collaborating across the diverse sectors, programs, and fields that support youth has been critical to achieve common goals. These state and local examples can serve as a model on the national scale. We need coherent, integrated policy, and action, grounded in equity and in our knowledge of what young people need to succeed,” said Thaddeus Ferber, executive vice-president at the Forum for Youth Investment.
“Moving beyond the pandemic to a stronger, healthier nation requires a new, collaborative approach to children’s issues,” said Jennifer Davis, MPP, senior advisor at Harvard’s Education Redesign Lab and former education official in the Clinton administration. “Schools alone cannot meet children’s complex needs. At every level of government, we need to focus on a holistic approach to child wellbeing – one that builds cross-sector support systems for children and youth from cradle to career.”
For more information about the need for this federal coordinating office and children’s cabinet, please visit www.Nemours.org/WHOffice4Kids. Follow the conversation on this proposal by using #WHOffice4Kids and #ChildrensCabinet on social media.