Our promise to Minnesota’s Children

Quill FeatherCurrently in Minnesota, 42.5 percent of our first-grade students receive free and reduced price lunch, a leading indicator of poverty. Nearly half of those served by Minnesota food shelves are children. And 109,000 Minnesota children and youths ages birth to 21 years old are in need of treatment for serious emotional disturbances, while one in five children are diagnosed with some type of mental or behavioral disorder.

When we talk about preparing our children for the future, these facts must be at the forefront of our conversation. Any steps we take to ensure our students can succeed in education, career and life must take into account significant barriers that stand in their way.

The interconnected nature of health, home life, and academic success is why Gov. Mark Dayton re-established the Children’s Cabinet in August 2011. The current Cabinet includes the commissioners of Education, Health and Human Services. We work together to address issues of education inequity, mental illness and child poverty by better coordinating the work of our respective agencies to better serve children and their families.

During the last few weeks, the recent legislative session has appropriately been called the “education session.”  And it’s true — we made important investments in early education and all-day kindergarten. We also made important funding and policy reforms that will simplify our school funding system, reduce the need for local property taxpayers to subsidize basic school needs and improve how we measure student progress.

However, the 2013 Legislative Session might be better named “the children’s session,” due to the important progress made not only in education, but in the dozens of other ways this budget will enhance and improve the lives of thousands of Minnesota children.

Starting at home

This session saw major investments that will strengthen a child’s support system at home. Children learn better when they have stable environments. That’s why the governor included $2 million in rental assistance to help families with school age kids stay in their homes and schools.

Improvements to the Minnesota Family Investment Program will help low-income parents move from public assistance to employment, while providing stability for their children.

Both of these initiatives will strengthen families and ensure parents can support their children while taking important strides toward economic stability and independence.

Focus on at-risk youth

Too many Minnesota youths are homeless, experiencing exploitation, abuse or neglect. The Homeless Youth Act provides $4 million to help young people experiencing homelessness by providing needed assistance in obtaining food, health care, counseling, education and training.

The budget also tackles the growing issue of sex trafficking in Minnesota by allocating $3 million to establish a victim-centered statewide support system for sexually exploited youth.

Better outreach and education for families will help prevent and identify child abuse and neglect, and more support for adoption will reduce the number of children in out-of-home placements and the time spent there while increasing the percentage of children adopted from foster care.

Supporting youth in their development

Childcare providers across the state who are committed to high-quality care and education will have new incentives and tools from the Department of Human Services to continue to improve the services they provide. Stronger licensing requirements and training for childcare providers will also help reduce child mortality in child care settings. And schools will be better able to meet both the educational and mental health needs of children with resources that increase opportunities for on-site mental health services in schools.

Each of these initiatives — and many more not mentioned here — are individually important. Taken together, they represent a comprehensive and integrated approach to improve the lives of kids and their families.

But our work is not yet done. Each of us, under the leadership of Governor Dayton, remain committed to building on this progress, coordinating our efforts, and working with leaders across the state to address barriers that stand in the way of any child’s ability to reach their highest aspirations.

Every Minnesota child and parent should know: the work we began this session is a promise from state leaders to you. It is our promise to believe in you; a promise to give every child the hope for a bright future bright with unlimited potential. It is a promise to support you and your family, and a promise that we stand ready to do everything we can to ensure you can concentrate on what’s really important: being a kid.

The Governor’s Children’s Cabinet is comprised of state Education Commissioner Dr. Brenda Cassellius, state Health Commissioner Dr. Edward Ehlinger and Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson. Marcie Jefferys is director of the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet.