The Governor’s Children’s Cabinet, which was created by Executive Order 21 in 2014, held a forum for stakeholders on October 24 in connection with the release of its annual report. The Children’s Cabinet is comprised of First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, Secretary of Commerce and Trade Todd Haymore, and Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran, and co-chaired by the Secretary of Health and Human Resources, Dr. William A. Hazel, Jr. and the Secretary of Education, Dr. Dietra Y. Trent. According to the Executive Order, the Children’s Cabinet is charged with developing and implementing “a comprehensive policy agenda related to the education, health, safety, and well-being of youth throughout the Commonwealth,” an approach that emphasizes interdisciplinary collaboration and projects involving multiple Secretariats, as well as efforts requiring collaboration with local, state, and federal agencies.
Governor Terry McAuliffe opened the forum by stressing the link between early childhood education and the state’s future economic growth, calling workforce the “secret sauce” of economic development. He applauded the First Lady’s “Breakfast after the Bell” initiative to ensure that public school students begin the school day prepared to focus on their studies.
The Cabinet’s two major initiatives – efforts to improve performance at challenged schools and the “Classrooms not Courtrooms” initiative to divert children away from the criminal justice system – were the subjects of panel discussions. The Cabinet’s work on academically struggling schools has focused on the Petersburg school system as a first step, and has involved staff training and technical assistance from the Department of Education as well as efforts to keep students’ families in stable housing and provide other social services in the community. The Cabinet’s juvenile justice work has examined ways to reduce out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and referrals to law enforcement by educating school staff on the use of de-escalation techniques and clarifying the role of School Resource Officers.
The stakeholders meeting concluded with a discussion of other policy areas the Cabinet has been involved, including support for access to high-quality, safe, affordable child care and support for home visiting programs that help parents of at-risk children develop parenting and life skills. Margaret Ross Schultze, Commissioner of the Department of Social Services (VDSS), highlighted the development of a Memorandum of Agreement between VDSS and the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) that will allow VDSS staff to continue their participation in the cases of children who are committed to DJJ, with the expectation that VDSS staff will be involved in the children’s transition back to the community. The Cabinet’s future work is expected to involve expansion of the challenged schools initiative to Norfolk and Richmond, as well as further research in juvenile justice.
VACo Contact: Katie Boyle