U.S. Department of Children and Youth "The Whole Child Plan"
The United States ranks at or near the bottom on almost every indicator regarding governmental policies toward children today. Far too many children fall through the cracks in American society. With gun violence rampant and mass shootings occurring in schools, millions of kids living with chronic trauma and suffering PTSD that rivals that of veterans returning from war, unconscionably high child poverty rates, an inadequate foster care system, critically damaging school bullying, and an uneven quality of our public schools according to financially advantaged or disadvantaged neighborhoods, we are imperiling our future by neglecting our youth. Such factors as those are not acceptable in the richest nation in the world; our country should be as good as anyplace for a child to grow up. While most Americans would agree with that, the fact remains that there are far too many American youth trapped in circumstances it would take heroic efforts to transcend. Our job is not just to help children survive, but to provide them the adequate resources and tools with which to thrive. They deserve nothing less, and a just and sustainable future depends on it.
A Williamson administration will prioritize a massive realignment of investment in the direction of our children, co-ordinated through a cabinet-level U.S. Department of Children and Youth. Beginning with attention to our relatively high infant mortality rate, this department will take a systems approach to raising new generations of thriving Americans. It will implement integrated “wrap-around services” that focus on providing intensive family and community-based programs addressing and improving all factors that impact children living in the U.S. Taking care of our children and helping them become productive citizens in the 21st century will be our administration’s highest priority.
The Department of Children and Youth will focus on connecting the dots on all programs, grants and direct appropriations that involve children living in the United States which include Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Homeland Security, and others, with the overall goal of making the U.S. the best country in the world for a child to grow up.
The Department of Children and Youth will conduct a comprehensive study of all departments with programs related to Americans 0-18 (and, for children with disabilities, this can be extended to 21) with the focus of identifying specific ways the federal government can improve the quality of life and personal growth of every child in America. It will simultaneously work to coordinate and immediately ramp-up implementation of evidence-based and promising programs with all relevant agencies. The agency will develop a best practices program database throughout states and the federal government, by area of need and expertise, to fully support our country’s education and community services systems. It will also coordinate swift funding, tools and expertise to implement on a broad-scale.
Many of the programs and much of the expertise needed to accomplish all this already exists. America has some of the best educators, medical and nutritional experts, social workers and early childhood experts in the world. Sadly, however, that is not where America puts our focus or our resources. That is what must end. Such experts need recognition and dramatically ramped up support to provide better services, and through a Department of Childhood and Youth they will receive it. This Department will have a mandate to provide resources, coordinate activity, and support world-class American talent in accomplishing the department's goals.
Department Initial Policy and Program Focuses
High quality education is essential to the “pursuit of happiness,” and every school in America should be a palace of learning, culture and the arts. Working towards that goal will be a hallmark of a Williamson administration, working in coordination with the Department of Education and the Department of Children and Youth. The United States is currently the only advanced industrialized society that bases its educational funding on property taxes, amounting to a civil rights violation against American children. There must be a federal mandate that every school, in every state, must provide the highest quality education.
In addition, the Department of Children and Youth will do the following:
Develop and implement a Public Education System that takes a whole-student approach focused on academic, social and emotional learning practices aimed at preparing students not only for the skills and jobs of the 21st century, but also to help them live vibrant and meaningful lives and make them strong contributors to a thriving democracy
Develop and implement a Healthcare System for children that will serve all of their healthcare needs, has a strong focus on cultivating wellness and teaching preventive practices
Develop and implement an Agriculture and Food System built on supports for whole, healthy foods and eliminating toxins, processed and unhealthy foods
Develop and implement a robust Violence and Crime Prevention initiative focused on reducing trauma and despair, through support of full-scale wrap-around home, school and community prevention and intervention services; coordinating with state and local governments, expanding research, and sharing of best practices
Develop a Trauma Informed and Restorative Juvenile Justice System focused on counseling, rehabilitation and reducing recidivism rates
Develop a Housing System which eliminates Child Homelessness, and robust services to uplift all our children out of hunger and poverty
Propose new national standards for youth in care. Increase resources, pay for foster parents and expand youth in care assistance until age 26.
Begin a national initiative to train, recruit, and pay foster parents for all kinds of families, including LGBTQ, multilingual, and families with high level needs.
Develop school based health clinics and school social workers in every school.
Develop a U.S. Environmental Plan which focuses on eliminating environmental toxins and injustices that have plagued too many communities, especially lower income and minority communities, and have a direct impact on the health and wellbeing of every American youth
Included in all of this will be robust supports for parents to be part of the learning and implementation for their children. Change in all areas must include parent involvement to build lasting change.
Develop an Immigration System which does not punish children, but instead protects and supports them.
The Department of Children and Youth will work to create an environment for every child to succeed regardless of their ability or orientation and to support all children of every skill level and learning need.
With all of this we must offer cross platform coordination amongst all the initiatives to ensure solidification of these skills for children as they become adults.
Universal pre-school for all children.
Increased funding for free and reduced-price lunches, so that they cover breakfasts as well. It’s not only hard to learn when you’re hungry, but addressing hunger leads to addressing child poverty – another stain on our national character. Federal compensation for state school funding, allowing equal access to quality education for every American child.
A far more expansive array of educational approaches, including social and emotional learning; the development of conflict resolution skills; restorative justice (schools who implement such programs have seen up to 65% reduction in violence and disorderly conduct); meditation and mindfulness; comparative religion (for the sake of spiritual enlightenment and to help ease religious strife); anti-bullying programs; and the fostering of other life skills to help prepare children for a meaningful life. We need a whole-person educational system that addresses the heart and soul as well as the intellect.
Reform the out of control testing – We need to reduce the amount of high-stakes testing required and the associated value added model that unfairly associates teacher and school performance with the results of those high-stakes tests.
Teacher training programs and teacher retention. We must invest in teacher education programs that provide best practices and developmentally appropriate models of education for our future teachers. Retaining these teachers in our classrooms requires giving them adequate preparation, support, leadership, and autonomy as well as compensation that reflects their professional stature. We also need to ensure that teachers face classrooms of a manageable size – and that means hiring more teachers overall. Student/Teacher ratios must shrink.
Better management of education infrastructure. Buildings and buses are some of the largest budget items for public schools. There is no reason for buses to sit in a lot in between running kids to and from school, given society’s need for public transportation. Multi-purpose use for buses would improve communities and drive down school costs. The same can be said for school facilities – there are other community services that can be provided in those locations, safely and effectively.
Free college or technical school tuition for every qualified student. If we cannot find ideal offsets for this expense, I’m open to exploring ways that students can repay some of these costs with a small payroll tax once they start working (based on Oregon’s efforts) or through reasonable amounts of public service.
Student loan amnesty. We need to explore student loan forgiveness and options to remove red tape and lockouts, and reduce on-time payments from 10 years to 5 years. We need to reduce the interest rate for repayment of loans to a nominal, if not zero, percentage rate. We need to eliminate the origination fee on federal student loans, and eliminate the annual caps on federally subsidized loans.
The most advanced matrix of technical schools in the world. Going to a liberal arts college is not the only option for higher education; we should create more opportunities for people who want to work in the trades or technical areas.
Low-cost education for those in middle and older age who have been dropped from our economy yet still retain, as all people do, the God-given potential to create meaning for themselves and others.