Magazine article Policy & Practice

What's in Your Cabinet? How Agencies Can Collectively Improve the Lives of Children and Youth

Magazine article Policy & Practice

What's in Your Cabinet? How Agencies Can Collectively Improve the Lives of Children and Youth

Article excerpt

In the face of budget cuts that threaten to erode crucial supports for children and youth, some state agencies have found a promising mechanism for increasing efficiency while maintaining or even improving supports for young people: Children's Cabinets.


Children's Cabinets are particularly important in lean fiscal years. States with a high-performing Children's Cabinet and strong state agency leaders can eliminate duplication and ensure that every dollar designated for kids is well spent.

Children s Cabinets, sometimes known as councils or commissions, typically consist of the heads of state government agencies that support child-and youth-serving programs, including human service agencies. Children's Cabinets are often established through executive order or statute. Members meet on a regular basis to coordinate services, develop a common set of outcomes, and collaboratively decide on and implement plans to foster the well-being of young people in their state. P-20 and P-16 Councils, as well as Early Childhood Councils, coordinate policy in a similar fashion.

What's In It for the Human-Service Sector?

Human service leaders are well aware of the intertwined nature of serving children and youth. As members of Children's Cabinets, human service leaders can connect with new allies and proactively work to change troubled systems.

What Do We Know About Children's Cabinets?

During the spring of 2011, the Forum for Youth Investment (the Forum) surveyed the landscape of Children's Cabinets and similar structures in the United States. The Forum identified 110 state coordinating bodies; 55 completed the survey, representing 29 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Human service agencies were significant participants in these entities: Seventy-one percent of the coordinating bodies in the survey identified their state human service agency as a member, and almost all of these members participated regularly.

What Can a Children's Cabinet, or Equivalent Structure, Help Me Achieve?

Effective Children's Cabinets systematically change the fragmented ways states typically do business for children and youth. Using a data-driven, results-oriented approach, Children's Cabinets streamline and integrate government programs and services. This improves efficiency and creates better outcomes for kids.


There arc many ways in which Children's Cabinets help the human-service sector track and improve the lives of the young people in their state. The forum is particularly interested in how Children's Cabinets can develop broader partnerships, bigger goals, better data, and bolder actions.


Children's Cabinets build stronger partnerships. They create bridges between stale agencies, effective Children's Cabinets also foster connections with nongovernmental stakeholders, like advocates, businesses, researchers, parents, and youth themselves. This helps ensure that the people who are affected by policies have a say in ensuring that those policies are effective. These relationships are also useful to policy leaders as they seek support for their initiatives.


Once cross-agency partnerships are in place, Children's Cabinets can steward an agenda for youth policy and practice that is more comprehensive than any individual agency could take on alone. Such agendas are often referred to as a results framework, or a common set of goals that all agencies work toward. States and communities can then use data related to each of the goals for young people to track progress over time.

For example: With the help of its Children's Cabinet, the state of Maryland has used a common set of results and indicators to track young people for more than 20 years. In Maryland's Results for Child-Well-Being 2010 report, Gov. …

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