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Legislative Wins for Kids

Now that the 2016 legislative session has come to a close, and the Governor has signed most of the passed bills, the big question is: What are the big things lawmakers did for children this session?

This year, our friends at the State House . . . 

1.) Passed a child-friendly budget

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Some of the things it included:

  • Pay raises for child-serving state employees and various providers in the
    • Departments of Juvenile Justice (DJJ)
    • Public Health (DPH)
    • Early Care and Learning (DECAL)
    • Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD)
    • The Department of Corrections (DOC) (remember there are kids in adult jails as well!)
    • The Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS), among others.
  • New monies were also included for lawyers for juvenile courts and more child welfare workers.

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2.) Continued leading the nation with criminal (juvenile) justice reform efforts

For the fifth year in a row, the Criminal Justice Reform Council produced well-vetted recommendations and the legislature saw fit to overwhelmingly pass legislation mirroring those recommendations. This year’s 85-page bill (Senate Bill 367) contained a number of provisions which will help kids, including:

  • Restrictions on detaining for youth 13 years old or under (except for those charged with the most serious offenses)
  • Requirements for schools to use progressive discipline before filing a complaint with juvenile court
  • Measures to improve procedural fairness in school tribunals
  • A requirement that local boards of education and School Resource Officers (SROs) working in schools enter a collaborative memorandum of understanding clarifying roles and the differences between delinquent and disciplinary conduct.

You gotta love the fact that our legislature has embraced such reform whole-heartedly and in a data-driven manner!

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3.) Got educated (and passed some legislation) about Kinship Care

For those of you who don’t speak “policy-wonk,” “Kinship Care” refers to non-parental family members or close family friends (known as “Fictive Kin”) who undertake the all-encompassing care of a child when their parents are not able to do so. Lawmakers passed bills to ensure that Kinship placement is prioritized by DFCS, and that may make it easier for kids who are in the care of kin or fictive kin to enroll in school.

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4.) Kept kids health in mind

In addition to extra moolah put in the budget for public health nurses and school nurses, bills were passed which create a mechanism for

  • licensing lactation consultants,
  • allow a minor who is or professes to be at risk for HIV to consent to medical or surgical care or services by a hospital, public clinic or physician,
  • and permit families of children with significant disabilities to establish tax-exempt savings accounts to help pay for certain expenses.

On top of all that, resolutions were passed encouraging more recess for school children, school cardiac arrest/return to play policies and creating a study committee on children’s hearing aids. Nice. 

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5.) Used their understanding of child and adolescent brain development in both rhetoric and practice.

So here is the special spot in the annual “what happened in the legislative session” article where I get to sound like I am a thousand years old and talk about “back in the day.” But this year, I am going to tighten it up to about six years ago, when I had the privilege of working my first session on children’s issues for Voices. There were a number of champions for kids at the state house that year, but terms like “childhood trauma,” “tiered discipline,” “Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)” and “human trafficking (of children)” were not common in committee hearings or policy discussions.

Now, there is a pervasive and rapidly increasing understanding of the needs of children and the many challenges they face. I can safely say the vast majority of our lawmakers no longer see children as little adults, and they now speak about and understand the relationship between child behavior, the physiological development of the brain and environmental influences on that child.

In short, our legislature has shown their capacity for comprehending the meat and potatoes of the work we, and all our amazing policy and advocacy partners, do. While we still have quite a ways to go until we reach Utopia, I would argue that there is no better time to advance policies for children than right here, right now.

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