In fall 2019, I was appointed to the Minnesota Children’s Cabinet Advisory Council by Gov. Tim Walz after a very formal application and review process. As the only medical doctor on the 15-person council, I was excited to be given the opportunity to partner with leaders across the state and focus on children’s well-being across Minnesota. I soon learned that the council also included youth representation and that we would be working in tandem with the 15 community and government leaders who comprise the State Advisory Council on Education and Care. Who knew that in just four short months of the group convening, we would be faced with the worst public health crisis the world has encountered in the last century? As members of the MNAAP, it may be helpful to learn a little more about what this group does and how state government is using this council to engage feedback from representatives on the ground that work with children every day.
Let’s set some context. What is the Minnesota Children’s Cabinet and its purpose? The goal of the re-launch of the Children’s Cabinet by Gov. Walz has been summed up by state officials as “making Minnesota the best state for children to grow up” by focusing on: 1) a child-centered government, 2) a whole-family approach and 3) bringing equity into every governmental policy discussion. The cabinet itself has five areas of focus: Healthy Beginnings, Child Care and Education, Housing Stability, Educational Opportunity, and Mental Health & Well-being. When major policy decisions are made, the governor and lieutenant governor first meet with the commissioners of various departments in state government who comprise the actual Children’s Cabinet, and ask the question: “How will this affect children and families?” The Children’s Cabinet Advisory Council and the State Advisory Council on Early Childhood Education and Care make recommendations to support community engagement and the work of helping our politicians focus on children, families and equity.
Since March, the Advisory Council’s focus has been on addressing how the pandemic has affected children and families. Early on, much of our time was spent addressing the need for essential worker child care and how to help child care providers sustain themselves during these challenging times. We discussed school closures, distance learning and gave input on how educational disparities were worsening. We talked about lack of access to technology and the strain on families with children who may have special needs, as well as myriad other effects that we all are aware of as practicing clinicians – including homelessness and food insecurity.
In May, we all witnessed George Floyd’s murder just a few blocks from where I attended elementary school, and our hearts collectively broke. Our Advisory Council shifted some focus to share with our political leaders how children are affected by experiencing social injustice and racism. In August, we worked on school re-opening and I assisted in the creation of the Minnesota Department of Health’s School Exclusion Guidelines we are all now using in clinic.
As we move forward, our hope as a council is to balance our ongoing pandemic work with efforts related to the original areas of focus for the group as outlined above. It is simultaneously exhausting and energizing work. The needs of children and families must be front and center in government decision-making to have a truly healthy populous, of this there is no doubt and I feel privileged to be part of this work – sharing our stories with those who will listen. Please reach out with anything you would like me to share with the council on behalf of our state’s amazing pediatricians.