Each year, bills are introduced that can affect our children. I encourage you to learn as much as possible about proposed legislation that you think is relevant to your family.
I also urge you to evaluate how family-driven bills are. Family-driven means “families have a primary decision-making role in the care of their own children as well as the policies and procedures governing care for all children in their community, state, tribe, territory and nation.
House Bill 985 establishes a Children’s Cabinet, made up of the Heads of the State Agencies that serve children as well as a Youth Court Judge and appointees of the Lt. Governor and the Speaker of the House. It combines several currently existing committees and councils in an attempt to increase efficiency.
Children’s Cabinets are common in other states. They allow agencies to better coordinate with each other and to be accountable to the Governor for that coordination. Louisiana and Georgia are two southeastern states with well–established Cabinets. Maryland's Children's Cabinet developed this comprehensive strategic plan.
Governor Bryant has supported the formation of a Children’s Cabinet for several years. The Technical Assistance Collaborative’s Independent Assessment of the Children’s Behavioral Health System ( TAC Report) recommends (page 93) that Mississippi form a Children’s Cabinet. It also references the Governor’s office’s plans to commission a study to determine the best way to set up a Cabinet.
HB 985 requires the Cabinet to meet monthly, to assume the duties of several other currently existing councils and to take on a number of comprehensive overarching tasks. This is the statute establishing Louisiana’s Cabinet as a basis for comparison. I appreciate that it emphasizes helping children stay in their homes and communities.
HB 985 does not define how the recommendations of the Cabinet will be implemented or how the Cabinet will get information from and coordinate with families, the public and those actually working with children, although it is implied that the Cabinet will directly supervise the MAP Teams.
It is also not clear how the Cabinet will be family-driven. At least four councils with family representation are eliminated and their duties transferred to the Cabinet, which has no family representation. Some of the eliminated councils are federally mandated.
Louisiana ensures broader family and stakeholder input and assistance with implementation into its Cabinet via an Advisory Board and Georgia has broadened the membership of its cabinet to reach the same goal. Both approaches include parents in the same manner all other members are included.
I appreciate that the House Family and Youth Affairs Committee added a children’s mental health sub-committee inclusive of families to the Cabinet in response to our concern that this bill is not family-driven, but this mechanism for families and other stakeholders to have input is not in place for the many other areas affecting children.
I encourage you to thoughtfully consider HB 985 and what it means for your family. It has passed out of Committee on the House side and will be voted on by the whole House next week. You can learn more about the Mississippi State Legislature here and how a bill becomes a law at this link. If you are not sure who your legislator is, you can find out at this site.