The transition to the administration of Gov.-elect Mike DeWine is bringing several changes to state government, including a new office dedicated to carrying out one of DeWine’s top campaign promises.
As part of his first major policy rollout, DeWine announced his plan to help Ohio’s children. That plan detailed a focus on providing early childhood education and intervention programs. And as part of his first cabinet announcements, DeWine appointed LeeAnne Cornyn to lead the newly created Office of Children Initiatives.
Cornyn believes there’s already a good infrastructure in state government to help children in Ohio, split among several departments, so her office will help streamline the communication between those agencies. “This is really just to harness the energy and all of the work that’s going on across different state agencies and work on driving all of those efforts to make sure that they’re aligned, that they’re efficient, that we’re all talking across our different systems,” Cornyn said.
Five pillars of focus
According to Cornyn the DeWine Administration has five pillars to focus on for young children: to increase newborn home visits, early childhood education, access to mental health professionals in schools, foster care, and drug abuse prevention education.
Cornyn says home visits and early childhood education can provide crucial intervention for a child who might be behind in behavioral, social, academic, and physical development. “These interventions are very critical for kids really, really early on we’re talking 0-3. So before these children even touch any other agency or system we’re really trying to identify these children, identify these families super early and surge these in some resources that help mitigate some problems on the back end that many or our school districts are inheriting.”
The new Office of Children Initiatives is exciting news to former state Senator Shannon Jones and her advocacy group, Groundwork Ohio. “The biggest challenge facing Ohio’s youngest and most vulnerable children is that they don’t vote, they don’t have super PACs, and the types of interventions that we know can help them become productive citizens aren’t inexpensive," Jones said. "So it’s gonna require somebobdy who’s willing to make it a priority year in and year out and be that voice for children when they often can’t speak for themselves.”
Jones says preparing children for kindergarten can have long-term positive outcomes. “In Ohio only 40% are entering kindergarten ready to learn so it shouldn’t be surprising us that 43% of adults today have a degree or credential that leads to an actual job so we need to follow the science, we need to follow the research.”
Expansion comes with a cost
Expanding these programs will cost a lot of money. For example, fewer than 4% of eligible families are served with home visitations through $20 million in current funding. DeWine wants to triple the number of families served to 12%.
Democratic Representative Tavia Galonski of Akron is also optimistic about the focus on helping children. But she says it comes down to how much money the state is willing to invest in these programs.
“Someone comes up with a funding scheme that actually is only a drop in the bucket for the problem in order to repair the problem so what I will be looking for very specifically is what have children services organizations asked for," Galonski said. "What type of funding have they already asked for, not received, and then we’re talking about how can you fund additional programming?”
Jones agrees that DeWine’s upcoming budget will be an indication of how serious he takes this issue, however she says success of the programs will have to be measured down the line, through things like kindergarten preparedness and third grade reading.
Cornyn, as with Jones and Galonski, adds that helping children can have multiple benefits. “So this is critical from an economic perspective, a workforce development perspective, and from a moral perspective just making sure that these kids are able to live up to their full potential.”
Cornyn says many studies have looked into the return on investment for programs that help kids. She says some researchers say states can see $14 for every $1 spent.