Policy for Child Well-Being in California, Through an Asset Lens

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Sometimes it's really nice to get to be a sort of external observer, not integral to the conversation at hand, and, therefore, given the space to think about one's own work, through a different prism.

That was me, last Wednesday, when I was in Sacramento to share some of AEDI's research about the importance of assets for child well-being and family economic mobility. As I listened to elected officials, scholars, and agency leaders from around the state talk about their work--all of it related to AEDI's core concerns, but somewhat tangentially so--I had the luxury of a whole day to stretch my mind, be exposed to new research, and listen to others' point of view.

It's a rare thing, and I appreciated every moment.

One of the highlights, for me, was getting to have lunch with Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution. I'll have more soon on our conversation and my further exploration of his work (Watch the Lego video! Read the Horatio Alger piece!), but, one week later, some more general reflections.

  • In many areas of policymaking, it's hard to get elected officials to commit to investments that won't bear fruit for years. We see this in children's savings, where the greatest returns may not come for an entire generation. The moderator referred to this as NIMTO (instead of NIMBY): Not In My Term of Office.
  • California is huge. Really: $2.3 billion in child support per year, 1.8 million children in poverty, 2.2 million children receiving SNAP, giant government systems, and enough people to operate as a quasi-nation state. It's making me think differently about 'scale', and what it could mean to get CSA programs in some of the really large jurisdictions in the country, for building an asset constituency.
  • Despite the size, California has a need to make sure all youth succeed if the state is to fuel future economic growth. In other words, stopping out-migration isn't just an issue for the Midwest. And we can't afford to let any children 'wilt'.
  • So many of the families who need critical supports don't know about them: in child support, workforce investment, human services, nutrition, parenting intervention...and, of course, children's savings. What would it look like to shift to 'opt-out' for more of the programs that matter most?
  • Collaboration and data-sharing are huge challenges across many systems, but the Affordable Care Act mandates requiring collaboration may be moving the needle here. How might these imperatives build the relationships, technology, and leadership that, then, could facilitate data linkages in systems not covered by the ACA directly? Since this was a significant concern raised in the context of CSA delivery systems, I've been thinking a lot about how to make these different institutions work together.
  • Are we getting more evangelical about outcomes, and agnostic about means? Okay, so this is getting into Richard Reeves' statements on his panel, but I'm wondering if the push for greater accountability might open some space (in budgets and operations, but also rhetorically and intellectually) to try different approaches--including CSAs--because we're going to be held more to what we achieve, rather than what we keep doing?

Where have your minds been lately, in thinking about how systems come together and what the future might look like? Have you had any similar opportunities to feed your thinking with fresh content and some mental space?

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