By: Alex Putterman | Published: Sep. 12, 2023
Gov. Ned Lamont speaks Tuesday in Waterbury as part of an event to discuss children's mental health in Connecticut. Lamont announced the creation of a new "kids cabinet" aimed at addressing children's issues.
WATERBURY — Gov. Ned Lamont will establish a new “kids cabinet” to advise him on children’s issues, he announced Tuesday.
The cabinet, made of officials from across state government, will counsel Lamont on policy and coordinate efforts across agencies to improve outcomes for Connecticut children. The cabinet will be led by Vannessa Dorantes, commissioner of the Department of Children and Families.
At an event Tuesday in Waterbury, Lamont said the idea for the cabinet had grown from the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has contributed to a mental health crisis among children in Connecticut and elsewhere.
“We still have a lot of catching up to do,” Lamont said. “But we’re going to get there, and that’s why we’re here today.”
The kids' cabinet will not be its own department but will instead consist of representatives from 10 different state agencies, working collaboratively on children’s issues.
“We will be an advisory body to the governor to make sure that he knows how the kids are doing,” Dorantes said. “It will be the opportunity for us to elevate those topical areas like children’s behavioral health, like juvenile justice, like housing for kids.”
Dorantes said the kids cabinet will offer Lamont a “report card” on the progress of Connecticut children and suggest policy directions.
Lamont previously created a similar structure for addressing health and human services issues, appointing one commissioner to lead a multi-agency effort in that area.
At the event Tuesday in Waterbury, a series of state and non-profit officials, as well as parents and several teenagers, spoke about the challenges children faced during the worst of the pandemic and the issues that have endured since.
In one survey conducted in 2021, more than a third of Connecticut high school students reported having felt sad or hopeless, while more than a quarter reported that their mental health was not good most or all of the time and about one in seven said they had seriously considered suicide.
“As you all know, we are in a crisis,” said Charlaine St. Charles, clinical director at Family & Children’s Aid, Inc., which hosted Tuesday’s event. “There are a lot of kids who are experiencing extensive trauma, which includes depression, includes anxiety, the list goes on.”
Some speakers Tuesday praised Connecticut’s legislature for measures passed in 2022 providing for more mental health services in schools, allotting funds to help parents pay for treatment and launching a series of new programs to be run by nonprofits statewide, among other provisions.
The state now provides mobile mental health crisis teams 24/7 and recently opened four urgent crisis centers, designed to help kids who need immediate help but don’t require treatment in an emergency room.
“Children and families need those resources and supports,” said Gary Steck, CEO of Wellmore Behavioral Health. “How we’re going to take the next step is building on those relationships.”
Dorantes said the kids cabinet will look to enhance collaboration among agencies and between state government and the private sector, in hopes of helping kids and also making Connecticut more appealing for families.
“We want to make sure that the state continues to remain a place where families can raise their children and they will thrive,” Dorantes said. “And in order for that to happen, their families need to be OK, and we need to make sure that our systems are working in conjunction with each other.”