Marianne Williams proposes new government department focused on children

Marianne Williamson has a new proposal: “The Whole Child Plan.” | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Williamson was not joking about that call to New Zealand in the first Democratic debates.

Marianne Williamson might have raised some eyebrows when she said she would outdo New Zealand in making sure the United States is the best place in the world for a child to grow up during the first Democratic presidential debate, but the candidate is dead serious about it: she just rolled out a proposal to create a new federal government department dedicated to children and youth.

On Sunday, Williamson announced a plan to build a US Department of Children and Youth as part of her pledge to “prioritize a massive realignment of investment in the direction of our children” as president. The department would serve as part watchdog, part program creator. The agenda Williamson puts forth for it encompasses a wide range of issues, including infant mortality, food systems, homelessness, immigration, health, and education.

Basically, it looks like a pretty straightforward set of progressive proposals that all relate to kids, though it’s not hyper detailed.

“We need a holistic perspective,” Williamson said in an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation with Margaret Brennan on Sunday. “We need more than just educational funding. We need wraparound services. We need trauma-informed education. We need to deal with the nutrition of our children, the high poverty rates, the violence in our schools, the trauma-informed education. There are so many issues for the whole child that need to be addressed.”

.@marwilliamson wants to create a new cabinet department – the Department of Children. Why? “We have problems with the fact that children have PTSD, millions of American children have PTSD that is severe as returning veterans,” she tells @margbrennan. pic.twitter.com/msdUfvxAOp

— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) July 28, 2019

Williamson’s “whole child plan,” briefly explained

Williamson’s proposal would create a new Cabinet-level department focused squarely on children and lays out how that department would interact with preexisting agencies.

According to her campaign, the Department of Children and Youth would “focus on connecting the dots on all programs, grants, and direct appropriations” related to kids, including the departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Homeland Security. Immediately, the department would conduct a “comprehensive study” of those departments and their activities related to children. At the same time, it would help build up child-focused programs and develop a best practices database for support.

Part of the theory of the case appears to be that a lot of tools to support children in the US already exist, but resources are being misdirected.

It’s not entirely clear how Williamson’s proposed department would be significantly separate from the Department of Education. Brennan pressed her on the matter on Sunday.

“Education is extremely important, but we have children who are traumatized before … they even reach preschool,” Williamson said. “We have a relatively high infant mortality rate. We have problems that go beyond the things that are already covered. We have problems with the fact that children have PTSD.”

In her proposal, Williamson does clarify that the new department would work in coordination with the Department of Education. Still, its mandate would be sweeping and include:

  • Developing and implementing a health care system for children
  • Developing and implementing an agriculture and food system that supports whole foods and eliminates toxins and processed foods
  • Developing a “trauma informed and restorative” juvenile justice system
  • Developing a housing system that eradicates child homelessness
  • Directing an environmental plan

Some of Williamson’s proposals are controlled at the state level, Brennan noted on Sunday, meaning that getting Republican states to pay for and implement these ideas would not be easy. In response, Williamson called for a federal mandate for these ideas. “If I’m president, the idea is that every school in America should be a palace of learning and culture and the arts. This is the way to create a peaceful society and a prosperous society years from now, and that’s what we should be doing.”

Williamson isn’t the only candidate focusing on kids in 2020

Multiple candidates in the 2020 race have put forth proposals specifically aimed at helping American children.

As Vox’s Anna North recently wrote, child care is on the agenda in the Democratic primary:

After years of being treated like a side issue, child care is finally moving toward the center of the national conversation. A lot of that is due to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has made child care a centerpiece of her campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. But other candidates are also unveiling their own proposals — recently, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) released a “Family Bill of Rights” that includes plans to make child care more affordable.

Sens. Warren, Gillibrand, Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have put forth proposals to address maternal deaths, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has said she would address maternal and infant mortality in her first 100 days in the White House. Harris has a proposal to increase teachers’ salaries, and former Vice President Joe Biden has released a plan to increase spending on low-income schools.

Williamson’s focus on kids should come as no surprise — not only because it’s an issue several candidates have taken up, but also because of her background. When I interviewed her supporters after the first Democratic debate, many of them told me they thought that as president, Williamson would make children her priority.

Linda Nellis, a 38-year-old yoga instructor and executive administrator from California, told me earlier this month that she didn’t find it strange at all that Williamson said she would call New Zealand’s prime minister and tell her, “Girlfriend, you are so on,” with regards to children’s well-being. “Literally, what other metric besides the health and well-being of your children can possibly speak to how well your country is doing as a whole?” she said.

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