Minnesota lawmakers consider creating new Department of Children, Youth and Families

Plan for new state agency

Plan for new state agency

Minnesota state lawmakers are making progress on a bill that would create a new state Department of Children, Youth and Families. The idea was introduced by Governor Tim Walz during his budget proposal presentation in January.

“It’s smart to have a department whose focus is on child development and families and supporting them in those critical years,” said Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul), who authored the House version of the bill.

As written, the bill would transfer responsibilities from existing state agencies to the new department.

“There’s a division of our Department of Human Services called the Children and Family Services division and it contains pieces about child protection, child support, homelessness, economic supports for families and childcare,” said Pinto. “That division would essentially become its own department.”

In addition, early learning programs under the Department of Education and certain juvenile justice programs under the Department of Public Safety would be transferred to the new Dept. of Children, Youth and Families.

“They all revolve around this theme of supporting families and supporting kids in their developmental journey,” said Pinto.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle raised concerns, however, during a hearing in the House Health Finance and Policy Committee on Tuesday.

“I think that trying to align these things is a good idea, I really do, but I think it’s going to be incredibly difficult,” said Rep. Danny Nadeau (R-Rogers). “I don’t see where the efficiencies in this bill on the state level are going to transfer to efficiency at the grassroots level.”

Committee Chair Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL- Rochester) also voiced caution.

“Understanding and appreciating we have a problem does not make this the solution,” said Liebling. “I think there is significant risk here.”

The bill, as introduced, would have appropriated about $7.3 million in 2024 to establish the department. Amended versions are less specific.

“The budget for this is only for the first biennium,” said Liebling. “There’s nothing that I’m seeing for future costs for this agency.”

Rep. Pinto told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS existing program budgets will move to the new department.

“So the cost does not change that much,” he said. “I do feel like if we can make investments in the youngest Minnesotans and do so in a strategic way, we can really make a different in the long run.”

The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in a budget bill.

“It will simplify the process for us,” said Amanda Schillinger, who testified in support of the bill. “That gives us time to put into the work we do with kids, the work we do supporting families.”

She is the director of Pumpkin Patch Childcare and Learning Centers.

“Right now we work with a lot of different organizations within the government to provide services through billing, through rules and regulation and finding supports for our families,” Schillinger said.

She explained the administrative work can often feel redundant and inefficient.

“There are providers who are leaving the industry because it’s too much, it’s too much work and they’re burning out,” she said. “We’re see that through teachers leaving, administrators leaving and owners deciding they’re done and closing their doors. That’s creating a shortage of space for children and families to find proper care.”