By Holly South
Her love of American history led Christie Getto Young to Boston for graduate school. After earning her master’s degree in social work, she joined the legislature’s Joint Committee on Human Services, where the research analyst discovered an affinity for policy work.
“I wanted to do more, though, and thought I could be a stronger advocate if I went to law school,” she remembers.
After a couple of years in family law representing low-income parents she was ready for a change. Not only was it difficult “to tell if I was making a difference,” but she also “wanted to work on the root causes of these problems.
Young spent a decade at the United Way working on policy, lobbying, and grants on behalf of low-income families before returning to the State House as chief of staff to Senator Sal DiDomenico.
“We really work on things together … and we genuinely want to help people. And we hear enough to recognize we’re doing something good and people are benefiting. I love the work here.”
Case in point: Her role in the Massachusetts Senate’s recently unveiled Kids First initiative, created by Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D). He appointed DiDomenico to lead the working group, which gave Young the opportunity to lend her expertise.
Kids First aims to provide a framework for early and long-term investment in children’s health, education, and welfare to ensure healthy, successful families and communities. The plan makes economic sense: It will ultimately strengthen the state’s workforce and may save Massachusetts a bundle of money. (According to the report, each high school dropout costs taxpayers $349,000.)
The state has long been a leader in education, as well as in Kids Count data, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual national measure of children’s well-being.
But “when you look at low-income kids … it’s a ‘Tale of Two States,’ ” according to Young. Access to early education is an issue. Also of concern: Third-grade reading levels, an important indicator of future success, have been “pretty stagnant for 15 years.” Forty percent of third-graders read below grade level . The Kids First initiative is committed to reducing this number by half. Reading performance isn’t an isolated education issue, the report notes, but one affected by a host of others: nutrition, health care, affordable housing, child care, and more.
“As a staffer, there’s a lot of reacting to what’s in front of you. You don’t always get to choose [what you work on]. This is a dream project. To have the platform of the Senate to [promote] this research and a more powerful voice [for these issues] is an exciting opportunity.”
Her work involved an extensive amount of research and outreach to early education, human services, and health care organizations, as well as afterschool programs, anti-poverty organizations, and advocacy groups both in the state and across the country. The goal was to determine their biggest challenges in serving children and families.
Once this process was complete, Young worked with the Senate president’s staff to cull the information and write the report. An important component is integration of services, and addressing the needs of the “whole child.”
“We sprinkle a little money over a lot of places, all these line items, different programs, everything separated out by agency,” says Young. “Most people receive services in these silos [e.g., housing, workforce development]. It’s really difficult to receive them in a comprehensive way, but you see a real change when this does happen.”
Young also emphasizes that these services should not be viewed as solely for low-income citizens because these issues “don’t just affect one sector of society. These things affect all families.” Middle-class families also struggle to afford high-quality childcare and health care, and “people in all sorts of situations do not have enough money to put healthy meals on the table.”
Kids First provides a framework for child-centric programs to ultimately benefit everyone in the state. As Young says, “A rising tide lifts all boats—that would be the lesson from this.”
Read the full report.
Holly South works in NCSL’s Legislative Staff Services program.