Donna Shalala, the longest-serving secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services since its establishment under Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1935, is the newly appointed president of the University of Miami as of next June. A former president of Hunter College in New York, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin and 13-year board member (1980-1993) of the Children's Defense Fund, Shalala leaves a children and youth policy legacy mostly dictated by Congress rather than her own early ambitious agenda as HHS secretary. Her hopes of providing universal access to health care were dashed with the defeat of the Hillary Clinton-led 1994 health financing overhaul. Even the far less ambitious State Children's Health Improvement Program (S-CHIPS) is encountering hard sledding in the states.
The 1996 end of the Aid For Dependent Children entitlement was linked in the GOP-written welfare reform legislation to the devolution of most program-specific decisions to the states, further eroding the HHS secretary's political and bureaucratic influence.
In the youth area Shalala's tenure has been marked by benign neglect of youth issues combined with a pronounced bias toward pre-teen services. The Family and Youth Services Bureau (expected FY '01 budget: $84 million), administrative home of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, now exists mostly on paper. Its skeletal staff has been combined with other programs within the Administration on Children and Families. The Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention's Adolescent Family Life Program, (expected FY '01 budget: $19.3 million) policy and programmatic momentum ran into an "abstinence only" brick wall on Capitol Hill, leading Shalala last May to fire Dr. Denese Shervington as deputy assistant secretary for population affairs. But in the right hands in a new Bush administration, the small shop, flush with an additional $20 million in "abstinence only" funds, could become the engine driving HHS youth policy.
Over at the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) Shalala's watch has been dominated by delinquency and drift. CSAP's staff and its political overseer, Nelba Chavez, administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration never could come up with a credible, cogent youth drug abuse prevention strategy. CSAP Director Karol Kumpfer pushed a Parenting IS Prevention strategy, which drifts on at CSAP even though Kumpfer was fired by Chavez in February.
In short, Shalala leaves behind to parties unknown a department ready to set a new course to a destination also unknown.
Nine young leaders were honored last month with Do Something and Rolling Stone magazine's "Do Something BRICK Awards." The national grand prize winner received a $100,000 grant, while the other winners received $10,000 grants to support their community work. The leaders' visions and the results they've achieved in their communities are the basis of the awards, which are given to leaders under 30 and were created to strengthen young people's movements for positive change in communities. The New York City-based Do Something, a national nonprofit, has awarded nearly $1 million in grants to winners since 1996.
This year's winners were: national grand prize winner Kelly Hill, founder and executive director, Sisters Offering Support, Honolulu, Hawaii; Tonya Allen, director, Warren/Conner Development Coalition, Detroit, Mich.; Christopher Barbic, founder, director and teacher, Youth Engaged in Service College Preparatory School, Houston, Tex.; Heather Barr, staff attorney, Urban Justice Center, New York, N.Y.; Jarvis Johnson, executive director, Phoenix Outreach Youth Center, Houston, Tex.; Amy Lemley, co-founder and executive director, First Place Fund for Youth, Oakland, Calif.; Alex Poeter, founder and executive director, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Chicago, Ill.; Andrew Ramirez Robertson, deputy director, Border Water Works, McAllen, Tex., and Albuquerque, N.M.; Angelica Salas, executive director, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, Los Angeles, Calif. Contact: (212) 523-1175, or www.dosomething.org.