Gov. Wes Moore named two state offices Thursday and assigned each a distinct role in his efforts to improve the lives of Maryland’s children and curb the causes of juvenile crime.

Moore signed executive orders that created a Governor’s Office for Children, which will live under the renamed Governor’s Office for Crime Prevention and Policy, and introduced the officials who will lead them.

The Democrat’s signature fulfilled a campaign promise to create a children’s office while rescinding a decision made by his predecessor, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, to put the jobs of the two offices under one umbrella: the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth, and Victim Services.

The crime prevention and policy office will continue partnering with law enforcement and deliver federal and state money to victims’ services organizations. The children’s office will focus on the fundamental needs and well-being of under-resourced children, such as food security, educational supports and health care access.

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Moore said he renamed the coordinating office “because language matters.”

“Lumping together the words crime, youth and victims is a statement of values,” Moore said. “And this administration refuses to see our children as deficits.”

He called Thursday’s move “the next chapter in the work ahead, to uplift all of Maryland’s children.”

The Moore administration prioritized eliminating child poverty and has lifted approximately 30,000 children to the “next rung of the economic ladder,” Moore said.

Nate Balis, director of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, called the shift “welcome news.”

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“The whole idea of providing services that support young people in ways that keep them away from the juvenile justice system and support young people irrespective of whether or not they’re in the juvenile justice system — these are the things that we should always be trying to do,” he said.

Moore named Carmel Martin the office’s special secretary and senior adviser for economic mobility. Martin most recently served as domestic policy adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris and has worked with the Biden and Obama administrations to improve the lives and outcomes of children and families.

Martin’s been tackling child poverty issues her entire career and she’ll look for opportunities to be a “force multiplier” for children, she said. What does success look like for her office?

“Happier, healthier, more economically secure children and families in Maryland,” she said.

Gov. Wes Moore announces then signs two executive orders on January 18, 2023 at the Maryland State House in Annapolis.
Gov. Wes Moore announces then signs executive orders Friday at the Maryland State House in Annapolis. (Brenda Wintrode)

Martin will lead the Children’s Cabinet, staffed by several state agency heads best positioned to cut through red tape and find ways to serve children in need. Among the ex officio cabinet members are the secretaries of juvenile services, service and civic innovation, housing and community development, and human services.

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Department of Housing and Community Development Secretary Jake Day said Moore “is all about collaboration,” and that the administration’s success “is measured at the outcome level, not the effort level.”

Day said he understands the positive impact a boost in affordable housing could have for children and their families experiencing poverty.

“We have responsibility to work together to change to move the needle,” he said.

The crime prevention and policy office has been led by Dorothy Lennig since July. As the director of the legal clinic at House of Ruth Maryland, Lennig interacted for decades with the coordinating agency she now runs.

During the last administration, she said, the agency responsible for leading the public safety policy charge had “lost some of its focus.”

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“The biggest thing to me is the kids should not be lumped in with the crime-fighting strategy, that kids should be dealt with and supported as children,” she said.

To her, getting the office back on track means, among other plans, administering federal and state money to organizations that qualify in a timely and efficient manner.

“It’s really exciting to be able to be brought in to lead it back to where I think it should be,” she said.

Baltimore Banner reporter Pamela Wood contributed reporting.