Not everyone’s lucky enough to get to work their dream job — let alone to know what it is they’d like to do in life. But I’ve long considered myself lucky, because — although I never got to serve as chief of Naval Operations or as third baseman for my beloved Detroit Tigers — for eight years, I was privileged enough to serve as governor of Delaware.
Now, eight years may sound like a long time. But with a long list of priorities I wanted us to achieve for families in the First State, those years can go by fast. And while it was hard to leave office in the winter of 2001 with a good deal still left to complete, I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue to serve the people of Delaware in a different role — as United States Senator. Because today, I still get to work on a number of the same priorities that I focused on as governor nearly 30 years ago — issues that matter to all Delawareans, like accessing health care.
I’m reminded of a time just before I was sworn in as governor when I was asked: “If you had a magic wand that could solve some of Delaware’s biggest problems, what would you do with it?”
There were many things I wish a magic wand could fix. But as a father of three sons and as a public servant, this answer was easy: I’d use it to strengthen families — the basic building block of society — by giving every child in Delaware a safe home and access to affordable, quality health care.
That was true then, and it’s still true today. But when I walked into the governor’s office for the first time and opened up my desk drawer, there was no magic wand waiting for me.
So, from day one in office as governor, I set out to strengthen families and put kids first.
We began by creating the Family Services Cabinet Council — a council comprised of seven cabinet secretaries whose departments related to children and families that would meet monthly to prioritize First State families.
And up and down the state, I wanted to do more than just help strengthen families at home. I wanted to follow a simple principle: meet kids where they are.
So, we set the ambitious goal of putting a nurse in every public school, and a wellness center in every public high school in order to expand the type of health care services our students can receive.
And we did just that. In the years since, Delaware has put a wellness center in 32 public high schools and seven public middle schools, with even more to open this fall.
While my days as governor have long since passed, I’ve taken that same idea — to meet kids where they are — with me to Washington. Because that belief, professed and championed by Delawareans, can be brought to the rest of the country to make a real difference for the next generation.
And today, America’s kids need it.
Over the last few years, we were already witnessing a rising tide of mental health problems in America. But with students stuck at home during a pandemic, isolated from classmates and teachers, the situation’s only gotten worse. That includes for kids right here in Delaware, where at Nemours Children’s Hospital from 2020-2021 there was an 80% increase in children coming into the emergency department with concerns of suicide and self harm.
So it was no surprise when, in December, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy declared a national youth mental health crisis.
I jumped at the idea proposed by my colleagues in the Senate Finance Committee for a bipartisan working group to bolster America’s mental health care system.
And together, with my friend, Sen. Bill Cassidy, Republican from Louisiana, I co-chaired our committee’s bipartisan working group on youth mental health.
With the experience of what worked for kids in Delaware, I was determined to bring relief to kids across the country — to meet them wherever they are.
After months of research and back and forth negotiations working toward compromise, we came to an agreement.
Together, we cut red tape for schools that are struggling to get reimbursed for mental health services that they provide to their students. And we created grants for states to help create or expand school-based health programs.
So, the next time a child is struggling with pandemic-induced anxiety in the classroom, or a low-income student can’t travel to receive mental health services, they can turn to their own school for help.
Our work for children on the federal level has been bolstered by recent achievements in the Delaware legislature. Thanks to the leadership of Representative Valerie Longhurst, Delaware recently passed three critical bills meant to end the stigma around mental health and expand care for our kids. Investing in mental health professionals and programs, together both as federal and state leaders, will surely save lives, and I look forward to Governor Carney signing these bills into law.
Of course, there will always be more we can do to help families and kids who need it. And, in Delaware and across America, there will be no magic wand to cure what ails our health care system. But thanks to the values championed in the First State, we can raise our children with more of the support, the care, and the love they need.
Sen. Tom Carper has represented Delaware in the U.S. Senate since 2001.