News & Updates

Partner Spotlight: Latino Network

Latino children make up nearly a quarter of Oregon’s K-12 students, and their futures depend on our state’s ability to adapt in providing for their needs. Founded in 1996 by community leaders concerned by the lack of adequate resources for Oregon’s growing Latino population, Latino Network seeks to educate and empower our state’s younger generations through culturally specific programming and services. Led by Carmen Rubio, Latino Network has served over 3,500 individuals in building a stronger future for Oregon’s Latino communities.

Generational transformation is central to programs offered by Latino Network and the positive results they have fostered. Juntos Aprendemos, an early childhood education program run by Latino Network, evidences the power of investing in parents and children over the long term. In a culturally specific environment, children and parents alike learn skills that ready the entire family for success in school. Parents leave the program better equipped to be their children’s first teachers, while students leave the program better prepared for kindergarten. Juntos Aprendemos recruits parent graduates of the program as teachers, continuing a cycle of generational transformation.

Latino Network knows that change doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it is passed on to parent to child, student to sibling, generation after generation. And the results are staggering. For example, graduation rates for Latino students in Oregon have increased by 15 percent in just four years. As our state’s Latino communities continue to grow, Latino Network will continue to play a role in laying the groundwork for their success.

Oregon’s Poorest Children Can’t Afford to Lose TANF

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is one of Oregon’s most important programs, providing cash assistance to help cover the basic needs of struggling families. For thousands of Oregon’s poorest children, this small monthly grant is the only thing keeping them from becoming homeless, not having basic necessities like diapers or clothes, or being placed in foster care. Cuts to TANF proposed by the state legislature in attempt to fill Oregon’s budget gap would significantly reduce aid for families who need it most and threaten the potential of our state’s poorest children to have a chance at a safe and successful future.

TANF protects children in households facing unexpected hardship. When a parent loses a job, escapes domestic violence, or recovers from a costly medical emergency, TANF helps families get back on their feet. The assistance families receive is minimal and only those with the greatest need are served. For families on the brink of losing everything, TANF provides critical support.

According to the Oregon Center for Public Policy, cuts currently proposed by the legislature threaten to drive about 11,000 children deeper into poverty by restricting benefits and eligibility. The current maximum gross income for TANF eligibility is $616 per month for a family of three and was established in 1991. The eligibility criteria have not changed since then, which means no adjustments have been made to account for increases in household expenses or inflation. In addition, cuts to TANF would disproportionately harm children of color because they are the most likely to experience poverty.

Cutting the lifeline provided by TANF would mean increased hardship for our state’s most vulnerable families. Ultimately, we all want a future in which those who are struggling the most have a chance to achieve their full potential. Such a vision requires that programs like TANF are supported and children are given an opportunity to succeed. It is imperative that our state legislature identify revenue solutions that would keep TANF intact and not balance the budget on the backs of Oregon’s poorest children.

Not Settling for Less

Many Oregon families struggle to figure out how to make ends meet. But for households headed by women, people of color, workers with disabilities, and LGBTQ workers, common household expenses are more difficult to cover. Why? Pay disparities are shortchanging families across our state, and in turn shortchanging our children.

Oregon currently has an opportunity to put an end to persistent pay disparities hindering certain families. House Bill 2005 would strengthen protections for workers by requiring that all employees are paid equally for performing the same job. HB 2005 would also prevent employers from screening job applicants based on salary history, helping to break the cycle of pay disparity that traps low-wage workers. This bill providing critical protections for workers recently passed out of the Oregon House and is currently in the Senate.

Due to the wage gap, women and people of color have to settle for less when it comes to providing for their families. According to the National Women’s Law Center, white women make 80 cents, African American women make 63 cents, and Latinas make just 54 cents for every dollar a white man earns. In 2015, the typical white family in Oregon had between $10,000 and $23,000 more in annual income to cover common expenses than the typical Latino, African American, and Native American family. Ultimately, these wage and income disparities translate into higher poverty rates for people of color in our state.

Most Oregonians of color are twice as likely to live in poverty than white Oregonians. While about 13 percent of white Oregonians were in poverty in 2015, the poverty rate was about 26 percent for Latinos, 28 percent for Native Americans, 29 percent for Pacific Islanders, and 31 percent for African Americans. While there are clear wage, income, and poverty disparities for women and people of color, family expenses don’t discriminate. Households headed by women don’t pay 80 cents on the dollar to feed, house, and care for their families. The typical African American family doesn’t pay $23,000 less per year for the common expenses every household must figure out how to cover. Pay equity for all workers would help to ensure that every family has the resources they need to raise their kids.

Inequality has costs. As housing and child care expenses continue to soar in our state, Oregon children shouldn’t be asked to settle for less because of discrimination and disparity in the workplace. Securing pay equity for women, people of color, workers with a disability, and LGBTQ workers will improve outcomes for families, making our state more equitable for all of us.

State Budget “Starting Point” Leaves Kids With Catching Up to Do

Earlier this week, the Ways and Means committee co-chairs released a state budget proposal for 2017-2019. The accompanying statement declared the document a “starting point” from which the committee can begin their budget planning. If these proposed cuts become a reality, they will significantly harm the health, safety, and education of Oregon’s children.

The budget framework proposes deep cuts to programs that give kids a strong start in life. Funding for K-12 education and the Oregon Department of Human Services, both already under strain, would each be slashed by nearly $300 million below current service levels. Early learning programs, Farm-to-School funding, the Babies First! home visiting program, and in-home supports for abused children would be completely eliminated. Early learning HUBs, the Healthy Families and Preschool Promise programs, self-sufficiency supports for low-income families, and the Strengthening, Preserving and Reunifying Families program would receive less funding.

Reducing self-sufficiency supports and eliminating home visiting programs mean fewer struggling families would receive the help they need. Decreased funding for K-12 education risks larger class sizes and lower graduation rates for Oregon students. Cuts to supports for foster families would result in 487 children coming into foster care, staying longer periods of time, or returning to the attention of Child Welfare.

This is not the future we want for children and families in our state.

We all want every child in Oregon to thrive. The co-chairs’ budget is a “starting point,” and it’s up to us to make sure it is just that — a starting point for a deeper conversation about the revenue solutions needed to help Oregon kids reach their full potential. Contact your representatives and tell them that kids can’t afford to lose the programs currently on the chopping block. It’s time for increased investments in Oregon’s children and families, not cuts.

Partner Spotlight: Neighborhood Partnerships

For 46 percent of Americans, a $400 emergency, repair, or expense would require them to take out a loan or borrow from a friend. In Oregon, we have a similar emergency gap. In the event of losing their source of income, 27.8 percent of Oregon residents lack the resources to cover their basic needs for three months. Being in this position of financial uncertainty makes planning for the future nearly impossible. It also makes self-sufficiency more difficult to attain.

Neighborhood Partnerships helps families in this precarious economic situation build assets and find housing — two key steps in attaining their full potential. Led by Executive Director Janet Byrd, Neighborhood Partnerships recognizes that investing in people today creates a better tomorrow for future generations. The organization makes these investments through their programs, including the Oregon IDA Initiative, Housing Alliance, and Asset Building Coalition. With the help of Neighborhood Partnerships and its programs, Oregonians across the state are better equipped to weather an unanticipated emergency, enabling individuals to stay in control of their lives and plan for their future.

Neighborhood Partnerships is the driving force behind Children’s Saving Account​s — a policy proposal on our Children’s Agenda. Children’s Savings Accounts enable Oregon children to see themselves as college-bound and give families a pathway for investing in post-secondary education for their kids. This legislation embodies Neighborhood Partnerships’ belief that providing people with the resources to control their finances and invest in their futures will make Oregon a better place for kids today and for generations to come.

Partner Spotlight: Oregon Public Health Institute

United for Kids has nearly 100 partners working together to make Oregon the best place to be a kid, with each partner contributing their unique expertise to the Children’s Agenda. This week, we’d like to recognize Oregon Public Health Institute (OPHI) for their work to create vibrant, healthy communities across the state.

Led by Dana Hargunani, OPHI works to improve the health of Oregonians and advance health equity through programs, policies and partnerships informed by community voice. Their staff uses a racial and social justice lens that assesses power, process, diversity, and inclusion in order to do a better job of improving health outcomes for all Oregonians.

The team at OPHI firmly believes that by addressing the social determinants of health — the conditions in which people work, learn and play — we can meaningful achieve reduction in health disparities. That’s why OPHI and its partners recently announced the Oregon Health and Outdoor Action Framework. This innovative agenda views the health of a community, its residents, and its environment as inseparable and interconnected. It’s this kind of transformative thinking that makes OPHI such an important resource for Oregon’s children. This new framework embodies OPHI’s focus on making investments early and often that lead to a brighter, greener, and healthier future for Oregon’s families and kids.

Leading the Way Toward a Healthier Future

Oregonians are known for blazing trails. And while we’re accustomed to leading the pack and forging new paths, we’re lagging behind on a crucial issue: raising the tobacco sales age to 21. California and Hawaii have both made this important move. Oregon now has the opportunity to catch up — if our state legislators vote to require a minimum age of 21 years to purchase tobacco.

It is estimated that 68,000 Oregon children now under the age of 18 will eventually die prematurely due to smoking, and youth across our state continue to start this deadly habit. In addition to teens legally purchasing tobacco products, underage youth have many opportunities to buy or obtain tobacco products from older friends. In fact, almost all underage tobacco is sourced to teens by someone under 21. We can’t reduce the number of Oregon kids developing lifelong addictions to nicotine without making it harder for young people to buy tobacco products for themselves and their younger peers.

In our state, approximately 1,800 youth under the age of 18 become new daily smokers every year. We want to see this number reduced. Smoking is detrimental to everyone and the effects of cigarettes do not discriminate; they harm even the youngest among us. Research shows that raising the tobacco sales age to 21 is an effective strategy to reduce tobacco consumption among Oregon’s young people.

It’s our job to protect our younger residents. Delaying the legal purchase of tobacco by three years can have a lifelong impact on the health of Oregon’s youth. That’s why our United for Kids partners American Heart Association, Children’s Health Alliance, and Urban League of Portland are advocating for Senate Bill 754, which would raise the tobacco sales age to 21. Together, we’re telling Oregon legislators to take action to reduce tobacco consumption among Oregon kids, and they’re listening. Last week, this bill passed the Oregon Senate and is now headed to the House of Representatives for consideration. This is a big opportunity for Oregon to lead the way toward a healthier future for youth in our state.

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Strengthening Families with Paid Leave

Welcoming a new child should be a time of joy for families, but for many it’s also a time of financial hardship. In Oregon, too many parents are forced to sacrifice their economic stability in order to care for their families. Mothers in particular struggle to maintain their earnings while caring for a newborn and face barriers to staying in the workforce. This leads to wage gaps, wealth gaps, and economic insecurity. When families don’t have access to paid leave, the choices many parents are forced to make impact their families for life.

Kelly* is an on-call caregiver who works with pregnant women and nursing moms. When she became pregnant with her second child, she had no benefits or access to paid leave. She and her husband worked hard to save enough money so that she could afford to take eight weeks off in order to care for her newborn. Despite their efforts to plan ahead and save, the loss of Kelly’s income impacted her family long after her leave ended.

While caring for their newborn, Kelly and her husband found themselves relying on food stamps for the first time in their lives. Kelly had to take her oldest child out of preschool for six months, denying him crucial early learning, because the family couldn’t afford the cost. Once there was nothing left that the family could cut out of their budget and they used all of their savings, Kelly was forced to leave her newborn early in order to return to work. Ultimately, Kelly felt that, although it was cut short, taking time off from work to recover and bond with her newborn was necessary and important. However, her family never recovered from the financial burden and now lives paycheck to paycheck.

Kelly and her family aren’t alone. Across our state, families face long-term economic hardship as a result of caring for their newborns. But there is a solution. In February, the Oregon legislature introduced the Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program (HB 3087), which would enable parents to take the time off they need to welcome a newborn or adopted child or provide necessary care for a loved one. United for Kids partner Family Forward is driving the effort to win paid family and medical leave in our state. This legislation would prevent families like Kelly’s from the wage gaps, wealth gaps, and economic insecurity that too often come with welcoming a new child. Caring for families is important work, and it’s time our workplaces and public policies keep up with the growing number of working parents.

 

*Kelly’s story provided by Time for Oregon.

Choosing to Cover All Kids

Every child should have the opportunity for a healthy life, and no child should suffer as a result of being denied health care. Unfortunately, many families in our state are faced with the choice between providing needed medical care for their children or paying the bills.

Nicolas’s mother works full-time at a call center. She receives health coverage through her employer, but can’t afford a family plan to cover her son. Nicolas didn’t find out he had asthma until his first severe asthma attack during recess at school. His mother rushed from work to take him to Urgent Care, where the doctor diagnosed Nicolas with acute asthma and prescribed preventative medication and a rescue inhaler. The hospital bill and medication cost over two thousand dollars. When Nicolas ran out of the preventative medication, his mom was still paying off his hospital bill and couldn’t afford the refill. He began using the rescue inhaler every day, but sometimes it wasn’t enough.

Terrifying asthma attacks and panicked ER visits became a consistent part of Nicolas’s life, and it started to take a toll. He missed school due to repeated hospital visits. He wasn’t reading at grade-level by the 5th grade and lost interest in school. His mom can’t provide him with the help he needs to get back on track — she’s struggling to pay the hospital bills piling up and fears that one day she will have to make the impossible decision of providing Nicolas with his medicine or keeping the roof over their heads.

Nicolas’s classmate Daniel also has asthma. He was diagnosed after his primary care physician administered several tests during his yearly check-up. The doctor gave him preventative medication and a rescue inhaler for emergencies. As Daniel’s asthma became more acute, he saw his doctor regularly to stabilize his condition. His treatment didn’t require Urgent Care visits and he rarely missed school. He read at grade level and made the honor roll. Because he had health coverage, Daniel has been able to thrive despite his acute asthma.

The contrast can’t be clearer: health care coverage can make the difference between a bright future or failing in school. As a state, we have a choice to provide the critical care kids need to lead healthy lives, or we can allow children to fall behind. United for Kids Children’s Agenda partners CareOregon and Oregon Latino Health Coalition are working on legislation this session to ensure all children have health care coverage. Contact your representatives and tell them that the choice is simple — we can and must give Oregon kids an opportunity to grow up healthy, and it starts with ensuring all children have access to health care.

2017 Children’s Agenda: Solutions to Improve the Lives of Oregon’s Kids

As more families struggle to cover rising household costs and more children fall behind in Oregon, one thing is clear: we need solutions. We can’t sit passively by while one in five children languishes in poverty. We can’t watch while 30% of high school students don’t graduate. We can’t ignore the suffering of those who don’t have health care coverage. We must create a better future for our kids.

Nearly 100 advocacy organizations and coalitions have come together to create the 2017 Children’s Agenda, a roadmap of solutions for legislators to address the most pressing problems facing children and families in Oregon. Released today, the Children’s Agenda urges policymakers to action and presents structural ways we can protect the economic security, education, health and safety of all kids.

The need for legislators to prioritize children is greater than ever. Oregon’s national rank in overall child well-being has plummeted in the last decade, decreasing from 15th to 32nd, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. With the Children’s Agenda, legislators don’t have to ask, “what do we do about it?” It gives them dozens of ways they can a build a better future for our children and correct our state’s downward trend in child well-being.

Of significant importance this year is Oregon’s looming budget shortfall, which places our state’s most vulnerable at risk. Legislators must create a balanced revenue stream to keep up with the needs of the state’s growing population. No investment garners greater returns than the investment in children. In order for all Oregon children to be sheltered, fed, healthy, educated, and safe, it’s unrealistic to cut public investments and expect successful outcomes.

We invite all Oregonians to join us in building a united voice for children. This involves all of us telling our state legislators that kids need to the top priority — that we need to invest in their education, to ensure their basic needs are met, and to keep them safe. If you haven’t already, be sure to sign up for United for Kids to receive regular updates. Together, we can make Oregon the best place to be a kid!

Oregon’s Best Kept Secret

Lexi was 19, homeless, and living in a van with her husband when she found out she was pregnant. She considered moving across the country to live with her family, but she knew it would be unhealthy to raise her baby in the same unstable environment she grew up in. Lexi wanted to provide the best care possible for her son, but wasn’t sure how to overcome the obstacles she was facing.

Lexi’s friend told her about a service that provides critical parenting support to vulnerable children and families – voluntary home visiting programs. These programs offer trained parenting coaches to new families so they can learn ways to nurture and educate their child, and keep them healthy and safe.

After her son’s birth, Lexi signed up for the voluntary home visiting program. The home visitor came to the couple’s van and talked to them without judgment. Lexi was worried about bonding with her son because she had to start work at six weeks postpartum. The home visitor helped her set goals to build their relationship and supported Lexi in a non-invasive way. Eventually, the home visitor helped the family find a home and secure better jobs. Lexi said of her experience, “Home visiting programs have meant the world to me. We feel now like we’re doing the very best we can.”

Research has shown that home visiting programs improve maternal and child health outcomes, decrease incidents of child maltreatment, improve school readiness, strengthen family stability, and increase self-sufficiency. Home visiting programs are also cost effective: every $1 investment yields a $3 return. Money spent on these programs now means money saved on welfare, the foster care system, mental health treatment programs, or the criminal justice system later.

Oregon has been a leader in this field since 1993 when Healthy Families Oregon was founded. Additional programs across the state that provide these critical services include Nurse Family Partnership, Early Head Start, Babies First, CaCoon, Maternity Case Management, and Relief Nurseries.

Despite Oregon’s gains in home visiting, only 20% of eligible families are currently being served. On Monday, December 12, United for Kids partner Fight Crime: Invest in Kids presented to the House Interim Committee on Education, advocating for support and resources to strengthen home visiting programs across the state. United for Kids and its partners will continue to represent the voices of the parents and children whose lives have been transformed because of these critical services. We invite you to stay engaged throughout the 2017 Legislative Session, which starts February 1, and watch for updates as we support this critical work.

Report: Oregon Families Struggling Financially

Any Olympic athlete knows that one setback can sabotage their chances at winning gold. After all, no amount of skill or training can get a runner caught up after they’ve taken a fall. By no fault of their own, Oregon’s families have been playing catch-up to cover rising costs, and the finish line isn’t getting any easier to reach.

The Status of Oregon’s Families and Children: 2016 County Data Book released by Children First for Oregon finds that many households in our state haven’t caught up since 2008. Despite a recent boost, the typical Oregon family earned less in 2015 than in 2008 while common family expenses have continued to rise. Oregonians, and Oregon children in particular, were more likely to be poor in 2015 than they were in 2008.

From 2008 to 2015, Oregon’s median family income fell 6.9 percent. Over the same time period, the median rent in Oregon increased 7.7 percent, the cost of child care jumped 17.5 percent, and the average cost of in-state tuition at Oregon’s public universities increased 31 percent, all after adjusting for inflation. When common family expenses outpace family incomes, the buck gets passed to children.

The report highlights alarming poverty rates. Children were more likely to be poor in 2015 than they were in 2008. Although down from a peak in 2011, about one out of every five Oregon children were poor in 2015. Poverty rates were higher in Oregon’s rural counties and within many communities of color. In Malheur County, for example, nearly 40 percent of the children were in poverty. Across the state, about a third of all Latino and Native American children, and nearly half of all Black and Pacific Islander children, lived in poverty. This data shows that we need to address the root causes of poverty and racial injustice so that all families in Oregon can cover basic expenses, save for the future, and build assets.

Poverty, in particular during early childhood, can have a lasting impact on child well-being. Research has shown that experiencing poverty as a child, especially prolonged poverty, hinders a child’s cognitive development. And since a child’s development in her first few years of life lays the groundwork for future health and development, experiencing poverty is a significant setback for children that continues to have a negative impact well into adulthood.

Prioritizing policies, programs, and investments in making housing, child care, and education more affordable can help boost financial security for families, providing much-needed reprieve for families stuck in a cycle of playing catch-up. For example, Oregon has made progress when it comes to ensuring that more Oregonians have health insurance. Since 2009, Oregon, along with the federal government, expanded access to public health insurance. As a result, fewer Oregon adults and children lacked health insurance in 2015. Public safety net programs make a difference, and have been shown to reduce the rate of child poverty by nearly two-thirds.

Our children and families shouldn’t be relegated to a lifetime of playing catch-up. Real change is needed to help them across the finish line and have a fair shot at financial victory. Sign up for United for Kids today and help make meaningful change for children and families in Oregon.

 

That’s My Kid

When we advocate for Oregon’s kids, we begin to take the well-being of children in our state personally. They are all “our children.” At United for Kids, we want Oregon to be the best place to be a kid – for all kids. That means:

  • A top-notch education system from early childhood into college and career;
  • Health care that is accessible and affordable;
  • Families have the resources they need to parent safely and well; and
  • The basic economic security represented by adequate food, affordable child care, and stable housing.

This foundation must be equally available to every child in Oregon – not just a certain region, economic class, or race. Right now, there are pockets of poverty in Oregon that are so dark and deep that kids and families can’t see their way out. Nearly 400,000 children in the state experience the daily stress of wondering if there will be “enough.”  We would never accept this reality for our own children and we must not accept it for Oregon’s children.

We’re quickly approaching 2017, a critical year in advancing the Children’s Agenda for Oregon’s kids. The Children’s Agenda is a legislative road map for state leaders backed up by United for Kids members like you who understand we must be unwavering in our commitment to speak for our children.  Recently Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek said, “United for Kids is the unified voice that can break through all the noise in Salem.” And breaking through all the noise couldn’t be more important than our 2017 efforts for kids.

United for Kids members are part of a statewide movement underscoring our shared value that kids must be a top priority in Oregon.  We speak to our elected leaders with a clear, strong, and united voice. No one individual, community group, service provider, school district, or community leader can do it alone.  We speak for up for kids as a united voice, because we are stronger when we are united.

Safety Net Program Ages, Rather than Matures

Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! …

We sing “Happy Birthday” to our children each year, as they grow in age and maturity. We are proud of their accomplishments, their growing independence and praise them when they help others. This month marks the 20th birthday of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), otherwise known as welfare reform. TANF, too, was designed, or redesigned, to help families become independent. It was designed to help others and, for its time in national politics, it was quite an accomplishment.

However, as we reflect on TANF’s 20th birthday, it’s clear that it hasn’t aged so well. TANF was envisioned to give critical support to families during times of crisis, so they could keep roofs over their heads, put food on the table and provide for their children’s basic needs. The funds, structured as a basic federal block grant with state supplements, provide cash assistance and job training while families get back on their feet. It is meant to stabilize families in distress so they can regain financial security.

Unfortunately, TANF, frozen in its infancy, has not adapted to the changing economic environment. To begin with, Oregon’s income criteria haven’t been adjusted in 20 years. That’s a problem because inflation has gone up and the cost of living is much higher. So a family today, compared to a family eligible for TANF 20 years ago, would have to be much poorer to qualify. This means fewer families in poverty are receiving the help they need at the most critical time.

And what about those needy families here in Oregon? The share of children living in poverty increased by five percentage points to 21 percent over the last 20 years. That means that in a classroom of 25 students, on average, five would be living in poverty. The number of children of color living in poverty is even more staggering: 33% of Hispanic children; 44% of Native American kids; 46% of black children; and 54%, over half, of Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander children.


The situation for children and families would be even worse if it weren’t for safety net programs, such as TANF. If these safety net services hadn’t been available, imagine how much more difficult it would be for families to make ends meet. But, unfortunately, TANF’s effectiveness fades as inflation and the cost of living increase, which means families’ hopes of having stability also fade.

With more families living in poverty and qualifying for TANF becoming more difficult, too many of Oregon’s families are having a hard time providing food for everyone in the household and children are facing the very real possibility of homelessness. Designed to stabilize families in crisis, those same families face dwindling amounts of cash assistance and the very real crisis of meeting their family’s basic needs.

Birthdays are almost always a cause for celebration. TANF at 20 still has a lot of growing up to do. We hope the next 20 years will bring TANF the growth and judgment to provide for the assistance that all vulnerable families and children deserve.

Foster Youth Set Policy Agenda to Improve System

Guaranteed access to hygiene. A safe and comfortable living space. Freedom to be themselves, regardless of their sexual orientation. A role in deciding their future. A Sibling Bill of Rights. Effective conflict resolution. These are just a few of the solutions that current and former foster youth recently proposed to remedy critical deficiencies in Oregon’s foster care system.

Drawing from heartbreaking personal experiences in the foster care system, thirty-one youth came together over four days at the biannual Oregon Foster Youth Connection (OFYC) Policy Conference and developed a cohesive policy agenda to improve the lives of foster youth across the state. OFYC, a United for Kids Children’s Agenda partner, is a statewide, youth-led, advocacy group of current and former foster youth between 14 & 25 years of age.

The conference themes included improving the quality and availability of foster homes and providers; supporting youth in care who are 18-21; and siblings and long-term relationships. During the training, youth learned to speak up for change through activities focused on teamwork, critical thinking, and public speaking. Daily workshops taught youth how to use their experiences to influence public policy and create legislative priorities.

Dru Taft, a current foster youth from Bend reflected on the conference and said, “The workshop ‘Siblings and Long-term Relationships’ helped me learn that more people like me are dealing with the same thing. And I was kind of touched by the subject because I was separated from my younger brother and that was really hard for me. Figuring out a solution for that felt good because if we can enforce a law, then we can get other siblings back together, even though I might not go back to my brother – and they won’t have to feel my pain, and the pain others have felt, from moving away from our siblings.”

The conference culminated in a powerful presentation by youth to an audience of lawmakers, Oregon Department of Human Services administrators, service providers, and community members. The youth highlighted the need to improve training for foster families and caseworkers on conflict-resolution and LGBTQ+ youth; increase youth engagement around new placement and permanency planning; and incorporate best practice models for youth transitioning out of care, suicide prevention, foster home inspections and maintenance of sibling connections.

OFYC youth have been successful in every piece of legislation they have advocated for in the legislature. These policies include: Assistance Obtaining Driving Privileges (2009); A Tuition Waiver for former foster youth entering community college or state university (2011); A Foster Child Bill of Rights & Foster Child’s Ombudsman (2013); and access to savings accounts at the age of 12 (2015). We can’t wait to see what these talented youth make happen in 2017!

New data show Oregon falling behind in child well-being

Data released today in the  2016 KIDS COUNT® National Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation show that Oregon’s rate of child well-being fell to 32nd in the nation. It’s alarming that our state’s economic, health, and community rankings have all declined, and it’s clear we are failing Oregon’s kids.

These data prove the urgency of the situation: 22% – over 1 in 5 Oregon children – lives in poverty. That’s 5 kids in every 25-child classroom in each classroom in the state. To put it another way, it’s nearly enough children in poverty to fill Reser and Autzen stadiums twice over. Kids are living in insecure housing, a result of some of the highest housing costs in the country. In fact, Oregon’s children are poorer, more of them live in high-poverty areas, more of their parents lack secure employment, and there are more low-birthweight babies than in 2008, at the height of the recession.

How can we relegate our children to this poorer, more-unstable future? We can’t.

Two things will prompt a change: voters who refuse to accept this reality for their children and substantial investments made by policy makers in Salem. Both of these can be accomplished by working together through the efforts of United for Kids. United for Kids has one goal: to make Oregon the best place to be a kid. With advocates, organizations and Oregon voters speaking together, legislators must consider policies that can reverse the slide that results in our children being poorer and less-educated than their peers in other states.

Kids need legislators unafraid to say “yes” to policies that reduce homelessness and poverty. They need legislators who say “yes” to increased investments in early childhood education and “no” to special interests. The numbers are out and they don’t lie: we must take action now before we lose a generation of children by not prioritizing their economic security, education and health & safety.

Oregon’s Child Poverty Crisis

Imagine that you are a single parent raising two kids on $370 per week. That’s about $1,600 a month or $19,240 per year. When you are scraping together to afford housing, utilities, transportation, groceries and other basic necessities, it would be a real struggle to make ends meet on this budget.

Now consider this: according to the official, U.S. Census Bureau, definition of poverty, you would need to have earned less than $19,073 in 2014 to be considered “poor”.

Not only is this bar incredibly low, it does not account for cost based on geography. That means that the official definition of poverty is the same whether you live in Portland, Oregon, where rent continues to skyrocket, or Fort Wayne, Indiana, where rent is 28 percent below the national average.

The official definition of poverty in the U.S. is outdated and inadequate. It was developed in the 1960s using the cost of food and the percentage of income spent on food.  However, even by this old definition, too many of Oregon’s kids are living in poverty.

Some communities in Oregon face extremely high rates of child poverty. For example, while about 17 percent of non-Hispanic white children were in poverty in 2014, the child poverty rate was about 33 percent for Hispanic children, about 44 percent for American Indian/Alaskan Native children, 46 percent for black children and 54 percent for Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander children.

ChildPovByRace

 

In total, 21.6 percent of children in Oregon were below the poverty line in 2014. That is more than one out of every five kids in our state.

There were about 860,000 kids living in Oregon in 2014. One out of five means that about 182,000 of them were living in poverty. That is a lot of kids. In fact, it is enough to fill seven of our state’s most popular stadiums.

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Because the official definition of poverty is insufficient, it is more helpful to measure how many families are living in or near poverty. Raising the poverty threshold to a more meaningful level, 200 percent of the federal line (or $37,700 for a family of three), more than doubles the number of Oregon’s children in families that would be considered are struggling.

In total, there were about 390,000 kids in Oregon living in or near poverty in 2014. That is A LOT of kids. In fact, it is enough to fill those same 7 stadiums and arenas in Oregon, plus the two largest stadiums on the west coast, and still have about 30,000 kids standing outside.

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Too many children in Oregon are living in poverty. It’s time for legislators to address this crisis and make kids’ economic security a top public policy priority.

Empowering immigrants and refugees to build new lives

In many ways, Mohammed is a regular 6th grader who enjoys kickball and superheroes. However, as a Sudanese refugee born in Jordan, he faced serious academic challenges with reading when he and his family arrived in Portland. His parents were eager to improve their children’s opportunities, but they struggled with navigating the U.S. education system. As Arabic speakers, they found it difficult to communicate with school staff about their son’s needs.

Mohammed’s family found the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) where bilingual, bicultural staff acted as translators and facilitators between his parents and teachers. Mohammed also received culturally-specific literacy support at weekly, afterschool tutoring. Over the fall term, he had gained enough confidence to volunteer to share his writing and read out loud to the class. Now Mohammed says things like, “I’m so smart!”

Founded in 1976 by refugees for refugees, IRCO has 40 years of history and experience working with Portland’s refugee and immigrant communities. Mohammed joins thousands of individuals and families from around the world that IRCO has empowered to build new lives through more than 140 culturally- and linguistically-specific social services. These services range from employment, vocational training and English language learning, to community development, early childhood and parenting education, youth academic support and gang prevention.

Oregon has one of the fastest growing immigrant populations in the country. Forced to leave their home countries, refugees and immigrants come to Oregon to begin new lives. In 2015, IRCO impacted the lives of over 28,000 new Oregonians, including 2,400 students, like Mohammed, who received culturally-specific and responsive afterschool programing.

IRCO has been a valued United for Kids partner since 2015, bringing a voice for so many immigrants, refugees and their children who are only beginning to find their voice in Oregon. With dozens of advocacy organizations, IRCO contributes to a shared legislative agenda, which guides lawmakers through the policies, programs and investments that will help Oregon be the best place to be a kid.

United for Kids is grateful for the work that IRCO does on behalf of children and families in Oregon. Please join IRCO in celebrating its 40th Anniversary this month!

Placing the “Care” in Foster Care

You’ve heard the news and read the headlines. Foster care in Oregon is in disarray, resulting in personnel changes, increased oversight and sanctions. These are appropriate responses to an imminent issue.  But if you are an 8-year-old boy taken from your home due to abuse or neglect and placed into the home of someone you’ve never met, you need a caring, stable support system. If you are a foster parent opening your home to someone else’s child, you need more than a “thank you”. You need to feel respected and supported in this role.

Children are taken into care in Oregon for good reasons. The majority of foster parents are wonderful people doing very hard work to make their home feel like “home” to these displaced children. The majority of case workers at the Department of Human Services (DHS) dedicate their life’s work to help children in need. Yet they are faced with heavy and complicated caseloads that exceed the number of hours in the day.

While some solutions to these problems are difficult, many are not. Foster parents can be provided with childcare to receive respite from the challenges of day-to-day life. They can be provided additional training, in settings that work for them, where they can talk to other foster parents. They can have a 24-hour call line, so someone can provide help, support or advice at any time. These solutions come with relatively inexpensive price tags, while providing foster parents with the feeling of support and respect that they deserve.

While caseworkers are overloaded, DHS is only funded at 85% of the positions they are allotted. This means that if DHS were funded for the staffing levels they need, caseloads could be reduced. More caseworkers could be working with children in a more-timely fashion, offering them the support and care that they deserve. Children in state care should be truly cared-for by the state, and funding DHS at a full 100% of staffing level for $21.9 million would help to do just that.

Most of us will never know what it is like to be a child taken from your home and put into someone else’s. Most of us will never know what it is like to open your home to a vulnerable child in need at a moment’s notice. Most of us will never know what it is like to feel like you could work for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and never give children you are responsible for enough time and attention. But there is something we can do for them all: demand better. Demand the funding to truly support foster care.

What Are We Missing?

How do you know that you’re missing something if you don’t have it already? It’s not a philosophical question, it’s one Oregon’s schoolchildren face every day. Our kids are missing more individual help from teachers because class sizes are too large. They’re missing out on learning more subjects because Oregon’s school year is too short. The bottom line is: Oregon’s kids shouldn’t have to miss out on anything that’s in the best interest of their education.

School districts do what they can with limited resources, but they’re forced to choose among providing students with more instructional hours, lowering class sizes or funding programs that benefit struggling students. So what does that mean for kids here? It means that 7th graders may not learn about plant biology, because there just aren’t enough instructional hours in the day. It means that a student may have difficulty understanding a math problem, but the teacher doesn’t have time to answer all questions. It means that a student who may need extra support doesn’t get it.

In Oregon, the length of the school year and class sizes lag behind national averages. While state requirements vary on the number of instructional days or hours, most states have decided that a 180-day school year is necessary for kids to receive an adequate education. The length of the school year in Oregon is measured by instructional hours. Children in higher grades are required to have a minimum of 990 hours of instruction, which equates to 165 6-hour school days— three full weeks shorter than the majority of the United States. In addition, Oregon has the third largest class size in the country with 21.5 students per teacher, much higher than the national average of 15.6 students per teacher.

Thanks to the work of the Quality Education Commission, we know what kids really need for meaningful achievement. The Commission started 15 years ago to explore research-based practices for optimal student achievement and to determine the investments needed for children to succeed. Each biennium a workgroup is required to report a baseline level of funding that would assure a quality education and allow students to achieve the outcomes they need. If we are to create a true continuum of learning, from early education through high school and beyond; if we are to reach the 40-40-20 goals by 2025 (by the time this year’s kindergarteners complete 8th grade), then we must choose to make investments to allow kids to learn and teachers to teach.

Washington state, which has a 180-day school year and 19.4 student-teacher ratio, spends $800 more per student than Oregon and their Supreme Court has found the legislature in contempt for a lack of funding for schools. $490 million per biennium would get Oregon up to par with Washington state’s number of students per teacher in public schools. Investing $460 million per biennium in Oregon would give school districts the ability to offer every student in in our state a full 180-day school year.

We want our students to reach their academic potential, increase graduation rates and create a better future for our state, so it only follows that we must dedicate resources for children to achieve those goals. Our kids can’t afford to miss another day of academic opportunity, so let’s invest what is necessary to secure their future.

A True Story of Children and Housing

Alia (not her real name) was a straight-A seventh grader until she became increasingly absent from class. Even when she did attend, she would often fall asleep.  Her caring teacher had a long, quiet talk with Alia and found out the reason:  Alia, her single dad and her sister had become homeless.

It started when the rent was raised on their apartment and they couldn’t afford it.  The family eventually found a new place, but it was far from their school. The sisters wanted to stay at the same school and didn’t want anyone to know about their situation, so they took two buses to get to their old bus stop – Alia woke up at 4 a.m. daily for the two-hour ordeal.

Soon, it happened again: rent was hiked and they lost their home. The situation became untenable and, despite all the best efforts of the teacher, Alia and her sister dropped out of school. No one knows what has happened to them.

Alia’s story is not unique.  The Oregon Department of Education confirmed that 20,524 children attending schools in Oregon school districts were homeless in the 2014-15 school year.[i]  It’s not hard to see why.

Median rent has increased by 9%, while median family income has declined by 7%, in the period since before the recession. [ii]  With fewer than 50,000 affordable units in the state, stories like Alia’s are becoming more common.  Over half of renting households in every area of the state from 2009 to 2013 were “rent burdened” and spent 30% or more of their incomes on housing, putting Oregon in the bottom third of states nationally.  The solution lies in preserving existing affordable housing units, building new ones and public policy changes. [iii]  More specifically, increasing affordable housing stock by 50%, which will cost as much as $500 million. Preserving existing stock ($22 million per biennium) and making home ownership more affordable for 10,000 new homebuyers ($40 million per biennium) over the next five years would ensure every Oregon family has access to affordable housing.

The cost of creating new, and preserving existing, affordable housing is a lot to ask in these financially challenging times for the state.  Raising revenue is the key to providing the services that Oregon’s children need and that requires both individuals and businesses do their part.  Those who can must pay their fair share so that children, like Alia, don’t end up paying with their futures.

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[i] Oregon Statewide Report Card 2014-2015, Oregon Department of Education.

[ii] Rent and median income: US Census Bureau, American FactFinder Tables B25064 (rent) and B19113

[iii] Housing stock: Oregon Housing and Community Services, OHCS Affordable Rental Housing Projects (http://www.oregon.gov/ohcs/Pages/multifamily-housing-funded-applicants.aspx)

 

2016 Legislative Session Brings Gains and Disappointments for Oregon’s Kids

The 2016 Legislative Session was marked by both highs and lows for Oregon’s children and their families. United for Kids, which grew by 20% to 77 organizations for the 2016 session, continued to be a strong voice for Oregon’s children. The 2016 Children’s Agenda promoted public policy change and shared investments to benefit children’s health, safety, education and economic security. United for Kids presents this recap of how Children’s Agenda items fared during the 32-day legislative session.

Economic Security

The biggest impact for the economic security of children will undoubtedly be raising the minimum wage. SB 1532 received national attention by gradually raising the minimum wage to the highest level in the country and by varying the wage by region. Housing advocates also took a step forward: local governments now have the ability to require some lower priced units in large developments – also known as inclusionary zoning – and the legislature dedicated some funds to housing services. Tenants in month-to-month leases now have more security because their rent cannot be raised in the first year and they must receive 90-day notice before for any increase after the first year.

Education

Education advocates succeeded in securing $5.4 million needed for early childhood and special education caseloads.  Legislators corrected a budget error and promised Head Start slots with $5.3 million. Unfortunately, a task force to determine the best ways to prevent summer learning loss by expanding summer learning opportunities to school kids hit a last minute barrier and didn’t cross the finish line in 2016.

Health and Safety

Some well-deserved policies successfully passed both chambers in 2016. Residential foster care settings are subject to additional requirements and oversight due to the Children’s Safety and Dignity bill, which unanimously passed both chambers.  Pacific Islanders legally residing in Oregon under the compact of free association (COFA) now have health care premium assistance, while DCBS, the Health Authority and stakeholders tasked with developing a blueprint for a Basic Health Program for individuals too poor to afford health exchange plans, but not eligible for Medicaid. While the Healthy Climate Bill to create a market-based carbon reduction system failed, $280,000 was allocated to DEQ to plan for a system that would be effective in Oregon. Regrettably, after a hard push by tobacco lobbyists, none of the three bills protecting children from the dangers of smoking or vaping was successful.

Looking Ahead to 2017

More than 61% of the items in the 2016 Children’s Agenda passed, with allocations benefitting the economic security, education and health & safety of children and their families totaling nearly $40 million. For a full list of 2016 successes, click here.

We must do more. Safe Routes to Schools, physical education in schools, preventing nicotine addiction in kids, safer well water, among others – all included in this year’s Agenda – deserved the support and the votes of legislators. If we are truly going to make Oregon the best place to be a kid, those who govern must place children’s interests over those of special interests. Those who hold the purse strings must devote resources sufficient enough to make more than lukewarm change for Oregon’s children. We look forward to working with all United for Kids advocates in 2017 to make kids the #1 priority.

Children’s Agenda Creates Road Map to Help Oregon Kids Thrive

The 2016 Children’s Agenda hosted by Children First for Oregon has grown to include 77 organizations and coalitions collaborating to improve the economic security, education, health and safety of Oregon kids.  Building on the success of the 2015 Agenda, this year’s Children’s Agenda has more than two dozen specific policy recommendations designed to create real and meaningful change for Oregon kids.

The Children First legislative team is at work in the February session to promote the policy proposals and budget priorities of the 2016 Children’s Agenda.  The response from legislators has been consistently positive, noting the coordination and leveraged voice of pro-child advocates represented by the Children’s Agenda.

Thanks to the work of pro-child advocates and supportive legislators in 2015, nearly two-thirds of last year’s Children’s Agenda policy items were successful. As a result of this work, thousands of children now have the advantage of preschool, home visiting services, access to health care, safer communities and increased economic stability.

The work for Oregon kids continues in 2016.  Children First is honored to support our Children’s Agenda partners by joining them in speaking up for Oregon’s kids in Salem and advocating for the policy priorities and funding proposals in the 2016 Agenda.  With the help and support of our community, we are hard at work making Oregon the best place to be a kid.

The Last Stop for Oregon’s Homeless School Children?

A young boy nervously tightens his backpack straps and stands up on a school bus as it slows to a crawl. Several other children also stand up and make their way down the aisle to the front of the bus. This is their stop.

As the bus pulls away, each of the children make their way home to enjoy an afternoon snack and settle into some homework. But not the young boy. Afraid of being spotted by the other children, he quietly slips away, darts across a busy highway and disappears into a stand of nearby trees. In those trees, his family lives in a tent.

The young boy is one of the approximately 18,902 Oregon children who were homeless at some point during the 2013-14 school year. That total includes children housed in shelters, as well as those who were unsheltered and living in cars, parks, bus stations and other public spaces. It represents an increase of nearly-1,000 more homeless students than the year before.

Homeless students face a variety of barriers to learning and often struggle with food insecurity and family instability. That’s why groups like the Oregon Housing Alliance and the Oregon Law Center are asking lawmakers to increase funding for the Emergency Housing Assistance (EHA) and the State Housing Assistance Program (SHAP) by $1 million. The programs provide short term help to stabilize individuals and families and prevent them from becoming homeless. EHA and SHAP also help people who are homeless or fleeing domestic violence to quickly enter safe, stable housing.

Right now there are not enough beds to help all of the children who would like to sleep in one tonight. Oregon lawmakers can make a difference before the end of the legislative session by allocating additional funds to EHA and SHAP. Together we can work to ensure homelessness reaches the end of the line.

In Legislature’s Waning Days, a Final Push for Pro-Kid Bills

Several important – and truly historic – victories for Oregon’s kids have occurred during the 2015 Oregon legislative session when it comes to children’s education, economic stability, health, and safety. Most notably, lawmakers have approved paid sick days, expanded opportunity and independence for foster youth, increased access to free school lunches, and prevented domestic abusers from possessing firearms.

But our work on behalf of Oregon’s kids is not done.

There are still key areas where lawmakers can make a big difference in children’s lives yet this session–specifically, in their budget negotiations. Last week was the first public hearing for the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) budget and this week lawmakers will discuss the early education budget.

Both budgets contain requests for additional funding for crucial children’s programs, yet there is immense budget pressure. Critical programs like Employment Related Day Care (ERDC), Home Visiting Programs, Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF), and mixed delivery pre-school all seek increased investment for the next two years.

As we’ve highlighted previously, programs like Employment Related Day Care (ERDC) and Home Visiting are designed to help low-income families access affordable child care and to receive the evidence-based parental training that we know protects kids.

These programs are proven to reduce demands on future state budgets and increase each child’s opportunity to become healthier and more economically secure.  And as the 2015 Oregon Legislature hurtles towards a close, the need to improve the future for Oregon’s children continues.

Please tell your lawmaker that their work is not yet done and that you support additional investments in affordable day care, home visiting, TANF, and mixed-delivery pre-school for Oregon’s most vulnerable children.

Toys and Toxins

You look at labels and find the milk without added growth hormones.  ​You make sure that you have the right child safety seats or harnesses in your car.  You make your kids wear bike helmets.

But what about the toys they play with every day?

We now know with certainty that thousands of children’s products are made with chemicals that are toxic to the brain, reproductive system or development in children. And yet, parents have no way of knowing which toys and other products contain harmful carcinogens or other chemicals of concern, and neither do doctors, public health officials—or even the retailers that sell the products.

Oregon has a chance to change that with the Toxic Free Kids Act (SB 478).   The bill would:

  • Establish priorities for chemicals that we know are hazardous to children.
  • Require manufacturers to disclose use of chemicals in products made for children.
  • Require manufacturers to eventually replace those chemicals with safer alternatives.

But unless legislators act right now, we miss our chance to make a real difference in the life-long health of Oregon’s children. The bill has the backing of Oregon’s health community, educators and parents. It has bipartisan support. Let’s make 2015 the year we start to give children the protection they deserve.

Tell your legislator today: don’t delay. Pass the Toxic Free Kids Act (SB 478).

Paid Sick Leave in Oregon: No Rest for the Weary – Yet

Update: Paid sick days passed the Oregon House on June 12 and is headed to the Governor’s desk for final approval!

You glance at the thermometer and it confirms your suspicion: your child has a fever.

If you’re a worker in Oregon who lacks paid sick time, your choice boils down to a rock and a hard place: Do you send your sick child to school or daycare, or miss a day of work and lose out on a much-needed paycheck – or worse – risk being fired.

Today in Oregon, nearly half of all workers in the private sector don’t have access to paid sick time. It’s even worse for low-wage workers, where 71% lack access to sick time. This is an especially large issue in Oregon, where 26% of mothers with young children work in low-wage jobs — the second-highest rate in the nation.

Luckily, on Wednesday, June 10, the Oregon Senate approved a bill that would allow employees working at companies with 10 or more workers to earn up to 5 paid sick days per year. The leave can be used for themselves or to care for a family member – like a child – who needs medical care. Senate Bill 454 would make Oregon the fourth state to allow nearly all employees to earn paid sick time, but only if the Oregon House approves the measure – and time is running out.

If the Oregon House follows the Senate’s lead and passes the bill, the decision to stay home with your sick child should soon be a little easier. And that should give parents more time to focus on other important issues like: Does your child really have a fever? Or did they just hold the thermometer over a light bulb?

Protecting Student Privacy in the Classroom

Update: The Oregon Student Information Protection Act successfully passed the Oregon House on June 10, on a vote of 53-4. It now heads to Governor Brown’s desk for her signature. 

As students are accessing more technology in the classroom, there is a growing possibility of others using their personal information to profit at the expense of their privacy.

When students download learning apps or sign into educational technology websites at school, the creators of these sites often collect personal, educational, and even health information. Some companies want to use the student’s personal information for marketing and commercial purposes.

Luckily Oregon lawmakers are taking action to protect student privacy and personal information. Senate Bill 187A, the Oregon Student Information Protection Act, is a common sense bill designed to protect students. The bill prohibits educational apps and websites from compiling, sharing, or disclosing student personal information for any non-school purpose. It also prevents companies from using a student’s personal data for marking or solicitation.

The bill unanimously passed the Oregon Senate. However, corporate lobbyists are trying to kill the bill. SB 187A is headed to the Oregon House floor and lawmakers need to hear from you. Leadership will conduct a vote count Monday morning and we need you to find and contact your State Representative. Let her or him know that SB 187A is an overdue common sense bill to protect student privacy and it has your support.

United for Kids featured in Oregon Healthiest State newsletter

Everyone - ToniaUnited for Kids is thrilled to be featured in the latest newsletter for Oregon Healthiest State!

Click here to read the full Q&A 

Oregon Healthiest State is a privately led, publicly supported partnership that engages and inspires Oregonians to create and sustain healthy environments to support healthy lifestyles. They want to make our environments healthier – at work, home, school, the doctor’s office, restaurants, grocery stores and everywhere in between.

 

Oregon Foster Youth Connection Highlighted During Foster Care Month

May is National Foster Care Month, a time to recognize and promote efforts to enhance the lives of children and youth in foster care. It’s a month set aside to renew our commitment to ensuring a bright future for the children and youth in foster care, and celebrate all those who make a meaningful difference in their lives.

Here in Oregon, more than 12,000 children and youth will spend time in the foster care system this year. That number is one of the highest percentages of youth in foster care in the entire country. The good news is that Oregon is also home to a unique advocacy group focused on improving the lives of kids in foster care.

Oregon Foster Youth Connection (OFYC), a program of Children First for Oregon, is a statewide, youth led, advocacy group of current and former foster youth between 14 – 25 years of age. OFYC trains and empowers youth to actively participate in the development of policies, programs, and practices that improve the lives of kids in foster care.

This week, OFYC was highlighted in a series of in-depth blog posts on the CFFO Blog. Check them out!

Tax credits and tough choices

It’s a familiar scene for many families across Oregon: each month you sit down at the kitchen table to pay your bills. Then, you carefully analyze your family’s budget to determine how much money is coming in and how much is leaving. You decide where to put your hard-earned resources based on what your family needs most. When you go shopping, you consider each item carefully because in this economy, every purchase matters. Do you buy the extra items to the detriment of other things or do you make sure to leave enough for this month’s daycare bill?

The Oregon Legislature faces a similar choice in the coming weeks as it determines which tax credits to keep and which ones to dump.

Included in that choice is whether or not to keep reimbursing counties for the property tax breaks they give away – to one county in particular. In 2014 alone, the state of Oregon reimbursed Washington County to the tune of $37.8 million. That money came out of the state’s general fund, which is also used to fund services for kids, seniors, and people with developmental disabilities. The full program will cost the state of Oregon $95 million dollars over the next two years, unless lawmakers act.

At the same time, lawmakers are deciding whether or not to improve several family-friendly tax credits that impact thousands of Oregonians. Representative Alissa Keny-Guyer has proposed the renewal and expansion of two tax credits, which help families with costs like childcare. Her plan would combine the two credits into one new and improved tax credit that would allow low-income families to get back even more of the taxes they pay to the state and let them put that money toward the things their families need most.

There’s also another proposal to expand the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit program specifically for families with young children. Expanding EITC would mean hundreds of dollars more per year for struggling families.

With limited funds up for grabs, the legislature must choose where to spend the general fund dollars: on tax credits that help families pay for vital services like child care or for one county’s corporate tax breaks.  If this were your family, which would you choose?

Home visiting programs empower parents and invest in our future

As a parent, the experience of holding your child in your arms for the first time is difficult to put into words. The young life you cradle seems so fragile and yet, your bond so strong. So many thoughts and feelings swirl through your head and your heart, and perhaps even a moment of panic sets in as you think to yourself: I’m not ready for this.

Parenting doesn’t always come naturally and it certainly doesn’t come with an instruction manual. For some, parenting can be confusing and overwhelming. For others, they may lack the financial resources, family stability, or skills to build positive, nurturing relationships with their young children.

Those circumstances can sometime lead to the neglect and abuse of a child. Preventing abuse before it happens is critical. Some of the most important brain development happens in the first year of life, when abuse rates are at their highest. And Oregon’s abuse rate is only 2% lower than it was in 2003, despite a 25% reduction nationwide over the same period.

Home visiting programs can make a big difference. That’s why advocates are asking Oregon lawmakers to invest an additional $10 million in Healthy Families Oregon, Oregon’s statewide family support and coaching program. Currently only 15% of low-income children are served by the program. An additional investment would allow the home visiting professionals to train and support more parents and serve many more children.

“Voluntary home visiting programs such as Healthy Families Oregon reduce child abuse and neglect, prepare kids for school, and increase the positive connections between parent and young child,” says Martha Brooks, the Oregon State Director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids and ReadyNation.

Home visiting programs support families with children from birth to age three by helping them access resources, set goals, and develop skills they need to raise children who are on track developmentally and emotionally. Families who participate are visited regularly by trained home visitors who bring tools and activities, track progress, provide support and practice skills with families.

“The programs help increase family self-sufficiency, lower health care costs and prevent child abuse and neglect. They also lead to reduction in crime and domestic violence,” says Marina Merrill, Senior Research and Policy Advisor at Children’s Institute. In fact, home visiting has been shown to save at least $2 in future spending for every $1 invested in the programs.

“Decades of research on home visiting programs show that these programs work,” adds Merrill. “The services focus on the critical first few years of a child’s life.”

That may not be an instruction manual for struggling parents, but it’s a pretty good start.

Less hunger, more learning for Oregon’s kids

With the stroke of Governor Kate Brown’s pen on April 9, 2015, advocates like Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon attained a major legislative victory for children in Oregon: increased access to a nutritious lunch for 30,000 Oregon students.

Connecting more Oregon kids to a healthy lunch is the foundation for improving students’ academic success. Studies show that nourishing food fuels a child’s ability to pay attention in class and learn. Simply put, less hunger means more learning.

“Anything we can do to help those kids succeed, will help our collective bottom line, in the form of higher graduation rates, a more educated population, and less of an opportunity gap,” said Kasandra Griffin, Policy Manager for Food and School Health at Upstream Public Health. “The hungry kids of today can become the innovators, job-creators, and legislators of tomorrow, if they have a chance.”

The passage of House Bill 5017 – the state’s K-12 funding bill – eliminates the school lunch co-pay for Oregon’s students who qualify for reduced-price school lunches. Previously, families had to find a way to come up with the cost of the co-pay for the meal. The legislation was championed by State Representative Margaret Doherty.

For an average family with two kids, the lunch co-pay often added up to $17 per month. And while that amount may seem small to some, for many working families it required diligent budgeting and tough choices. As the month wore on, participation in the program dropped, showing the burden the co-pay placed on families struggling to afford the essentials.

“Charging low-income children for lunch is a burden on families and schools, said Annie Kirschner, Program Director for Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon. “I’ve heard from parents who make unbelievable sacrifices to pay the lunch bill and school staff who agonize over holding back healthy meals from students they know need it.”

The co-pay elimination was featured in the 2015 Children’s Agenda and was also supported by Healthy Kids Learn Better, ImpactNW, Oregon Food Bank, Oregon Pediatric Society, Oregon School Nurses Association, Sable House, Upstream Public Health, and YWCA of Greater Portland.

Oregon Foster Youth Connection bills pass the Oregon House by wide margins

Two bills aiming to increase independence and opportunity for Oregon’s foster youth passed the Oregon House of Representatives today in overwhelming fashion.

Members of Oregon Foster Youth Connection (OFYC) created House Bill 2889, which will allow the creation of savings accounts for Oregon foster youth. The accounts would provide an additional tool for foster youth to achieve financial independence by saving their own money for future educational opportunities and other vital living expenses.

OFYC members also created House Bill 2890, which will provide opportunities for youth in foster care to participate in at least one extracurricular activity. Extracurricular activities provide critical, formative experiences which help youth develop physically, intellectually, socially and emotionally.

“Like all of our legislative proposals, these ideas came directly from current and former foster youth,” says Lisa McMahon, OFYC Program Director. Both bills were featured in the 2015 Children’s Agenda.

Lawmakers applauded members of Oregon Foster Youth Connection for their efforts to pass the legislation, including sharing their personal testimony. “It takes guts to tell those stories,” said State Representative Carla Piluso, who carried HB 2889 on the floor of the House of Representatives.

The bills were also supported by groups like NAYA Family Center, New Avenues for Youth, and Oregon CASA Network. HB 2889 passed by a bipartisan vote of 57-2, while HB 2890 passed unanimously on a 59-0 vote. The bills now head to the Oregon Senate.

Normal behavior, abnormal punishment

New legislation aims to keep our youngest kids in school and reduce racial disparities in punishment

Your phone rings and a familiar number appears on your caller ID: your child’s school. Your heart drops. The voice on the other end assures you that everything is okay, but your child has been disrupting class.

For kids age 12 years and younger, the decisions that are made next will have a major impact on the rest of their lives. Expulsion and suspension can mean the loss of vital early instruction time including basic reading and math skills, which form the foundation for learning. Failure to gain reading proficiency by the 4th grade increases the likelihood that a student will drop out in the future.

“Young students are particularly vulnerable,” says Mark McKechnie, the Executive Director of Youth, Rights, & Justice, a nonprofit law firm which represents children and youth in the foster care and juvenile justice system. “They need to be in structured, supervised settings where they are protected from harm and receive guidance from skilled and caring adults.”

Yet, in 2011, Oregon schools suspended or expelled students at a rate six times higher per capita than the New York City school system. Over 8,000 Oregon elementary school (K-5) students were suspended or expelled during the 2013-14 school year, the vast majority for disruptive behavior or other minor infractions – behavior that is often considered developmentally normal.

Even more disturbing, are the racial disparities in punishment, especially for Oregon’s African-American and Native American students. African-American kindergarteners in Oregon were 3.51 times more likely to be suspended than their Caucasian peers during the 2012-13 school year. Students with disabilities and low-income students are also more likely to be excluded.

That’s why McKechnie and organizations like the Northwest Health Foundation and the Oregon Alliance for Education Equity are urging the passage of Senate Bill 553-A this session in the Oregon Legislature. The bill will prevent schools from excluding K-5 students for minor infractions or developmentally normal behavior. The legislation does allow schools to suspend or expel students under 12 years old for truly dangerous or harmful behavior. Additionally, schools still retain many alternatives to suspension and expulsion, including in-school suspension or after-school detention.

“Many schools have recognized that exclusion is a high-cost, low-reward strategy,” says McKechnie. “Schools that find ways to keep students in school safely ultimately benefit in the end, and so do our communities.”

The bill passed the Oregon Senate in a bipartisan vote of 27-3 and now heads to the other chamber. If approved in the Oregon House and signed by the Governor, parents in Oregon can be confident that their children will receive greater opportunities for educational success.

Legislature’s K-12 funding bill a step in the right direction for Oregon schools

If you have a child in Oregon’s public K-12 system, it’s not news that the last few years have been challenging for our schools. Facing the worst national economic crisis since the Great Depression, many schools were forced to respond by laying off teachers and staff, increasing class sizes, shortening school days, and cutting extracurricular activities.

In the face of these challenges, we witnessed teachers, administrators, support staff, school boards, and advocates work incredibly hard to minimize the impact on our kids. Their daily commitment kept us on the right path as the economy rebounded and state revenue improved.

Now, they have a little more help.

On Tuesday, March 31 the Oregon House approved House Bill 5017, which provides $7.255 billion in state funding for K-12 education in Oregon for the 2015-17 biennium. (For an in-depth data analysis of school funding, make sure to check out the blog post “How much is $7 billion?” on the CFFO Kids Count Center.)

Included in the funding are important investments in pro-kid programs like expansion of the free lunch program and, for the first time in Oregon’s history, funding for all day kindergarten. Passage of the funding package this early in the legislative session sets a minimum baseline of funding so that administrators and school boards know how much money they have to work with as they budget for the next school year.

The total amount of K-12 funding is $600 million more than the previous 2013-2015 K-12 education budget, however, the increase still doesn’t keep up with demand. The average funding per student is considerably lower than it was 25 years ago — meaning that schools have to do more with less.

So it’s a step in the right direction. But is it enough?

Many education advocates, including Children First for Oregon, hope that additional funding will become available after the May revenue forecast. Beyond that, it’s crucial that lawmakers look for new revenue sources so that Oregon’s kids aren’t pitted against other important vital programs for seniors, children, the developmentally disabled, higher education, and public safety.

A second chance at a paycheck

Update: Ban the Box legislation, HB 3025, passed the Oregon Senate on June 11 and the Oregon House on June 16. It now heads to Governor Brown’s desk for final signature!

Many Oregon parents define themselves by the myriad of roles they play in their children’s lives: caretakers, educators, medics, transportation specialists, counselors, and so many more…

But when some Oregon parents try to provide for their children by applying for a job, they are defined only by a box they are required to check on a job application: convicted criminal. It is an incredibly dehumanizing experience and one that is often encountered by some mothers and fathers in Oregon.Time to Ban the Box

The “box” is a spot on many employment and housing applications in Oregon that asks whether the applicant has been convicted of a crime or been incarcerated. This hurdle makes it difficult to find work and housing even as the economy is improving. Research affirms that a criminal record reduces the likelihood of a job callback by nearly 50%.

“Families are put at greater risk of poverty when parents who have records are unable to find work because of institutional barriers,” says Andrea Paluso, the Executive Director of Family Forward Oregon. “Here in Oregon, more than 75 percent of Oregon’s female prisoners are mothers and, as of 2012, there were 7,520 parents in prison in our state.”

And it hits some families harder than others. Nearly 11% of those under Department of Corrections supervision in Oregon are African American, while the state as whole is only 2%, creating greater barriers to employment and housing stability for this population and their families.

This session, Oregon lawmakers have a chance to reduce barriers and create an opportunity for job applicants. On Wednesday, March 25th the Oregon House Business and Labor Committee will hear testimony on House Bill 3025, Ban the Box legislation.

HB 3025 gives Oregonians who’ve served their time a second chance at earning a paycheck. The bill makes it illegal for employers to use job application forms to ask about criminal history or disqualify an applicant from employment because of a prior conviction unless the conviction is job-related. The legislation is incredibly important to the economic stability of Oregon’s children and families and is featured in the 2015 Children’s Agenda.

If you agree it is time to “ban the box” and un-stack the deck so everyone has an opportunity to succeed, join advocates in Salem on Wednesday, March 25th at 8 a.m. for the hearing on House Bill 3025. Click here to RSVP!

New report shows Oregon children face significant barriers to success, but solutions exist

Today, our friends at Children First for Oregon announced the release our 2015 Progress Report, an annual data-driven analysis on the well-being of kids in Oregon. You can view the full report here and you can explore the data here.

The report shows that Oregon’s children continue to face significant barriers to success. Despite slight improvements in some areas, progress for kids is largely stalled.

But Oregon has a long history of a pioneer spirit – both in people and public policies. We are trail blazers. And now is the time to be pioneers again. To unite on behalf of kids and make meaningful long-term change. That’s why the report includes concrete policy solutions currently under consideration, like a higher minimum wage, more early childhood education, and expansion of the home visiting program. 

These solutions come directly from policy experts at organizations and coalitions like The Urban League of Portland, Children’s Institute, Center for Intercultural Organizing, ReadyNation, Family Forward Oregon, and many more.

To make true progress we need to work together as advocates and Oregonians, hold lawmakers accountable, and build power for our kids. By highlighting the problem and uniting around these solutions with the urgency and determination shown by so many great pioneers before us, we can and we will make Oregon the best place to be a kid.

If you believe kids should a top public policy priority, join us today!

Savings accounts for foster youth seek to encourage independence, responsibility

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of posts to highlight policies and organizations that appear in the 2015 Children’s Agenda. If you believe that kids should be a top public policy priority in Oregon, join United for Kids today.

As a young person trying to save money for life’s big moments a piggy bank can only get you so far. Your first car, college textbooks, or your first security deposit on an apartment requires more than just loose change obtained from the cushions of a couch.

That’s even truer if you are one of the over 12,000 youth currently in the foster care system in Oregon, many of whom face limitations to saving and spending their own money.  Such limitations can present additional challenges to those youth as they enter the next phase of their lives.

That’s why Oregon Foster Youth Connection (OFYC) has introduced House Bill 2889 in the Oregon State Legislature, to create savings accounts for Oregon foster youth. The accounts would provide an additional tool for foster youth to achieve financial independence by saving their own money for future purchases. The bill received its first committee hearing in the Oregon House on Monday, March 16, 2015.

“Like all of our legislative proposals, this idea came directly from current and former foster youth. They identified this as an important tool for them to be able to become financially independent as they transitioned out of foster care,” says Lisa McMahon, OFYC Program Director.

OFYC’s legislative efforts were the focus of a February 2015 article in The Oregonian.

“Financial literacy and stability is much easier to achieve if you start learning at a younger age,” says McMahon. She notes that the accounts would help foster youth learn responsible money management and budgeting before age 18, a skill that is crucial to successful transition into independence.

The legislation has no fiscal impact – meaning that it would come at no added expense to taxpayers. The legislation is featured in the 2015 Children’s Agenda and is also supported by NAYA Family Center, New Avenues for Youth, and Oregon CASA Network.

Media Roundup: the 2015 Children’s Agenda Release

More than 60 organizations join to push children’s policy agenda in Oregon Legislature

By Amy Wang
The Oregonian
February 26, 2015

“Tonia Hunt, executive director of Children First for Oregon, said Wednesday that the United for Kids movement and the 2015 Children’s Agenda are a natural pairing. “We know that it takes the engagement of Oregonians … to make sure that policy makers enact policies that improve the well-being of kids,” Hunt said.”

Click here to read the full article.

What will it take to make Oregon the best place to be a kid?

By Tonia Hunt
Blue Oregon
February 24, 2015

“With the release of the 2015 Children’s Agenda, our elected officials get to see, in one place, the bills that address ALL of the areas that make kids educated, healthy, safe and economically secure, not just one or two. Legislators can learn which groups are supporting an issue and then can ask those groups directly about it. It is a resource—a platform for children’s advocates.”

Click here to read the full article.

 Child hunger continues despite Obama’s pledge (OPINION)

By David Sarasohn
The Oregonian

February 28, 2015

“Last week, Children First for Oregon led an alliance of more than 60 advocacy groups in presenting the state with a Children’s Agenda of policies that Oregon might follow if it considered kids important. One of its priorities is a specific bill before the Legislature to let students qualifying for reduced-price school lunch to eat free, dropping the 40-cent fee. It would also end the schools’ burden of collecting the 40 cents.” – David Sarasohn

Click here to read the full article.

2015 Children’s Agenda highlights next steps for Oregon Legislators

More than 60 pro-child advocacy organizations and coalitions have come together to produce the 2015 Children’s Agenda, compiling the best thinking on children and family issues to be addressed in the current legislative session. The Agenda promotes public policy changes and shared investments that benefit the health, safety, economic stability, and education of our children.

Advocates for children in Oregon challenge our legislators to ensure real progress is made for kids during the 2015 Legislative Session. The Children’s Agenda is a roadmap showing our state’s policy makers exactly what is needed in policy improvements and strategic investments. Caring about kids is easy – we want our legislators to translate their care into progress for kids!

Participating organizations in the 2015 Children’s Agenda share the goal of improving the well-being of children and families in our state. Children First for Oregon is honored to support and serve the community of child and family advocates in Oregon as a convener and coordinator of the Children’s Agenda.

It is time to close the gap between public concern for kids and meaningful support of pro-child policies and investments in our state. Together, we can – and we will – make Oregon a great place to be a kid.

Download your copy of the 2015 Children’s Agenda here.

Welcome to United for Kids

Until now, the broad public support for children’s well-being has been too diffuse to have the impact it should on the state’s policymaking priorities. Consequently, better organized interest groups with much less public will behind them have been able to divert policymakers’ attention away from fixing the issues undermining children’s health, safety, economic security and education. By connecting the many diverse organizations and people that are pro-child to one another and enabling their collective action, United for Kids can tip the policymaking scales in children’s favor, where the vast majority of Oregonians want it to be.

Oregonians have stepped forward with one goal – to make Oregon the best place to be a kid. With a united voice, we speak for Oregon’s future and for Oregon’s kids.

Joining United for Kids indicates you believe children should be a top priority in Oregon’s public policy decisions. United for Kids connects organizations and individuals who are committed to a better future for our children and leverages our shared commitment for real change for Oregon’s kids. We hope you will join us today in making that change.