On March 7, 2019, The Bend Bulletin published the following guest column authored by MountainStar's Executive Director, Tim Rusk:
Guest column: Oregon’s children need help
The challenges I experienced in childhood were mild compared to what some children in our community experience daily. I had stable housing, food to eat, family who cared for me and an absence of crisis and toxic stress. I am white and educated and grew up in a dense web of positive social connections. Not everyone is as lucky as I am, and the privileges I experience are a big part of my motivation to work in the early childhood field.
Today, we must remind ourselves of the circumstances many young children in Oregon face: 48 percent of victims of child abuse and neglect are children 0-5 years old, the state has resorted to sending children in foster care out of state due to capacity issues, and 22 percent of Oregon children have two or more adverse childhood experiences (per Child Trends). These numbers keep me focused on the need to do more and work harder, and so do the successes we see every day at MountainStar where young children play and grow with the attention and resources they need.
Some of the data looks grim, but we are making progress. Children First for Oregon reports child poverty has dropped from 20 percent to 17 percent. Many indicators in their annual report on child well-being have shown some improvement and we should celebrate. There are new efforts at DHS/Child Welfare led by Fariborz Pakseresht and Marilyn Jones. You can read about a compelling new vision for early childhood in “Raise Up Oregon” from Miriam Calderon and the Early Learning Council. My friends in K-12 tell a similar story of progress and commitment on behalf of Oregon children.
Some of the good news is due to conscious efforts to change systems. However, if all our collective efforts to prepare children were a bridge — a bridge to adulthood — one of the key indicators of how we are doing is our high school graduation rate. Oregon is ranked 49th in the country. So many things must go right for children to graduate high school, and Oregon needs to put more actions behind our good intentions. This is especially the case for children of color, children with profound experiences of trauma and children who don’t fit into the middle part of the bell curve for whatever reason.
Locally, we are making progress. A recent $2.3 million Baby Promise grant helps us address our child care desert. The Bend Chamber of Commerce and the city of Bend are working to increase the supply of safe, high-quality child care from an economic development perspective. The Central Oregon Health Council has invested in projects that address the negative impacts of trauma, stress and crisis on an individual health and well-being basis by promoting resiliency in our schools and our community. At the Central Oregon Early Learning Hub, we, along with many partners, are in the second phase of a project to better connect health and early learning systems. As a community, let’s celebrate the successes and keep moving forward.
In the current legislative session, there are efforts to establish better accountability metrics, increase capacity in early childhood special education and upgrade our supports for young children when they face adversity. Early childhood is where our dollars can have a huge impact. Brains are getting wired, behavior settles into patterns and our core social-emotional competencies rigidify. While every age is important, the jet fuel of early childhood gives extra meaning to what we — our state and our communities — do and don’t do.
Yes, I have worked hard to get where I am, but I have also had “the wind at my back” pushing me forward. We can help all children in Oregon on their journey to adulthood, help them reach their potential and have a rich, fulfilling life. I believe a new season is coming, and we can build a better bridge for Oregon children. Will you help?
Link to the original article: https://www.bendbulletin.com/opinion/lettertotheeditor/6981659-151/guest-column-oregons-children-need-help