Oregon ranks 29th in the nation for child well-being according to new report

About 1.7 million more children live in low-income families today than during the Great Recession, according to the newly released 2015 KIDS COUNT Data Book from the Annie. E. Casey Foundation. The total number of children in low-income families across America is now 18.7 million, or around one out of every four children. Nearly a third of children are living in families where no parent has full-time employment. And even when parents are working full time, wages and benefits are often not sufficient to adequately support a family.

In Oregon, which the report ranks as 29th in the nation for overall child well-being, the data shows that families continue to struggle to get by and face narrowing opportunities for success in the future. Despite a slight improvement in child poverty since 2012, child poverty remains more than 20% higher than before the onset of the Great Recession. Moreover, Oregon families face some of the highest housing costs as a percentage of income and more than one-third of children lived in a family in which no parent had full-time, year-round employment. In addition to families’ economic hardship, Oregon students were less likely to attend preschool, read proficiently by the fourth grade, or graduate high school on-time than their peers in the majority of other states.

“Without a change in the trajectory of the economic lives of our families and the educational success of our students, Oregon’s prosperity is at risk,” said Tonia Hunt, executive director of Children First for Oregon. “This legislative session we’ve made significant strides in these areas by ensuring a fair shot for all workers and making significant investments in quality preschool for our lowest income students. However, the size of the gap between where we are and where we as a state want to be requires even more concerted efforts and further investments in the coming years.”

Oregon’s lagging rankings in the areas of economic security and education stand in contrast to the progress the state has made in the area of health insurance coverage. Since the expansion of Oregon’s Healthy Kids insurance program in 2009, the state has cut its rate of uninsured children nearly in half – the largest reduction in the country over that time period.

“When Oregon lawmakers act on behalf of kids, we can make significant progress,” said Hunt. “And when voters speak, lawmakers will act. We need to speak loud and clear so that every child has the opportunity to succeed.”

The 2015 Data Book is available at www.aecf.org.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation’s children by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. For more information, visit www.aecf.org. KIDS COUNT® is a registered trademark of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Children First for Oregon, founded in 1991, is a nonpartisan child advocacy organization, committed to improving the lives of Oregon’s vulnerable children and families. Its mission is to make long-term, systemic change by advocating for policies and programs that keep children healthy and safe, and strengthen families.

2015 Progress Report Details Challenges – and Solutions – for Oregon’s Kids

CFFO Progress Report cover
Today, Children First for Oregon announces 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.

Child abuse and neglect in Oregon has declined by only 2% since 2003 – despite falling by 25% nationwide.

A child in Oregon has a 1 in 5 chance of being poor – even if one of her parents works.

Our child poverty rate has increased 10% since the Great Recession ended – and 25% since it began.

Those numbers are daunting, 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.

We can enact a $15 minimum wage. We can increase investments in home visiting for at risk parents. We can expand early education. If such solutions are adopted, lawmakers would immediately put thousands of children on the path towards a more prosperous future.

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.

Join us if you believe, as we do, that kids should be a top public priority. Visit www.ORUnitedforKids.org/Join and sign up for Oregon’s pro-child movement today.

The 2013 legislative session is over. How did children and families fare?

The 2013 legislative session drew to a close this afternoon, wrapping up an intense budget negotiation defined by gridlock over revenue and PERS reform.

By failing to reach a compromise on revenue increases, legislators were unable to strengthen the strained human services budget, impacting programs for low-income children and their families. Although the final budget allowed for small reinvestments in child care, low-income assistance, and child welfare, several vital programs will remain underfunded in the coming year. As a result, thousands of families who need assistance will not be able to access services.

Here’s a summary of how our policy priorities fared this session:

Keeping Kids Safe:

The Foster Youth Bill of Rights passed with unanimous support. We are thrilled to have received such strong support from lawmakers for Oregon’s most vulnerable children. This bill will ensure youth know their rights while in foster care and will finally provide them with a safe way to report violations by establishing a foster care ombudsman in the Governor’s Advocacy office. This is also a big win for the members of the Oregon Foster Youth Connection, who are enjoying their fourth consecutive legislative victory. For updates on the work of OFYC to engage foster youth in child welfare policy, follow them on Facebook.

Although legislators did not fully restore child welfare prevention programs to their pre-recession service levels, the final budget allows for modest increases, including 113 new child welfare caseworkers. This will bring staffing levels from 67% of the minimum standard to 75%. While there is still room to grow, this is a much-needed first step. More staff will reduce caseloads on individual caseworkers, allowing them to perform more critical home visits and implement the Differential Response model, which connects families to the community resources they need to keep children safely at home.

Strengthening Families:

While lawmakers increased Employment Related Day Care (ERDC) by 500 families (up to 9,000 total), the program will remain capped well below the estimated need. Research released by Oregon State University last month shows that child care in some Oregon counties now averages twice the cost of college tuition. This cost places a significant burden on low-income working families trying to get a new start or struggling to get by in these difficult times. We urged lawmakers throughout this session to fully fund ERDC so that all 12,000 eligible families have the opportunity to work and provide their kids with safe child care arrangements. Learn more about how ERDC supports families, businesses, and the economy here.

In a big win for children experiencing poverty, lawmakers maintained, rather than reduced, the 60-month lifetime limit for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and invested additional funds in its job-training program. While this does not fully fund TANF, the added investment will allow the agency to serve more of its most vulnerable clients.

The budget maintains the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) at the current level (6% of the federal credit). Because EITC has proven itself to be the most effective approach to keeping working families out of poverty, we had hoped to see it expanded to the federal limit of 18%, so families could achieve greater financial security by keeping more of what they earn.

Senator Jackie Winters summed up the need for these investments best, saying “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had jobs where individuals could have their self-worth and dignity to take care of their own families? In the absence of that, we still need to have certainty that children and families are taken care of….”

We couldn’t agree more, which is why we will continue to advocate each session for budgets and programs that safeguard children and families through periods of hardship.
Thank you to all of you who participated in our action opportunities this session and wrote your legislators in support of ERDC and the Foster Youth Bill of Rights. We couldn’t do this work without you.