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

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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.

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Oregon Foster Youth Connection Achieves Another Legislative Victory!

Two bills aiming to increase independence and opportunity for Oregon’s foster youth received final approval today in the Oregon Legislature and now head to Governor Kate Brown’s desk for her signature. Both bills passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, thanks in-part to the efforts of Senators Sara Gelser and Michael Dembrow, and Representatives Alissa Keny-Guyer, Duane Stark, Jodi Hack, Carla Piluso and more!

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 will 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 and were also supported by NAYA Family Center, New Avenues for Youth, and Oregon CASA Network and others.

CFFO featured in Oregon Healthiest State newsletter

Children First for Oregon is thrilled to be featured in the latest newsletter for Oregon Healthiest State!

Click here to read the full Q&A Everyone - Tonia

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.

 

 

Building on past legislative success, Oregon Foster Youth Connection continues to thrive

Note: This is our fourth and final entry in a week long series of articles highlighting the Oregon Foster Youth Connection and foster youth in Oregon, in celebration of National Foster Care Month.

Oregon Foster Youth Connection (OFYC) does a lot of great things for foster youth. Since 2008, the youth-led group has trained and developed hundreds of young leaders, collected and donated nearly 1,000 duffle bags for foster youth who frequently move, and provided training at conferences and events nationwide.

If that wasn’t enough, they’ve also racked up a string of victories in the Oregon Legislature, a process typically navigated by seasoned lobbyists and political insiders. Through the years, OFYC has created or testified on numerous legislative concepts, several of which became Oregon law.

The creation of the foster youth tuition waiver for Oregon’s colleges and universities originated with OFYC and was successfully passed during the 2011 session. That bill increases access to higher education for Oregon’s foster youth.

OFYC was also responsible for the creation and passage of 2013’s Foster Children’s Bill of Rights, which requires the state to inform foster youth of their rights and created a hotline and ombudsman position. That position works to ensure that foster children and youth rights are protected.

The 2015 session has been no different. With the help of legislative champions like Senator Sara Gelser, Representatives Carla Piluso, Duane Stark, Alissa Keny-Guyer, and many more, OFYC is already enjoying legislative success this time around.

OFYC’s two bills this session – one creating savings accounts for foster youth and another to encourage extracurricular activities – have already passed the Oregon House in a landslide, 58-1 and 59-0, respectively. This week they passed out of a Senate committee and should be headed to the floor for a full vote. Should they pass, they will head to Governor Kate Brown’s desk for a final signature and officially become law.

With their legislative success, volunteerism, and leadership development, OFYC has sent a message to the approximately 12,000 children and youth who experience the Oregon foster system each year: you have a voice in your state, your community, and your own lives.

And when foster youth gather together as one, that voice is heard loud and clear.

Stability, trust, and friendships: a conversation with an Oregon Foster Youth Connection leader

Akasha is 18 years old and she has been in the foster care system for 13 years. She is a Chapter Lead in the OFYC Lane County Chapter and has been involved in OFYC for the past year. We sat down to talk to her about foster care, OFYC, and using her civic voice.

Q: What activities are you involved in within OFYC?

A: I’m one of three chapter leads in the Lane County chapter, which means I help organize and lead the chapter meetings. In addition to that, I participate in panels for potential foster parents and I was a part of a work group to update rules around foster care after the passage of federal legislation. I also participated in the 2015 OFYC Advocacy Convening at the State Capitol in Salem in February.

Q: What do you like about participating in OFYC?

A: My favorite part is that I’m able to help other foster youth create a better experience in the foster care system. That’s important.

Q: Tell me more about the OFYC Advocacy Convening.

Akasha and other OFYC members meeting with Representative Carla Piluso at the 2015 OFYC Advocacy Convening.

Akasha and other OFYC members meeting with Representative Carla Piluso at the 2015 OFYC Advocacy Convening.

A: I had a really fun time! It was a two day event in Salem attended by fellow OFYC members and a variety of advocates and supporters. I was able to meet new friends and talk to people about similar situations in our chapters and in our lives. Because all of us there are either foster youth or we support the system, we all know how the system works. It was really helpful to know there is so much support from my fellow foster youth and advocates. And it was really inspiring to be around so many people who want to improve the foster care system.

Q: What was it like to go to the capitol and talk to lawmakers about the foster care system?

A: We were broken up into several teams and we prepared our speeches. We got training on how to adequately express the issues we wanted to discuss and then our teams visited with different lawmakers. My most memorable meeting was with Representative Carla Piluso. She is very supportive of our foster youth bills and she really wants to help in any way she can to improve the foster system. She was a big reason why the day was so memorable.

Q: You also recently participated in a group that met to discuss how to implement new federal rules for the foster care system. What was that experience like?

A: It was another positive experience of being a member of OFYC. It was also a lot of paperwork! I got to sit at a table alongside judges, caseworkers, policy makers, and advocates. As a youth inside of the foster care system, you don’t often get to see what happens “behind the scenes” – let alone have a voice in crafting policy and rules. So this was a great experience because I got to learn more about the rules and policies firsthand and we had the opportunity to share our own opinions and experiences to ensure that our voices were included in the process.

Q: How has OFYC helped you in other areas of your life?

A: It has already helped me improve my communication skills, teamwork, leadership, and my organizational skills. It has encouraged me to raise my hand and participate in class more often. It has given me a reasonable and appropriate voice when speaking with my foster parents so that I can have productive conversations with them, especially if an issue arises. When you learn the skills to speak and handle things appropriately, it’s a huge plus. I know it’s going to help me in the future with things like job interviews and at work.

Q: What would you say to encourage other foster youth to join OFYC?

A: It can make a big difference in your life. Foster youth don’t have a lot of connections or friends because they have to move a lot. OFYC brings stability and trust and helps us develop peer relationships and friendships. There are also a lot of adult supporters to talk to that you can trust.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: I am stepping down from DHS care in July, but OFYC will still be a big part of my life and I plan to remain a member. Even when people age out of OFYC, a lot of people continue to volunteer and help. Once you’re involved, you want to stay involved.

About 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.