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The following was published in the Argus Observer on December 22, 2017. 

Children in Malheur County are facing obstacles when it comes to financial stability, child welfare and future success. That information comes from annual reports from two state organizations, that aim to identify issues facing children in Oregon.

Identifying challenges

In Malheur County, children ages 0 to 17 make up 9,852 of the 30,439 population. This figure is published in an annual county data book by Children First for Oregon, a nonprofit organization which advocates for kids so all children in the state can thrive.

In short, the nonprofit publishes the data book in hopes of educating decision-makers by providing information required to create strong children’s policies in Oregon, according to a news release.

At a local level the data book is often used to help identify current challenges as well as to measure improvements, Kelly Poe, director of community based services with the Malheur Education Service District, said.

“We take a look at the data to track progress, to identify challenges and to strategize,” she said.

As of late, approximately 33.9 percent of children in Malheur County are said to be living in poverty, and while that number has improved since 2014 when it sat at 38.3 percent, it still remains a challenge, Poe said. In fact, the poverty level among children Malheur County is ranked as the second-highest in the state, per the data book.

When it comes to free and reduced lunch eligibility, 72.1 percent of children qualify and at least 24.7 percent face food insecurity — a number which translates to 1,809 youth.

For those children living in poverty, it is highly likely they will remain in poverty into adulthood, according to a progress report published by the Oregon Community Foundation earlier this month.

Per the report, in 64 percent of Oregon counties, children raised in low-income families will likely remain low-income as adults.

Child welfare

One area of concern, Poe said, are those numbers relating to local children in foster care and those who are neglected and abused.

Malheur County is ranked as the 11th highest when it comes to children who are in foster care, with 191 currently in the system.

Statistics relating to neglect and abuse in the county are ranked as the 16th highest across the state, with 162 children per 1,000.

“I look at the numbers and they sound closer to the mid- to low-pack, but I think they are terrible numbers and I am especially concerned with the number of children in foster care,” Poe said. “It breaks my heart to think of the kids during the holidays.”

Call to action

Organizers hope that by identifying the adversities children face across the state, it becomes a wake up call for those who may be unaware of the opportunity gaps in their counties, states the report. For others, it may be a confirmation of important work already underway.

“For all of us, may this report serve as a call to action: Become involved in your neighborhood and community; mentor a young person; support a youth-serving organization with your time, talent or resources; or encourage your elected leaders to enact policies that ensure all children are given the opportunity to forge their own American dream,” stated Robert Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard University, in the report.