Through report, county aims to help youth and families thrive
In September the Yamhill County Department of Health and Human Services released a crucial report on child welfare. The Children, Youth and Family Well-Being Report sought to review local welfare systems and make recommendations for how those institutions can better serve the communities across Yamhill County.
In 2018, three people with "extensive public sector work experience," according to a release by the county, were contracted to do the work and formulate a report. The results revealed –among other conclusions – that there are challenges in communication within HHS, a need for more support and care options for foster families and a need for more support for children and others in foster care.
"It confirmed some of the concerns that community leaders, families, advocates and others have stated over the years," Silas Halloran-Steiner, Yamhill County HHS director, said. "I think it gives us an opportunity to do some immediate, short-term action steps and look at longer term solutions."
Halloran-Steiner said the report's most promising conclusion was the acknowledgement of local initiatives that are taking place around the county – particularly in Newberg. He pointed to work by the Austin Family Foundation, George Fox University, Providence, Lutheran Community Services and the Community Wellness Collective, among others.
Where these efforts to help youth in need are at their strongest, Halloran-Steiner said, is at local schools.
"Some of the major initiatives come within the local school systems," he said. "There is a lot that has gone on in the last couple years in the Newberg School District in particular to address mental health and provide assistance to students in need. That has been encouraging."
Newberg High School has a resource room – which provides supplies for students in need – and a recently unveiled "wellness wing" to address mental health. Halloran-Steiner praised the school's efforts directly and said he'd like to see the trend go countywide.
The HHS report had four primary recommendations for how the county should change its child and family welfare system. Those bulleted recommendations included, "Explore a Community-Based Approach with a focus on prevention; Strengthen coordination between DHS and Yamhill County Health and Human Services; Improve school and parent engagement; Focus on interventions with early childhood and at-risk youth, as well as improving foster care experience when placed out of home," the report stated.
Halloran-Steiner said there are already steps being taken to address some of those issues, including the establishment of a foster parent recruitment and retention specialist, which he said the state is "seeing as a need across the state." This person will work regionally and get people interested, trained and supported in foster care.
Assisting in early childhood development is also an important piece of the county's role in assisting families in need.
"We need to work together to impact health from an early childhood development standpoint," Halloran-Steiner said. "The more that everyone in the community can acknowledge the importance of a child's development, the better things will be for people in a variety of situations.
"The more that we can reduce traumatic events in a child's life and improve resilience, the more we can avoid those bad outcomes. That is all connected to the children who enter the child welfare system."
Halloran-Steiner noted that he thinks coordination between public and private entities can improve with regard to child welfare. He added that efforts are underway to improve those lines of communication and local schools have a role to play in that process – namely in situations like NHS's mental health initiative, which brought together a variety of institutions to collaborate.
"I think it's important to find a community response to the challenges we're facing in the child welfare system and not just blaming the system itself," Halloran-Steiner said. "There are system challenges that exist and we need to look at it from a community perspective."
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