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Nonprofit partners of county staff recognized for efforts in supporting children, families

PHOTO COURTESY OF CLACKAMAS COUNTY - Blue and silver pinwheels planted in the circle between the county's public and development services buildings at its Red Soils campus signify each of the 534 cases of child abuse and neglect seen in Clackamas County in 2019. Clackamas County is honoring April as National Child Abuse Prevention month by recognizing the efforts of staff from the county and nonprofit partners whose work helps keep children safe from neglect, psycological trauma, physical harm and sexual abuse, all of which impact their well-being long term.

Experts told county commissioners on Thursday, April 15, that instances of child abuse continue to climb in Clackamas County in recent years. In 2019, there 534 cases of child abuse and neglect, 80% of which included threat of physical harm and 73% including some form of neglect. This past week, the county planted 534 blue and silver pinwheels in various locations throughout the county as a reminder of each of those cases. Pinwheels can be seen at libraries in Canby, Estacada and Sandy, as well as between the county's public and development services buildings at its Red Soils campus in Oregon City and at Molalla Elementary.

Dr. Adam Freer, director of Clackamas County's children, family and community connections division, and Chelsea Hamilton, the county's parenting and early learning systems coordinator, also informed the Board of County Commissioners that while data for 2020 is limited, the number of cases of child abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic decreased. But experts believe this is because many children haven't been exposed to mandatory reporters such as teachers and daycare workers, and, in fact, instances of abuse have likely increased because due to a variety of stressors the pandemic has placed on many families.

That means the work of county staff and their partners at organizations like the Children's Center of Clackamas County, Northwest Family Services, Clackamas Women's Services and others is more critical than ever, and the pandemic has forced these institutions to shift much of their work to digital platforms.

"All of our partners have been working with school districts to provide online parenting classes, support groups and play groups throughout this last year," Hamilton said. "This is stuff where parents can get online, talk to professionals about what's going on with their kid and also still have some time to interact with their child. We also have resource navigators who are doing sort of virtual home visits and helping parents figure out all the resources that are out there in Clackamas County because it can be super confusing."

Hamilton said that it has been a lot harder to reach a higher volume of families through virtual technology, and it's natural that many people don't love looking at a computer screen for hours on end, but many of the rollouts of virtual technology in Clackamas County have been fairly smooth transitions. They hope to return to more in-person interactions as the vaccine is more widely distributed in the coming months.

"None of these services have stopped. Our nonprofit partners are finding super creative ways to alter programming to do things in this way," Hamilton said. "Parenting is an important and challenging job. No matter who you are, all parents need support. And we know that this last year more than ever we saw that every parent is struggling. Being able to reach out and get support for your family is something we want everybody in Clackamas County to know how to do."

Hamilton said she believes the board's symbolic effort in having the county recognize April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month and the planting of the pinwheels helps refocus the conversation around Clackamas County's efforts to protect kids from harm.

For organizations like Children's Center, recognition of their work is welcome, but really an afterthought to the awareness it helps bring to the issue of supporting local children and families as they navigate these trying times.

According to Pamela White, development and communications director at Children's Center, the organization saw 704 children referred to them over the past year and completed 374 individual assessments, which are still mostly in person despite the pandemic. While that is a little lower than previous years, White said, it's not as low as they might have expected. COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into the fundraising streams of all Clackamas County nonprofits, especially those who would have benefitted from the Children's Safety Levy that failed on last November's ballot.

While government contract services are the bulk of the funds that flow through organizations such as Children's Center, they still depend on fundraising to help make up the gaps in services and provide staffing at levels that allow them to serve more families.

According to White, Children's Center expects to receive approximately $100,000 less in funding this coming fiscal year, a challenge they're trying to find creative solutions to overcome.

One of those solutions is to pair awareness events with fundraising efforts. Starting in the next couple of weeks, Children's Center representatives will be travelling to farmers markets across Clackamas County, where they'll offer families the chance to learn about all the different resources and programs they offer, as well as raffling off a new tailgate trailer that was donated to them.

"We'll be out talking about prevention and showing off our tailgate trailer to attract attention and get the opportunity to talk to people about how they can participate in preventing child abuse," White said.

Confirmed dates for Children's Center information booths include Saturday, May 1, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Canby Farmers Market; Saturday, May 15, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Happy Valley Farmers Market; Friday, May 21, 3-7 p.m. at the Sandy Farmers Market; Thursday, May 27, 3-7 p.m. at the Molalla Farmers Market; Saturday, May 29, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Estacada Farmers Market.

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