Roth: Oregon's foster community needs our help
Spring was a hard season for many parents — balancing COVID-19, homeschooling and work was an incredibly difficult task. As a parent, I felt the highs and lows of the pandemic like many of you. Yet, there is another heavy concern on my heart that I'm afraid many may not realize — Oregon's most at-risk kids in foster care may be in more trouble than ever.
As a teacher and an advocate, I know that mandatory reporters (e.g. teachers, counselors, doctors and coaches) are critical for keeping an eye on vulnerable children. These individuals are responsible for ensuring children in foster care are safe and speaking up when something feels wrong. Yet as COVID-19 disrupted school and other community services, there were minimal opportunities to keep a protective eye over these children. This begs the question: what might we not be seeing, preventing and reporting? In fact, Oregon's Child Welfare Hotline has already reported a significant reduction in calls simply because these mandatory reporters don't have contact with children in the same ways they did before.?
Parents are under increasing amounts of stress right now and for families who were struggling before the world shut down, it is compounded even further. Studies show that 42% of the kids who enter foster care in Oregon have experienced neglect, typically coupled with abuse or violence. Kids who are witnessing trauma or neglect can be impacted for years by what they've seen or experienced.?As heartbreaking as the situation is right now, what does it mean for the future? When Oregon opens back up, there is a real possibility for a surge of children going into foster care. This is an especially troubling thought, as Oregon's rate of children in foster care is already higher than the national average.?
Community support around foster families is critical.?When a child enters care, the family may have mere minutes or hours to prepare for their arrival, and many children arrive?with only the clothes on their back. If they do arrive with a bag, the contents can be unsafe or of questionable quality. Nearly every time, foster parents must run out to purchase all of the basic necessities out of pocket, as state stipends do not arrive until the end of the month. While that money is effectual, it doesn't help with the up-front costs and rarely covers all the expenses incurred.?
Over the years, it has become clear that the foster community needs help beyond just tangible goods. As a foster parent myself, I can personally attest to the many hardships, demands and nuances involved. Loving the little ones who come into my home is the easy part — juggling the doctor, lawyer, caseworker and parent visits while balancing the demands of my own family and work is the real challenge. This community, more than ever, needs Oregon's help.
There are a variety of ways to support these children. First, learn more about the various organizations in Oregon that support kids in foster care — see if any of the mission statements resonate with you. Secondly, go purchase items that are needed in foster homes, such as gift cards or clothing, and donate them to organizations like With Love or Every Child. As Oregon starts to open, volunteer your time to help support these nonprofits. There are so many ways to help. Find the right fit for you. Lastly, there is a huge need for quality foster families in our state. If this is something you have thought about before, now would be a great time to learn more about becoming a foster parent — we need more families willing to lean in and provide a safe place for children in need.
Allie Roth is the founder and president of Portland-based nonprofit organization With Love Oregon. With Love's mission is to help foster families change the lives of children ages 0-6 by providing resources that nurture, dignity, hope and community.
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