For Vulnerable Families, Support is a Community Effort
By Judy Newman, ShelterCare Board Member, Co-director Early Childhood CARES
Last month, I participated in a panel discussion at the Eugene Public Library hosted by Family Forward Oregon. The panel met following the screening of a documentary, “The Raising of America,” which highlighted the childcare crisis in the U.S.
While the film was national in scope, it brought to light many of the issues we face here in our own community. It also helped emphasize the importance that community support plays in helping families with children thrive.
So, what does “support” mean exactly?
To answer that question, let me first point to the research: Children need parental involvement and help in order to be successful in school. Some examples include ensuring their young students arrive at school on time and providing a place and support to complete homework. They need adult guardians to show an interest in what they are doing at school and who set up clear ground rules and structure to support social and academic success. This may be as simple as setting dinner and bedtime routines and knowing the whereabouts of their children.
Furthermore, the importance of children having their basic needs met cannot be overstated.
Examples of basic needs “ingredients” are not difficult to define: Kids need a clean, safe and consistent place to sleep. Kids need an adequate amount of healthy food. In other words, kids need a safe, comfortable and consistent living space. As we start a new educational year, these needs become even more time sensitive and relevant.
Using perspective gained as co-director at Early Childhood CARES — which provides early intervention and early childhood special education — and as a longtime ShelterCare board member, I can attest to the fact that far too many children in our community lack these ingredients.
For example, did you know during the 2013-14 scholastic year that more than 1,600 homeless students attended public school in the three school districts in Eugene and Springfield? Despite this seemingly dire situation, recent events give us reason to be hopeful:
- The Oregon Legislature this year wrapped up what I consider to be an unprecedented level of support for early childhood services and programs, including key investments in quality childcare, pre-schools and home visiting programs.
- This past April, Senator Jeff Merkley announced a $2 million public-private partnership that will support youth development and school readiness for Lane County children entering kindergarten. The goal of the program — dubbed the “Social Innovation Fund” — is to ensure children entering kindergarten are prepared for kindergarten both socially and academically by providing an evidence-based “Kids in Transition to School” (KITS) program to every incoming kindergartener and their parents the summer before starting school and eight weeks into the fall.
- Continued community collaboration — such as the partnership that exists between ShelterCare and Early Childhood CARES – strengthens the ability of our community to support vulnerable children and parents in Lane County.
What are some examples of actions you can take right now to help support our community’s youngest and most vulnerable members?
Some solutions, such as giving to charitable organizations that work with these families, are obvious. ShelterCare is one such organization that works hard for families in need. Additionally, the Social Innovation Fund announced in April — which United Way manages — is seeking a total of $1 million in additional matching funds each year to support the effort.
Also, be aware of school supply drives that give direct support to families, and support quality after-school programs that provide stability and safety for families.
Finally, get to know your neighbors. Many are families with kids that can use a helping hand or even a sympathetic ear. Sometimes, these families simply need to know they are not alone, and we are all in this together.