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Report: Families with Young Children Need More Support

PHOTO: Life is not so idyllic for half of Oregon children ages 8 and younger, who live in low-income households. A new Annie E. Casey Foundation report says states should do more to help young families attain economic stability. Photo credit: iStockphoto.com
PHOTO: Life is not so idyllic for half of Oregon children ages 8 and younger, who live in low-income households. A new Annie E. Casey Foundation report says states should do more to help young families attain economic stability. Photo credit: iStockphoto.com
November 4, 2013

PORTLAND, Ore. - By helping families with young children, you help the children all the way into adulthood. That's the finding of an Annie E. Casey Foundation report about the effects of poverty on a child's first eight years of life.

In Oregon, it said, about half the children in that age group are growing up in low-income households. some won't be prepared to take advantage of the big transformation plans for Oregon's education system, according to Robin Doussard with the Children's Institute in Portland. She said the research is clear.

"At 8 years of age, that child is in third grade. And if they're not on grade level for reading and other competencies, that child has enormously greater risk of never completing school and not having great outcomes with his or her life," Doussard said.

The report made a case for coordinating nonprofit and state-funded programs and services to ensure that parents can afford child care and that kids have high-quality early-learning opportunities. It also said states could make it easier to sign up for food and housing assistance and job training.

Government-funded programs have their critics, who say young parents could work harder or rely on other family members for help. However, Martha Calhoon, communications manager with Children First for Oregon, said the sheer number of low-income kids indicates the need for a different approach.

"This report means that Oregon can't afford to look at this issue as an individual person's or an individual family's problem," said Calhoon. "This is an Oregon problem with statewide implications, so we have a shared responsibility and a shared interest in acting to reduce these numbers."

Her group advocates for programs such as Employment-Related Day Care, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Earned Income Tax Credit - all of which help stretch a scarce budget, Calhoon pointed out.

Society ends up seeing most of the benefits when families are supported, the report found. Kids are good students and then productive workers. It confirms what Oregon's children's advocates have been saying for quite a while, says Doussard.

"If you really help children and families at the beginning of their lives, before a lot of bad things set in and there's no reversing the course, then that child, that family, this state will be much better off - and that return on investment will pay off many times over."

"The First Eight Years" report is available at www.aecf.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR