Oregon's Children are faring worse than at any time in the last 16 years. That's according to the annual report card from Children First for Oregon, that rates the state's progress in five benchmark areas that impact children's lives: Family Financial Stability, Youth Development and Education, Health, Early Care and Education and Child Welfare. This year the data added up to an overall D.
"D is not a good grade, it's true," said Robin Christian, executive director of Children First for Oregon. "But hope is on the way."
The figures highlight problems such as: a sharp, 10 percent, rise in the rate of abuse and neglect; 12 percent of Oregon's children lack health insurance and 20 percent of babies are born to mothers who received no prenatal care.
Still, Christian said, other problems look set to improve. The state legislature already has allocated $130 million over the next two years for programs that will help children, she said, including:
• $40 million towards childcare for working parents;
• $30 million to expand Head Start, the early childhood education program;
• $28.5 million will expand the TANF program, which gives food stamps and other help to needy families;
"This will make more children, almost 100 percent, eligible for Head Start," Christian said. "And we know that when kids arrive at school ready to learn, they are more successful."
Each of the benchmarks also was rated separately. For example, for the Family Financial Stability benchmark, which looks at family poverty, unemployment, food insecurity, child care cost, housing costs and child support payments, Oregon was graded C-. For Early Care and Education, which measures the supply of child care, 3rd-grade test scores and the percentage of eligible children enrolled in pre-kindergarten programs, the state got an F. Grades for the other benchmarks were:
• Health – F;
• Child Welfare – D;
• Youth Development and Education – C+;
In several of the benchmark areas, national and some local data has shown African American and other minority children to be even worse off than their White counterparts. Dropout rates for African American, Native American and Latino high schoolers exceed those of White teens. Mortality rates for Black babies are higher and unemployment is higher in the African American community. Those are just a few of many areas where disparities have been documented.
So does this mean that the state would get an F if the report card included a separate rating for minority children?
Christian said the nonprofit doesn't have sufficient data to highlight minority children separately, but acknowledges that disparities are a problem.
"We know that race and ethnicity are one of the key indicators for children being more likely to be without health insurance," she said. "Common sense indicates that the data could tell us more about the role of these factors."
Rural and immigrant children also are affected disproportionately, Christian said.
Christian urges voters to approve Measure 50, the tobacco tax legislation that would deliver more money to child health care.
"I think that is the number one thing that Oregonians can do to make sure we get health care to the more than 100,000 kids that don't have any," she said.
Opponents of Measure 50 have argued that it unfairly penalizes smokers, who already pay higher insurance premiums. And because of the way it is written, it would amend Oregon's constitution, which opponents say is not the right way to tax any product.
But the Portland City Club last week voted to support Measure 50 because members said, the benefits to children would outweigh the problems.