The numbers tell part of the story: 1,281 Washington County children were the victims of abuse or neglect in 2011, up from 957 in 2008. Yet the number of children in foster care declined by 100 from 854 in 2008 to 754 in 2011.

How can fewer children be in foster care when the incidence of child abuse and neglect is increasing?

The answer to that question is another part of the story. In Washington County a group of partners, including the Department of Human Services, Commission on Children and Families, Judicial Department, Mental Health Department, Juvenile Department and several nonprofits are helping struggling families safely keep children in their homes.

The vast majority of those 1,281 children were not victims of abuse, but rather victims of neglect or threatened with harm. Often that neglect or threat is rooted in poverty, addiction or domestic violence. There is hope for these families, and much is being done to help them heal and become capable of nurturing their children. When that’s not possible, the partners focus on placing children with extended family or adoption. These options are preferable because research shows that children raised in foster care are more likely than others to spend time in prison, become homeless and suffer emotional distress.

Several local programs help keep children out of foster care, including:

  • The Wraparound Project, headed by the county Mental Health Department, brings together everyone working with the child and family to address inter-related issues facing the children, including the child’s emotional needs, behavioral issues, family stresses and parenting skills.

  • Family Finding, offered through a partnership with Catholic Community Services, uses a national model to identify extended family members who can help provide support for the child and who might be willing to take the child into their homes.
  • But these and other effective programs are not the whole story, either. To complete this story — and give it a happy ending — we must do more to prevent child abuse and neglect.

    Its important to note that many government agencies and community groups are in the trenches of prevention. Some of the agencies and a sampling of their services include:

  • Community Action provides pre-natal care for at-risk women and early childhood education programs and parenting classes.

  • Healthy Start/Healthy Families makes home visits to at-risk first-time parents.

  • Domestic Violence Resource Center assists victims in separating from abusive partners and protecting their children.
  • The three agencies benefited from a 10K and 5K run/walk and kids dash staged by the Washington County partners on Saturday at Cook Park in Tigard.

    As a community, it is not enough to leave the work to government and nonprofits. We must take action. Even if you have just a few hours to give, volunteers are needed to mentor youths and parents, advocate for foster children, sort donations and take on many other tasks. Please go and find out how you can help protect vulnerable children and support all families.

    Let’s write a story with a happy ending for our children.

    Martha Brooks serves as a convener of the Washington County Foster Kids Forward partnership and state director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.

    Contract Publishing

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