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How to help children and families during back to school

As children across Southern Oregon begin the new school year, it is a reminder that we all have a responsibility to support the health and well-being of the children and families in our communities. When we come together to support children and families and make sure that they are safe and that their basic needs are met, we help them grow and reach their human potential.

Educators, who are mandatory reporters of child abuse, have a unique opportunity to get to know the children and families they see daily. They are there to share and experience a child’s victories, strengths, and challenges as they learn, grow and interact with friends at school.

As mandatory reporters, when educators have a reason to believe a child is experiencing abuse, they are required by law to report that concern to the Oregon Child Abuse Hotline by calling 1-855-503-SAFE (7233).

But what should an educator, or other caring adult, do when they see a child and family who is in need or crisis, but do not believe that a child is being abused? Many families in Oregon are still struggling to meet their basic needs, because of the impacts of COVID-19 and the rising costs of food and housing. These are families that need help getting connected to the resources available in the community, instead of being reported to the Oregon Child Abuse Hotline.

Our data tell us that many people turn to the Oregon Child Abuse Hotline when they want to help and support a child and their family but are not sure how.

This year approximately 42,000, about 45%, of all calls to the Oregon Child Abuse Hotline were not reports of suspected abuse.

These are calls from educators and other members of our community who recognize that a child and their family might need assistance because they are experiencing poverty, hunger, housing instability, job loss, mental or physical health issues or other stressful situations.

Often these calls come to us because the callers are not sure where to turn for support.

There are many resources and supports available in our communities to help children and families meet their needs. Sometimes, the best way to support child and family well-being and safety is to help them get connected to the resources they need:

Supports in your community

  • Dial 211, or text your zip code to 898-211 to get connected to local food, housing, child care and other supports in your community.
  • The Family Nurturing Center offers programs and services to increase family strengths and well-being: Call 1-541-779-5242 or visit FamilyNurturingCenter.org.
  • ACCESS provides food, energy and housing support in Southern Oregon: Call 1-541-779-6691 or visit AccessHelps.org.
  • United Community Action Network provides housing, utility, food, health, child care and other supports: Visit UCANcap.org.
  • The Maslow Project supports children and families experiencing homelessness: Call 1-541-608-6868 or visit MaslowProject.com.

Mental and behavioral health

  • Dial or text 988: The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24/7 for people experiencing a behavioral health crisis to call, text or chat online at 988lifeline.org.
  • Youthline: Call 1-877-968-8491, text teen2teen to 839863, chat at www.oregonyouthline.org

LinesForLife.org/get-help-now/

  • Oregon Behavioral Health Support Line: Call 1-800-923-4357 (24/7)
  • Military Helpline: Call 1-888-457-4838 (24/7) or text MIL1 to 839863 (Monday through Friday, 2-6 p.m.)
  • Alcohol & Drug Helpline: Call 1-800-923-4357 (24/7) or text RecoveryNow to 839863 (Monday-Friday, 2 - 6 p.m.)
  • Resources to help educators provide mental health and social for support children and families are available at https://www.oregon.gov/ode/students-and-family/equity/SchoolSafety/Pages/Mental-Health-Students-Families-Guidance.aspx.

Food support

  • Find a food local pantry by visiting foodfinder.oregonfoodbank.org.

Government programs

  • Learn about government programs and community resources for older adults and people with disabilities by contacting the Aging and Disability Resource Connection of Oregon at 1-855-673-2372 or www.adrcoforegon.org.
  • Apply for government food, cash, child care assistance and the Oregon Health Plan online at ONE.Oregon.gov or by calling 1-800-699-9075.
  • Visit the Oregon Department of Human Services COVID-19 help center: https://www.oregon.gov/dhs/Pages/COVID-19.aspx

Of course, when an educator or other caring adult suspects a child is experiencing abuse that person should, and may be required by law, to report that concern to the Oregon Child Abuse Hotline by calling 1-855-503-SAFE (7233).

We all want children and families in Oregon to be healthy, safe and happy. Child abuse is preventable when communities come together to support children and families, and there are many organizations, nonprofits, and people who can help support families and prevent a family’s crisis from becoming a child’s safety issue.

Rebecca Jones Gaston is the director of the Child Welfare Division of the Oregon Department of Human Services. The Child Welfare Division is committed to support the safety, health and well-being of children and families in Oregon. Learn more about their work at oregon.gov/dhs/children