Opinion: The leadership that Oregon children need now

Kali Thorne Ladd and Whitney Grubbs

Thorne Ladd is Chief Executive Officer of the Children’s Institute and co-founder of KairosPDX. Grubbs is Executive Director of Foundations for a Better Oregon and a former policy adviser to Governor John Kitzhaber. Both authors live in Portland.

With childcare, school buildings, and college campuses all open, the back-to-school season could look similar to what it was before COVID-19. Even so, most young Oregonians are still grappling with the aftermath of some extraordinarily difficult years. Helping them move forward is an urgent challenge and critical to our state’s future — and yet we heard surprisingly little about children during this year’s historic governor’s race.

Since March 2020, the pandemic has disrupted learning, prolonged social isolation and left far too many children grieving the loss of loved ones. Wildfires and floods have left families without shelter and basic services. Painful episodes of racially charged hatred and violence are shattering our youth’s sense of security and belonging. Those living in economically troubled communities are under even greater pressure. Without bold and visionary leadership in the governor’s office, the impact on children and our state could be acute and long-lasting.

The data confirms what most Oregon families already know. The past two years have significantly disrupted learning for all children, whether it be building social skills in early childhood or learning to read and solve math problems at school. Oregon is also facing a mental health epidemic, with 16% of children experiencing anxiety or depression, a five percentage point increase since 2016. Many parents struggle with similar stressors. Because of longstanding injustices and failings in Oregon’s education system, these repercussions have been particularly hard on children of color, children in rural areas, and children whose families are struggling with economic insecurity.

Also Read :  Adding counselors won't solve mental health crisis (opinion)

The troubling statistics reflect a deeply human toll on young Oregonians. According to the neuroscience of child development, disruptive experiences will map to a child’s brain as either trauma or resilience. But whether this generation grows into adulthood and experiences enduring trauma or builds resilience isn’t down to fate — it’s a choice we will make as a state, with lifelong implications for the success and well-being of our children. We will either accept unfinished learning, tragic mental illness, and generational trauma as a foregone conclusion, or we will change course now to help each child heal and grow into resilient and thriving members of the community. What we do today to provide for our children will determine the kind of Oregon we will have for decades to come.

Also Read :  Scientists receive $8.297 NIH grant to continue funding a Center for Lupus Research

At this pivotal moment, our next governor must do everything in her power to ensure Oregon’s education system provides the conditions every child needs to learn, regardless of identity, zip code, or circumstance. We know that children learn best when they feel safe, seen, heard and loved. They learn best when we nurture their physical, mental, social, and emotional well-being early in life. And they learn best when we value their unique strengths, respond to their individual needs and respect their identity, culture and sense of place.

It will take a bold vision and plan to actually fulfill these conditions for every Oregon child. We need a governor who will listen to the voices of youth and communities who have been denied access to quality education and services for generations. We need a governor who invests all education funds fairly and works with families, carers and educators on the front lines. We need a governor who will build the modern infrastructure and diverse workforce needed to deliver on big promises. And we need a governor who holds high expectations that match the brilliance of our children, using meaningful data and accountability strategies that help schools, providers and state agencies improve and do the right thing for all children.

Also Read :  Sen. Kaine visits MARMC, talks with servicemembers about mental health

Unfortunately, we’ve heard little about how the gubernatorial candidates plan to face the situation. How will they take us beyond polarized debates to develop a shared vision for children?

Across the state, we see families, educators, preschool and childcare providers, and community-based programs working tirelessly to help children regain their feet and accelerate their learning. To help them succeed, Oregon’s next governor — whoever voters ultimately choose — must become the leader and partner kids need right now. It is both their constitutionally mandated responsibility and their moral imperative.

After all, the future of our state will depend on it. Reinvigorating the way we raise and care for children will ultimately set Oregon on the path to more connected and vibrant communities, a stronger society and economy, and a fairer democracy. As young Oregonians face an uncertain future with courage, our next governor should show the same courage as he fights for their future.

share your opinion

Submit your 500-600 word essay on a hot topic or a topic of particular importance to the Pacific Northwest, Oregon, and the Portland region to [email protected] Please provide your email and phone number for verification.

Source link