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Dr. Seamus McCarthy and Jenn Richter: Creating a community that instills resilience and hope

All the odds are stacked against 5-year-old Katrina, a composite for the 4,979 children served by the Yamhill Coordinated Care Organization’s Early Learning Hub and partner agencies.

Katrina and her siblings live in poverty. Their young parents hold down three jobs, but still struggle to make it from paycheck to paycheck.

They live far from any extended family. But even if they were physically closer, the dysfunctional nature of that family makes it an unlikely source of support.

Dad is in recovery from alcoholism. Both Dad and Mom suffer from depression, and they lack the knowledge and guidance to respond appropriately to their children’s behavioral challenges.

Statistically, Katrina and her siblings are at high risk for becoming victims of neglect, if not abuse. That would hinder their ability to learn, lessen the likelihood of their graduation from high school and limit their prospects for success as adults.

What’s more, multiple studies have show adverse childhood experiences — including neglect and abuse — depress health and wellness outlooks for life. They greatly increase the risk for developing heart disease or cancer, for example, or of becoming a victim of violence.

But there are ways to protect families from such adverse outcomes. It involves enveloping at-risk families like Katrina’s in positive supports, critical to ensuring stressors in their lives don’t bring them low.

As simple as it may sound, a web of social connections is one of the most important supports a community can offer to prevent child abuse.

Once upon a time, parents lived in close proximity to grandparents and other relatives, and town life revolved around the church calendar. Now, parents often raise children in isolation, and church ties have greatly diminished.

While some parents have a partner or spouse to help with childcare, many have no support network they can call on, even to just provide a breather when rising stress dictates.

How do we replace those kind of connections in today’s society?

The Yamhill CCO’s Family CORE program is capable of connecting families to nine programs operated by five agencies. Referrals are based on families’ individual needs.

Head Start stages bi-monthly socialization events designed to help parents forge relationships. The Parent Café, overseen by the Yamhill CCO’s community engagement coordinator, provides another avenue for parents to build supportive connections.

Meanwhile, connection to individual support through home visits can help overwhelmed parents develop better coping skills. That helps build parental resilience, a critical foundation for strong families.

A Family Place Relief Nursery, operated by Lutheran Community Services, provides respite for high-risk families and nurturing care for their children.

The agency also manages the Safe Families program, dedicated to providing longer-term respite for families in danger their children being placed in foster care. It simultaneously wraps parents in the supports they need to learn life skills and address challenges productively.

Greater knowledge of parenting and child development dramatically improves parents’ ability to maintain realistic expectations of their children. As their understanding and skill levels increase, the likelihood of them lashing out at a child decreases.

MidValley Parenting offers parent education programs at locations all around the county to address that need. They are based on the premise that parenting is the hardest task a person will ever undertake.

These classes help parents understand their children’s behaviors and give them tools to provide guidance in positive ways.

The social emotional competence of children also plays an important role in buffering them against abuse. This process begins when the child is an infant, through secure attachment to the mother, but can be interrupted by postpartum depression.

To assist with that, A Family Place offers Mothers and Babies, a weekly program providing support for high-risk women who’ve recently given birth.

In addition, all Head Start and kindergarten teachers, most preschool teachers and many childcare providers in Yamhill County have been undergoing training in growth mindset — a concept that teaches them the value of letting children learn from their mistakes. A child who doesn’t feel a need to suppress mistakes, setbacks and frustrations, for fear of suffering repercussions, is far less likely to fall victim to child abuse.

Finally, we cannot underestimate the importance of concrete supports in times of need.

There is nothing like getting a flat tire on your way to work, when you’re already trying to decide between paying the electric bill and buying groceries, to make you feel you just can’t cope anymore. Help is needed.

Fortunately, all seven Yamhill County school districts are fielding service integration teams.

They bring providers together to provide supports to families suffering setbacks that might otherwise cause them to fall through the cracks. In addition, each has a small amount of money to address needs for which there is no other support currently in place.

We cannot afford to let families like Katrina’s live in isolation. We need to create a community that empowers families to address the challenges of life with positivity, resilience and hope.

Dr. Seamus McCarthy, president and chief executive officer of the Yamhill Community Care Organization, and Jenn Richter, the CCO’s early learning administrator, are teaming up with community partners to provide young children with the physical, mental and social enrichment to foster lifelong wellbeing. In his spare time, McCarthy enjoys hiking and historically grounded reading. Richter enjoys both reading and writing poetry.

 

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