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Oregon has a problem. It has more children in foster care than it does families to care for them. Perhaps that’s not a surprise.

From a foster family’s perspective, the job requires time and often considerable effort, and while families receive money to cover the additional expense that a foster child will add to the family budget, it’s not — and isn’t intended to be — a living wage.

From the child’s point of view — well, I just can’t imagine. Children don’t go into foster care because things are going swimmingly at home, and to find themselves suddenly away from parents and familiar surroundings must be difficult, indeed.

Every Child Oregon and its branches work with the Department of Human Services to improve the experience from both sides. Locally, Every Child Central Oregon has been in operation for only a few months, but, says Melissa Williams, the local director of the agency, it’s already making a difference. It has applied for non-profit status; at the moment would-be donors should make checks out to NeighborImpact and write “Every Child Central Oregon” in the memo line so the donation is tax deductible.

Every Child Oregon has a straightforward goal. It aims to mobilize whole communities “to provide love, care, and support for vulnerable children and families in Oregon in partnership with Oregon’s Department of Human Services.”

It’s a relatively new agency, formed in Portland in 2012. Today it serves foster parents and children in 17 counties, and in the next couple of years it will have branches statewide.

It helps foster parents in part by providing respite care, generally on a monthly basis. And, Williams says, it works to recruit would-be foster parents and other adults interested in providing respite care or temporary shelter care or who have time to act as office buddies. Office buddies, by the way, are adults who can and will drop everything to spend two or three hours entertaining children at the local DHS office while a caseworker finds a safe haven for them.

It also offers tangible care, sometimes on an emergency basis: Last week, for example, Williams was on the hunt for a birthday present to give a young person who might otherwise not get much. Too, she’s arranging for giving trees this holiday season at Subaru of Bend and Black Rock Coffee Bar on Robal Road.

A bigger part of that tangible care is this: Every Child Central Oregon wants to make certain no child leaves home for foster care with his or her possessions in a garbage bag. Nor does it want young adults who are too old for foster care to leave with only the clothes on their backs.

Volunteers can donate Welcome Boxes, gifts that go with a child when he or she leaves home that not only include personal essentials such as toothbrushes and toothpaste but things to do or eat or even wear. They’re tangible evidence to a child that someone does, indeed, care about them.

Launch boxes go to young adults leaving the system. They include a minimalist list of supplies, everything from plates to bath towels to, again, food, all of which will help a kid transition to living independently for the first time.

Oregon’s children, no matter where or how they’re being raised, are Oregon’s future. Unfortunately, for too many of them — statewide, 3,579 children in fiscal year 2018 — spend time in foster care. That must be particularly difficult this time of year.

Every Child Central Oregon cannot change that, but it can work to make the experience a bit less traumatizing. If you have time or money to give, by all means do so. If not, consider creating a Welcome Box or Launch Box. You can find out how at the Every Child Central Oregon website. Just click on the “Volunteer” tab, then scroll down to the “Tangible Needs” section. Requirements are listed there. Drop your completed box by The Bulletin at 1777 SW Chandler Ave. and I’ll see that it gets to Every Child Central Oregon before year’s end.

— Janet Stevens is an editorial writer at The Bulletin. Contact: 541-617-7821, jstevens@bendbulletin.com

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