Advancing Opportunity for Oregon’s Children.

The circumstances a child is born into, coupled with longstanding patterns of discrimination, largely determine the life that child can achieve.

Many children from low-income families, communities of color, and rural areas simply do not have the same possibilities – at home, in school, or in their communities – that other Oregonians do.

In 2016, the OCF board recognized that to succeed with the foundation’s mission to improve the lives of all Oregonians, OCF must address these gaps in opportunity.

The adoption of the opportunity gap lens provided both an organizing framework for much of our existing work and provided a focus for new programs and initiatives moving forward. In addition, this framework allowed us to focus and strengthen our communications and our public policy and advocacy work. The OCF board renewed its commitment to addressing the opportunity gap through the foundation’s 2019 strategic plan.  One section of this plan is focused on advancing opportunity, with a goal of increasing public and private investment in early childhood and other family supports.

The Opportunity Gap in America and Oregon

OCF’s opportunity gap journey began with sociologist Robert Putnam’s 2016 book Our Kids: The American Dream In Crisis. Through quantitative data paired with in-depth case studies of families in communities across the country, Putnam illustrated how children from low-income families receive far less opportunity than their higher-income peers, and how this gap in opportunity has increased since the 1950s.

As Putnam brought the opportunity gap to readers across the country using his sociological approach, economist Raj Chetty analyzed “big data” to investigate the impact of being born into poverty on prospects for future earnings. By analyzing decades of data from the IRS, Chetty and his team determined that children who are born poor are more likely to stay poor as adults rather than move up the income ladder—a finding that flies in the face of the defining story of America — that by working hard one can pull oneself up by the bootstraps.

In 2017, OCF published Toward a Thriving Future: Closing the Opportunity Gap for Oregon’s Kids (the 2017 installment of OCF’s Tracking Oregon’s Progress — or TOP Indicators — project). This report provided Oregon-specific opportunity gap data organized into three domains: neighborhoods and communities, family stability and supports, and education. The challenges faced by Oregon’s children mirror the national data: one in five Oregon children live in poverty and in a majority of Oregon’s counties, children who are born in poverty will most likely remain in poverty as adults. Further, children’s family structure and stability impact their chances for future success, and many Oregon children are raised in single-parent families and in families that lack financial security. And gaps in educational opportunity start early and persist, with low-income children and children of color less likely to receive quality early childhood experiences or high-quality K-12 education and enrichment experiences.

The challenges faced by Oregon’s children mirror the national data: one in five Oregon children live in poverty and in a majority of Oregon’s counties, children who are born in poverty will most likely remain in poverty as adults.

Several landmark publications focusing on solutions were produced in response to the national data illustrating the prevalence, and consequences, of the growing opportunity gap. Robert Putnam led a national cross-sector, cross-party coalition called the Saguaro Seminar that resulted in a series of white papers outlining recommendations to address the opportunity gap. Similarly, the Brookings Institute and the American Enterprise Institute produced a joint report with their recommendations. In addition, the Urban Institute, the Gates Foundation, and Harvard partnered to create the U.S. Partnership on Mobility from Poverty; this group also produced a report with recommendations for policy and programs.

There was remarkable agreement across these groups about the programs and policies that could best address the opportunity gap. The groups focused on issues relating to neighborhoods and communities; economic security; job training and availability; family and parenting; and education.

These recommendations suggest that solutions need to come from both the national and state policy levels as well as from local communities themselves. This need to focus at the local level as well as the national level informed the creation of the Community Foundation Opportunity Network (CFON). CFON is a national network of approximately 50 community foundations that are committed to supporting solutions for addressing the opportunity gap. OCF was one of the original CFON members and OCF’s Chief Community Impact Officer Sonia Worcel sits on the 8-member CFON operational leadership team. The network provides opportunities for participating foundations to learn from each other and from national experts such as Putnam, as well as access to in-depth strategy development coaching.

Visit the Oregon Community Foundation to learn more about what they do at

3 Tips for Balancing Your Family Life with Your Career

A great article to share from the Child Development Institute

It’s not always easy to stay close to your partner and kids while working full-time. Many people find themselves feeling like they have to choose between their job and their family – and often, in the end, both suffer. While there’s no foolproof way to stay on top of your career without missing out on valuable family time, there are some ways you can maintain a healthy and sustainable balance between the two. Here are three simple strategies that may work for you

  • Set boundaries between your work life and home life. Lots of people answer emails and work on projects after they’ve gone home for the night, but if you do this, you might feel as if you never left the office to begin with. While you might not always be able to clock out at five on the dot, do your best to leave your work behind when you go home. Spend your free time relaxing with your loved ones and doing things that recharge you. This change might feel awkward if you tend to be a workaholic; but remember, you won’t do yourself or your boss any favors if you burn out from working too much – so take a break.
  • Connect with your family through routines. Stay close to your partner and kids by creating daily routines that allow you to spend time together. These routines don’t have to be impractical or time-consuming – instead, look for ways to turn your regular chores and habits into bonding time. Get up twenty minutes earlier in the morning to have a cup of coffee with your partner, or start having dinner with your kids every night. Creating regular family routines can help you appreciate the ordinary aspects of life.
  • Carve out time to be together. Prioritize your family on the weekends and during your vacations by planning special activities to do together. Keep it close to home with a board game night or backyard barbecue, or take a road trip together and explore a new city. You could even designate one day a week to participate in a family event such as hiking or volunteering.  Balancing work and family is often just a matter of managing your time well and making the most of the moments you have with your loved ones. Doing this may not be easy, but it’s always rewarding. Make these strategies part of your life, and you’ll find yourself feeling closer to your family without having to give up your job.

Continue reading more great articles at the Child Development Institute|

An Article from the Ounce The Importance of Family Engagement

Here is a great article as part of a 4-part series from the Ounce.

The importance of early childhood education and its impact on a child’s life is supported by decades of research in developmental science. Here at the Ounce, rigorous research and science informs all our efforts in providing and advocating for quality early education.

In this 4-part series, we explore key areas of our research work and how our research drives improvement and innovation in the early childhood field. Recently we spoke to Mallary Swartz, director of family engagement research at the Ounce, to find out more about the subject of family engagement and how our research supports this key element of quality early education.

Family engagement during the earliest years of a child’s life is one of the most powerful predictors of a child’s development. Families are children’s first teachers and it is the quality of parent-child relationships and interactions that create the foundational skills that children need to be successful in school and in life.

Family engagement in early education is particularly important for children in low-income families in that it helps create consistency between the home and school environments. The positive outcomes of engaged parents are powerful: increased support for children’s learning at home, empowered parents, and improved family well-being. Children see benefits like improved cognitive development and academic performance, better social-emotional development, and improved health.

It is no surprise, then, that family engagement is an essential component of high-quality early childhood care and education.

Engaging families as partners early in the educational journey allows parents to establish strong home-school connections that support their children’s achievement long-term.

What do we mean by ‘family engagement’?

The definition of family engagement can vary, depending on whom you ask in early education circles. But generally, family engagement focuses on the importance of positive, interactive relationships between program staff and parents – relationships that enhance and support children’s learning.

More recently, family engagement efforts are being co-designed along with families to promote equity and parent leadership, which is in line with how we at the Ounce approach and define the concept.

At the Ounce we define family engagement as “partnering with families to build mutually respectful, goal-oriented relationships that support strong parent-child relationships, family well-being and ongoing learning and development for both parents and children.”

Our approach to family engagement involves a new way of thinking for families, staff, and program leaders. In other words, we support methods that see parents as partners, along with program staff, in creating nurturing and supportive learning environments for young children.

“Family engagement is about seeing families as an inextricable part of their child’s early childhood education and treating them as partners and experts in their child’s learning and wellbeing. Years of research show that engaging families goes far beyond raising test scores – it is about preparing children and families for success in life.”

– Mallary I. Swartz, director of family engagement research at the Ounce

Our Family Engagement Research: What do we do?

All of our research integrates science, program, and policy – it is truly applied (and applicable) research. Our team evaluates, tests, and pilots innovative family engagement strategies for both early education programs and parents.

The Ounce’s research process is unique in that it involves co-creation and co-design — including family and staff feedback– throughout our work. We do this by holding focus groups and interviews, testing prototypes with families and staff, and having parents, program leaders, and staff serve as advisors.

One innovative outcome of this work is our digital parent self-reflection tool called Growing Together. Our Ounce team is in the initial phase of developing this tool for center-based early learning settings, like Head Start/Early Head Start programs.

Growing Together aims to help parents reflect on their parenting, identify their strengths and needs, and communicate those insights with their early childhood provider. Accompanying this work will be a provider interface and training for early education providers to further support them in building quality relationships with families.

Ultimately, our research around family engagement, as with our other areas of focus, is meant to help families and program staff create a nurturing environment where young children can learn and thrive.

“Our work also empowers parents to serve as leaders in their families, schools, and communities, and ultimately, to successfully advocate for their children’s education and promote their success in school and life.”

– Mallary I. Swartz, director of family engagement research at the Ounce

Find more great articles at the Ounce –