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Florence children at risk is focus of county commission

Posted: Friday, May 30th, 2008

Bob Teter, executive director of Florence Boys and Girls Club; Sally Wantz, human resourcees director for Three Rivers Casino; and Kim Kenta of Oregon Pacific Bank, all board members of QCCF, are participating in efforts to address the lack of child care options.

Siuslaw school district had highest number of homeless students in the state last year.

The Lane County Commission on Children and Families (CCF) held its monthly meeting at the Florence Events Center Wednesday, May 28.

The CCF acts as an advisory group to the Board of County Commissioners on issues regarding children, youth and families and works directly with the Department of Children and Families to pinpoint areas of need and ways to implement and fund those areas.

The CCF is made up of 21 volunteer members appointed by the board of commissioners and represents a cross-section of the Lane County population.

First on the Wednesday evening agenda was Kathleen Margerum of the Florence Area Coordinating Council (FACC).

Margerum spoke of the positive impact the first-time parents home visitation program, Healthy Start, and the early childhood intervention program, EC Cares, has had in the Florence area.

Margerum said that since WIC only offers services in the area once a month, the FACC has spearheaded an effort to get baby formula to those in need.

With formula averaging $27 a can, Margerum says that the formula need has become a working-class issue.

“These programs have been very beneficial to us,” said Farah Huff, a local mother who grew up in Florence and moved back to the area last September.

When Huff needed help finding formula, Margerum and the FACC helped, along with putting her in contact with a play group.

“Whenever we need help, Kathleen has been available,” said Huff.

Another topic of concern for the FACC is the lack of child care in the Florence area.

Margerum said that local parents have been forced to find whatever child care is available, regardless of credentials or references.

“Infants are being put at risk,” said Margerum.

Next on the agenda was Jeff Geiger, homeless youth liaison for Lane ESD.

Geiger presented a slide show on the McKinney-Vento Act, a federal law signed by President Reagan in 1987 that states that “all children are entitled to an equal education, regardless of their living situation.”

Under the law, each school district must appoint a McKinney-Vento liaison, provide transportation to a homeless student’s school as well as set aside funding to assist homeless students.

According to Geiger, any number of factors could qualify a student as homeless.

“You don’t have to be on the street or living in a car to be considered homeless,” said Geiger.

A student lacking a fixed, regular or adequate nighttime residence is defined as homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act.

Geiger said that according to the 2007 Governor’s Report, the Siuslaw School District had the highest number of identified homeless students in the 2006-2007 school year.

Karen Marchini, the Siuslaw School District McKinney-Vento liaison, reported that 95 Siuslaw students were identified last year as homeless, with the highest numbers at the elementary school level.

The final presentation of the evening was by Quality Child Care of Florence (QCCF).

QCCF President Sally Wantz said that the group was formed last fall in an effort to address what she describes as a “community-wide problem: the lack of safe and affordable child care.”

“You look up child care in the Florence local pages and you’ll find two: one in Reedsport and one in Veneta,” said Wantz.

Bob Teter, director of the Boys & Girls Club and a board member of QCCF, said that a lack of quality child care in the area is major problem for younger families.

“The jobs are out there,” said Teter. “there’s just no place to put the kids.”

“The lack of child care in the community is an immense challenge for employers,” said Becky Gotay, store manager of Safeway.

Gotay said that the employee turnover at the local Safeway is “incredible.”

“Lack of child care is usually the reason cited,” said Gotay, “It is a much needed service.”

Currently, QCCF is looking to gather an updated list of child care providers in the area in addition to exploring possible sites for a facility.

“We’re taking this one step at a time,” said Wantz.

QCCF meetings are open to the public and are held on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month at 8 a.m. Those interested can call 997-7941 for more information regarding QCCF.

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