“A serene childhood allows children to look with confidence toward life and tomorrow,” said Pope Francis just months after being named St. Peter’s successor. “Woe to those who stifle them in their joyful enthusiasm of hope.”
Poverty makes a childhood anything but serene. When housing is in flux, nutritious, brain-fueling food scarce and their parents’ stress palpable, not only is a child’s joy often squelched, but their future is also dimmed. Of course children can be resilient, but it’s now well-known that poverty hurts early brain and social development, resulting in lower long-term academic achievement and decreased earning potential as an adult.
Too many young Oregonians live in poverty; the state’s median family income rose in 2015, yet once adjusted for inflation it remains lower that it was prior to the recession. Meanwhile, family expenses have continued to rise.
The good news? Catholic service organizations in Oregon are affirming pro-life values by making struggling families’ financial success a priority and, by extension, giving little ones a stronger foundation. Catholic Charities has a Family Success Center, which offers classes, personalized coaching and asset-building. Catholic Community Services of Lane County provides one-on-one support to help families build a plan out of poverty and connect with resources.
The Archdiocese of Portland’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace is promoting a lengthy campaign that directly addresses the critical development period between conception and age 2. Its First 1,000 Days initiative publishes short reflections to be used on Facebook, parish bulletins and elsewhere to spread awareness about those formative years.
If you are a parent who each night has the luxury to read, cuddle and sing your child to sleep, or if you are a grandparent doting on young family members, take a moment to think about what life would be like for these young lives amid poverty. And if you feel you can, support the organizations who offer struggling young families hope.