ONTARIO – As local officials work to address childhood poverty in the county, agencies are looking at better ways to coordinate to ensure those struggling to get the home services they need.
The Malheur Education Service District used a grant from the Ford Family Foundation to hire a home visiting coordinator to bring together any agency that visits clients in their homes, from the county’s health department to the state Department of Human Resources.
Tammie Dockter, the new coordinator, said that while public agencies might have shared objectives to help those most in need in communities, their workers often work independently.
Meanwhile, Malheur County’s rate of child poverty as measured by the state – 36% – has been the worst in Oregon for more than a decade. Some 2,300 children in the county don’t have what Americans consider the basics – livable housing, sufficient food and a meaningful education.
The goal of home visiting coordination, Dockter said, is to rein in the splintered efforts to relieve child poverty through making those that work within the agencies aware of the what the other can provide needy families.
“We are trying to break down barriers and not be in competition and just be more supportive of each other even though each agency has its requirements,” she said.
With the program in its infancy, Dockter said she is working on building relationships with different agencies within the county. For example, she said she is working with the Malheur County Health Department as it rolls out Family Connect.
That is a state initiative that is free and open to any family with a newborn baby that will offer at-home visits, according to the Oregon Health Authority. During the visit, the mother’s physical and mental health are checked. The home visiting nurse can then refer the mother to community services, including primary care doctors, mental health services, child care and housing services.
Dockter said one objective is to let the community know about the services, too. There is a push, she said, to reduce the stigma around home visits. She said often, when someone’s neighbor sees a county vehicle in front of someone’s home, they might wonder if the child next door is safe.
“We’re not there to look at how clean someone’s home is,” she said. “We’re here to help. We’re trying to make referrals, identify needs, and make the parents’ lives easier in an already stressful world.”
One idea being considered is to include representatives from different agencies in the county’s next National Night Out. Such annual events encourage people to engage with first responders, law enforcement and other community leaders for the purpose of reducing crime and violence.