An intended consequence: Enterprising Oregon community builds hope for children, families
Nestled against a busy commercial stretch of Interstate 5 in the Pacific Northwest, the Oregon capital of Salem is a good place to do business.
But the easy-in, easy-out convenience that benefits commerce once ushered in the wrong kind of trade – illegal drugs. In a city known for the wheeling and dealing of government, the peddling and manufacturing of methamphetamine had taken over certain neighborhoods.
Neighbors in some parts of the city felt like prisoners in their own homes. Mothers shuddered at the thought of pushing strollers down the sidewalk. Sketchy vehicles pulled up to decrepit houses and drove away just as fast. One neighbor watched in horror as a stranger left a baby on the porch of a notorious meth house before entering, presumably to make a deal, get high or both. That same neighbor also once saw the occupants of that house answer the door with guns.
Enough was enough. The community mobilized.
Neighbors, business leaders and faith leaders partnered with police, prosecutors, the court system and elected officials to mount an aggressive community-wide effort to shut down the meth trade. The “No Meth – Not in MY Neighborhood” campaign was a huge success – but an unintended consequence resulted from the wave of prosecutions. As Salem’s meth houses were shuttered and parents who were dealers and users were taken into custody, the number of children placed into foster care in Marion County went up a dramatic 50 percent, from about 800 to 1,200 children.
Residents could have left it to government – specifically, the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) – to deal with that influx of children in foster care. The department, after all, is charged with overseeing child welfare. But instead, the community put the responsibility for the welfare of its children squarely upon itself, working in full partnership with DHS.
On the heels of the community effort to beat back the scourge of meth, Salem mobilized yet again – this time to recruit foster families for the hundreds of displaced children who had been unable to stay safely with their parents and families.
Successful in that recruitment effort, the community could have congratulated itself and stopped there. Instead, it expanded its vision as it extended its hand. Salem came to understand that in order to address the long-term safety and success of vulnerable children, it couldn’t simply focus on foster care.
It had to foster hope.
In an inspiring example of an entire community coming together to improve the lives of its children, Salem has committed to a multi-faceted partnership that strengthens families and makes neighborhoods supportive places for those families. In doing so, Salem is embracing values that lead to a reduction in child abuse and neglect, which in turn safely reduces the need for foster care.
Salem has built a community of hope.