With Gratitude to our Champions for Children

With Gratitude to our Champions for Children

It is with profound joy and gratitude that I reflect on our recent Champions for Children – 20 Years of Impact event, celebrating the past two decades of Children’s Institute’s work to make Oregon the best place to be a kid.  

Among the 550 plus champions who filled the room, including our friends who joined virtually from Central and Eastern Oregon (and a few from out-of-state!), I was in awe of the power of our collective community and it truly took my breath away.  

But building a society that honors and supports children from the moment they are born takes more than one event or any singular act. It requires a daily commitment and a choice to be better, to do better.  

It takes a concentrated effort to ensure all children have access to early literacy programs, a seamless educational experience, maternal-infant health support, and safe, nurturing child care facilities.  

Race, geography, language, and income level should never be a barrier to that. This is what justice for children means.  

The event was a testament to the movement itself, and an unwavering dedication of many people across sectors that include educators, early childhood providers, community leaders, business leaders, policymakers, and philanthropic champions–all committed to ensuring a brighter future for our children. It builds on a legacy of two decades of work and leans into the possibility of what tomorrow holds.  

Click through for event photos!





We had the honor of presenting the legendary Ron Herndon with the 2023 Alexander Award for his exemplary leadership and advocacy for our youngest learners both locally and nationally, and his civil rights leadership for Black and brown communities in Portland for more than 50 years.  

If Ronnie isn’t an inspiration, I don’t know who is. I hope we can all aspire to do what he has done, and lean into the work purposely and unwaveringly, to show up as THE BEST, true champions, for children.  

I invite you to join us in this exciting journey ahead. The impact of our collective efforts is immeasurable, and I am confident that the future holds even greater promise. 

Join us in making Oregon the best place to be a kid.

If you missed the event and want to give, you can still make a donation or volunteer to help ensure that Children’s Institute continues to impact Oregon’s young children for the next 20 years and beyond.

Putting Children First: A Call to Action for Lawmakers

Putting Children First: A Call to Action for Lawmakers

An open letter to the Ways & Means Committee

Oregon faces many crises right now, but the needs of our children should be an urgent priority in this legislative session. Investments in early childhood are among the most important investments we can make. And while Oregon has made progress in this area, we must continue to invest in and strengthen the opportunities we create for children and families across the state.

As you toured Oregon, you heard and saw the homelessness, addiction, and chronic disease experienced by too many of our neighbors. These are real challenges across our state. Oregon needs to be making far greater investments in preventing these issues from getting so bad in the first place.  This requires focusing on kids in a fundamentally different way. 

Consider these facts: 

  • One million neural connections are made per second in the first year of a child’s life.
  • The largest percentage of children in the child welfare system are children under the age of 5.
  • The foundation for physical, mental, and emotional growth and development occur in the first 6 years of life. 
  • Of 23,000 Oregon children ages 0-5 on Medicare who have incarcerated parents, only 6 percent get the social emotional services they need

For many youth and adults, the roots of homelessness, addiction, and chronic disease start in the experiences, environment, and communities children experience prenatally through their early childhood. Our most cost-effective investments focus on prevention and target the earliest years of a child’s life. As such, it was dismaying not to see children and the early childhood sector at the top of your priority list this session. 

We have a short window of time, in the life of a human, to get things right and to chart a new course for the future of Oregon. If we are serious about ending addiction, homelessness, chronic disease and delinquency, it is irresponsible and negligent for us not to invest in strategies and actions that prioritize these earliest years. 

Everywhere we travel around Oregon, communities elevate the needs of their children and the vital role the childcare sector plays in local economic development.  Improving  K-12 education is necessary but not sufficient: we need to invest in these foundational years that catalyze brain growth while also bolstering a child care industry that creates jobs, provides small business opportunities for middle-class people, and enables parents of young children to work outside the home. The US Chamber of Commerce reinforces the essential nature of child care in our economy. Lack of child care costs businesses 20 percent of lost wages for hourly employees and 150 percent of lost wages for managers. The economic impact is sizable.  

Community partners, in collaboration with the Governor and state agencies, have identified critical investments for this biennium to ensure Oregon is making headway to become the best place to be a child. Progress requires that you make investments now in Oregon’s early childhood workforce, facilities infrastructure, program stability, growth, and expansion, and early childhood mental and behavioral health.

If we don’t invest our limited dollars in our children, we will continue to set children on the wrong path from the beginning. Conversely, state investments in young children are a win for every Oregonian. The future of our state, of our society, depends on our children’s early development. And our children are depending on you. 

We urge your consideration of these priority investments in young children and their families in the 2023-25 biennium.


Kari Thorne Ladd signature

Kali Thorne Ladd


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Exploring Community and Early Learning in Eastern Oregon

Exploring Community and Early Learning in Eastern Oregon

Eastern Oregon held answers to several questions swirling in the universe of early education. It was hard not to take note and stay focused as we left our Portland urban core, and headed towards rural and frontier communities in the eastern region of the state.

The purpose of our journey was to listen and learn from one of many Oregon communities doing transformative work for young children and families, and adapting approaches that are well researched and proving successful. Connected to this is Children’s Institute’s aim to amplify, develop, strengthen, and transform the emerging early childhood system to create a socially just and equitable Oregon for all children. This is not just words on a page, but rather the pathway that led us here.

Baker Early Learning Center and Children's Institute stand together in front of a mural at the Early Learning Center

Our trip to Eastern Oregon was immersive and  led us to several early learning sites in Ontario and Baker City, including Euvalcree, Baker Early Learning Center, and Treasure Valley Relief Nursery, among others. We were also able to connect with the Ontario School District, one of our Early Learning Academy partners working on building robust early learning and care in their district. 

We saw the remarkable fortitude and dedication of a community that is creating safe spaces of belonging for children, building workforce training programs and career pathways, and diligently working toward a seamless early childhood network.

There are innumerable stories to share, and we must a shine light on the lessons we took with us. These learnings are salient and timely with a new legislative session underway, and incredible efforts to stabilize and support children and families in the near term.

Baker Early Learning Center and Children's Institute stand together in front of a mural at the Early Learning Center

Learning #1

Sometimes, policies that help our urban centers may hurt our rural partners—a truth that further substantiates that one-size-fits-all approaches don’t work. This is true for both policies and programs. As such, all policies should be evaluated for the adverse impact they have on both communities of color and rural communities, and the intersectionalities in-between.

In communities of color, we acknowledge and say this often. Many systems of structural barriers are not designed for us and as such, the programs that are developed “for us and by us,” tend to be more effective. The same is often true for rural areas. Our systems and policies are often developed by folks outside of these communities and thus, don’t reflect their lived realities. Leaders in the state must increase representation in the decision-making process and consult with our diverse communities to better ensure impact. 

Learning #2

Communities are resilient. We need to rewrite the narrative of our rural communities, one that focuses on their assets and resilience; not their trauma and deficits. A soon to be released survey from the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center on early childhood perspectives shows us that these issues are of paramount importance to Oregonians across the state, including our rural and frontier regions.

Learning #3

We don’t get out of the I-5 corridor enough! And by we, I mean those of us in the Portland metro area, Salem, and Eugene. We encountered deep gratitude and reached an awareness that such visits are not as frequent as they need to be. It goes without saying that the I-5 corridor and our urban centers are important—and—we have a duty to think about the realities that face Oregonians living beyond this. The realities that our rural and urban neighbors face parallel each other at times, but lived experience is unique. In the same way that my realities as a Black woman may mirror those of other women, but are also worlds apart.

The opportunity for transformation lies in our ability to be inclusive, which requires us to get out of areas that are most familiar. And because representation matters, it’s not sufficient to just travel. Another question we must ask ourselves is how do we—as statewide organizations—represent rural communities within our organizations and on our staff teams?

Connectedness is a core value of Children’s Institute, and I believe that the concept of “ubuntu” could play a starring role in future public policy work. The meaning of ubuntu is the idea that our humanity is bound to one another; that your success is tied up in mine, and vice versa. This concept is something that I often reflect on, particularly when I recognize the connectedness that we all share. This is what drives us to work together on behalf of all children.

My visit to Ontario and Baker City, at its core, illuminated how we make transformational change for children, families, communities and our state. The more we listen and learn from communities across Oregon, the better off we’ll be.

In community,

Passage of HB 4005 a Step Toward Freedom

Passage of HB 4005 a Step Toward Freedom

There were challenges in the child care and early learning space prior to the pandemic, but the crisis has only been magnified over the past two years. HB 4005 was designed to address this crisis, helping our communities throughout the state that need it most.


- Kali Thorne Ladd

Last week, I had the opportunity to testify to the Oregon legislature in support of House Bill 4005, which has since passed with unanimous support!

This bill, championed by the Child Care for Oregon Coalition, a group of nonprofit organizations like CI, labor unions, community advocates, parents, caregivers, and providers, is a needed response to the COVID-19 child care crisis and is an excellent step in building a comprehensive child care system in Oregon.

There were challenges in the child care and early learning space prior to the pandemic, but the crisis has only been magnified over the past two years, as has the unmitigated impact on children, families, providers, and the greater economy. HB 4005 was designed to address this crisis, helping our communities throughout the state that need it most.

Our future—our collective Oregon future—depends on decisiveness now, in order to get things right and set a foundation for our communities all across the state to thrive. Child care sustainability is integral to that. It is integral to making our communities work—not just for those with children, but for employers as well.

HB 4005 allows for a rate increase to providers caring for kids who are on a child care subsidy program. This supports the providers who are caring for some of our lowest-income children and families, and not only brings subsidy payments closer to the cost of care for providers, which helps their businesses survive, it also gives them greater incentive to serve families who have been hit by economic hardship. The bill will also increase the purchasing power of families who receive subsidies. Parents will have the choice to find the best option for their child, even if they don’t have a lot of money.

This is not only the commonsense thing to do, it is the moral thing to do.

In addition to this, HB 4005:

    • Establishes a capacity-building grant program that will recruit, train, and support new providers and help current providers expand. (There are parts of our state right now, where there is one child care provider in a 60 mile radius. This is unacceptable.)
    • Provides direct payments of $500 to child care workers to recruit and/or retain the child care workforce.
    • Supports the Department of Early Learning & Care and continued implementation of child care so that the gains that we’re making, last.

The late and great Nelson Mandela said: “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.”

This bill, House Bill 4005, is a step in the right direction toward freedom. It is a step in the right direction toward protecting the dignity and decency of all Oregonians.

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