An Ecosystem of Care and Community with Adriane Blackman

An Ecosystem of Care and Community with Adriane Blackman


In this episode of the Early Link Podcast, the Children’s Institute communications team records a longform story by CI Guest Contributor, Adriane Blackman. Blackman’s story, “An Ecosystem of Care and Community,” delves into the transformation of early childhood education in Yoncalla, Oregon, documenting the impact of CI’s Early Works initiative in partnership with incredible folks from across the community.

Through collaborative efforts and a commitment to responsive teaching, integrated health care access, and enhanced family engagement, the town of Yoncalla has created a holistic approach to education that prioritizes social-emotional learning and people-powered resilience. Supported by leaders including Brian Barry and CI’s own Erin Helgren, the gradual evolution of educational practices and environments has led to improved academic performance, fewer developmental disruptions, and a culture of empowerment among students and staff alike. As the community embraces its strengths and values, Yoncalla is planting seeds for a brighter future, cultivating an ecosystem of care and community to support the success of its children and future generations.


More about The Early Link Podcast

The Early Link Podcast highlights national, regional, and local voices working in early childhood education and the nonprofit sector. The podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Rafael Otto, Children’s Institute’s director of communications.

Listen to more episodes of the Early Link Podcast here or stream on Spotify, Stitcher, Amazon Music, TuneIn, and Apple Podcasts. 

Short and Sweet: Oregon’s 2024 Legislative Session

Short and Sweet: Oregon’s 2024 Legislative Session

As the Oregon 2024 Legislative Session ended this year, the Policy and Advocacy team at CI let out a deep breath of gratitude, relief, and excitement for the year ahead. Short sessions often prove frustrating for what can be accomplished, but this year built on the chaotic momentum of 2023’s session, clearing the path for early childhood advocates to make great strides forward.   

A room of people coming together for legislative meetings.
Early Childhood Coalition committee meetings in January 2024

The session began on February 5, but things really kicked off in January, when the Policy and Advocacy team, along with our Early Childhood Coalition partners, began gathering supporters for committee meetings. This period allows for movement building, sharing public testimonies, unpacking critical goals for legislation and learning more about what legislators themselves are hoping to accomplish in the big days ahead.  

Three women working in early childhood advocacy, including Elena and Andi from CI's Policy team.
CI’s Policy team members Elena Barreto and Andi Walsh join partners for Early Childhood Coalition committee meetings

These sessions generated support from advocates and legislators alike, culminating in a successful legislative briefing, “Raising Hope.” This meeting brought representatives from both sides of the aisle together with early childhood champions testifying from across Oregon. From medical professionals and educators to families with direct connections to the early childhood services on the table, such as Employment Related Day Care, lawmakers heard directly why each of the early childhood agenda items matters to their constituents.

Screenshot from the Raising Hope early childhood Legislative Briefing
Screenshot from the Raising Hope early childhood Legislative Briefing

Opening the event, Representative Lisa Reynolds shared that we’re arriving at “a watershed moment” for the early childhood movement as we see more and more people working together toward equitable opportunities and solutions to Oregon’s crises by centering the needs of children. 

And the next month and a half proved just that.


An advocacy action day hosted by Day Care for Oregon, working toward raising awareness around ERDC in partnership with fellow early childhood advocates.
Child Care for Oregon hosts the ERDC (Employer Related Day Care) Advocacy Day with Coalition Partners

The Employment Related Day Care (ERDC) program received enough funding to address its deficit, with $99 million allocated immediately to tackle existing caseload issues, and an additional $72 million designated in a special purpose account (SPA) to potentially reduce the waitlist next year. CHIPs & Child Care (HB 4098A) saw partial funding of $5 million out of the requested $8 million to enhance child care access near semiconductor chip manufacturing centers.

Birth to 5 Literacy received $9.4 million, with half going to culturally specific grantees and the other half to the Kindergarten Partnership Fund. Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education received $22 million to restore cuts from the 2023 session. Relief Nurseries and Nurse Family Partnership were fully funded with $2.7 million and $3.2 million respectively, under the Joint Addiction & Community Safety Response Committee budget framework.

Graphic with text unpacking 2024 short session legislative wins for early childhood advocates. the graphic has a cream background and bright teal text.
Early Childhood Coalition Wins from the 2024 Session

While we did not receive the funding requested for Healthy Families Oregon, the Early Learning Scholarship Program, or additional funding for the Child Care Infrastructure Fund, we are deeply grateful for all the progress made during this short session.  

We are so thankful for everyone who joined in this work by contacting legislators, participating in advocacy days, attending briefings, or cheering on our early childhood movement from wherever you are across Oregon. Your efforts matter! And the wins we achieved this year truly show how much advocacy, connection, and collective efforts 1) must lead the way and 2) make all the difference.

As Representative Hoa Nguyen shared to close the Raising Hope legislative briefing, “Our children are the center of everything we do, and I hope we continue that trajectory – it takes a village to raise children, and you are all a part of that village.” 

Let us continue that trajectory as we celebrate, plan, and prepare for next year’s session. 

The Oregon Early Childhood Summit

The Oregon Early Childhood Summit

“When we see children, they don’t exist in the background,  – they exist within their community and alongside their caregivers,” said Abigail Mendez, senior manager at Latino Network at the Oregon Early Childhood Summit. 


Held on Friday, March 22 at Portland State University, the event brought early childhood professionals from across the state and across sectors to collectively envision a better future for children’s social-emotional health. The event was produced by Children’s Institute and Trauma Informed Oregon.  

Mendez elaborated on why a trauma-informed approach was necessary. “For many of us, we are trying to heal what we experienced growing up and heal these wounds across society. And children are not only seeing this process, but now having more experiences where they can grow up in a healthy place because of the work we are doing” she said.  

Representatives from the medical field, rural communities, special education classes, Indigenous communities, family care practitioners, neurodivergence specialists and more gathered to have critical conversations about how the state can better serve our little ones.  

A photo of the room with representatives from across the early childhood movement


Kali Thorne Ladd, chief executive officer at Children’s Institute, opened the event with a call to action: to listen to one another and to center the strengths of children and families throughout the summit. 

Photo of Kali and Dana starting the event

The day’s sessions elevated both community and systems perspectives, shedding light on the deeply relational as well as policy-backed solutions required to keep advancing the work of trauma-informed care.

The first panel focused on providers serving communities with trauma-informed care and the formidable barriers children and families face within these communities. Many families of color and those who have recently immigrated to the United States encounter a wide range of challenges, from the continual stress caused by displacement and language barriers to the lack of culturally responsive resources available. Despite the presence of obstacles, these families are finding innovative ways to provide for their children’s future, collaborating with teachers, neighbors and coworkers to build community assets such as child care programs and centers for traditional learning.  


Photo of the Speakers from Panel 1
Panel 1 Speakers: Abigail Mendez of Latino Network, Bahia Overton of Black Parent Initiative, Ingrid Solares of Adelante Mujeres, Miko Erikson of Oregon Child Development Coalition, and Nagia Elzaidi of Salem Islamic Center

 Part of this work demands the rewriting of narratives around insufficiency and lack of access to support. For children growing up labeled with stories of struggle, sometimes even well-meaning support efforts can perpetuate ideas that these kids are less capable due to trauma they’ve experienced and the strength it takes to survive challenging obstacles. But rather than focusing on survival, it’s time to tackle the systems creating situations where families and children are forced into survival mode.  

In addition to behavioral and social emotional support for children, adults can greatly benefit from gaining social emotional tools and training.

As Miko Erikson of Oregon Child Development Coalition shared, “When adults struggle to regulate their own emotions, they are less able to help children communicate theirs.” Cross-generational healing and opportunity for learning is critical for reshaping these systems. Further solutions proposed included intentional inclusion of father figures in early childhood support systems and working to reduce the stigma around accessing mental health services. 


Photo of Panel 2 Speakers
Panel 2 Speakers: Cat Livingston of Health Share of Oregon, Jessie Eagan of Oregon Health Authority, Jon Reeves of Department of Early Learning and Care, and Kara Williams of Oregon Department of Education. 

 As the second panel unfolded, professionals from state agencies working to improve early childhood systems shared their ideas for greater trauma-informed care embedded throughout Oregon’s service system. Jon Reeves and Kara Williams discussed the critical need to continue work in banning suspension and expulsion for early childhood education, Williams adding that We believe every child’s nursing and development needs to be fostered by inclusive environments. We’re working with community partners to identify the children who can use extra help and improve outcomes for these children by having more special needs resources and mental health services made available through community implementation rather than mechanisms such as suspension and expulsion. 

With a focus on the health system, Eagan and Livingston talked about efforts to comprehensively address childhood health issues and improve access to behavioral health services, particularly for linguistically and culturally diverse communities. Eliminating health disparities will require continuous, meaningful evaluation of current medical and social emotional health systems and the firsthand accounts of underserved groups.

We know that a lot of folks find that the evidence-based practices that persist today weren’t developed with them in mind,” Eagan shared. “So, we’re trying to do work with folks who have lived experiences from their specific backgrounds and build programs around their needs and ideas.” 

Picture of panel 2 speakers

As the second panel closed, panelists delved into the need to expand the early childhood care workforce by offering scholarships, professional development opportunities, and equitable pay for those entering the field. Early care and education specialists are overworked and underpaid, and changing the system for kids will require significant improvements for service providers making this system possible.

As Kara Williams reminded the room, “[Early childhood educators and care providers] may be in the same boat and wanting to row in the same direction, but some of us are missing paddles, or there’s a hole in our boat. It’s one thing to create policy, it’s another to implement it well. And we need adequate funding and training opportunities to do so.”

Photo of a speaker from the storytelling session

The event transitioned to a period of storytelling featuring Odilon Campos and Suzie Kuerschner, early childhood leaders specializing in trauma-informed and culturally specific care for children. Each shared accounts of children who overcame significant behavioral and systemic obstacles through collaborative care offerings and strength-based approaches. 

“When we’re trying to serve kids, sometimes it’s easy to come up with endless “What-ifs?” of potential problems that could unfold,” admitted Odilon Campos. “But often the best thing for us to do is to jump in head-first and see what the child can do and learn. Our children are strong, they’re fierce. It was our job to provide a safe space for children to try. At the end of the day, we want them to build resiliency skills and to someday become adults who are well-regulated.” 

Suzie Kuerschner shared the powerful story of Tutchone, a boy whose difficulties with self-regulation nearly led to final expulsion from his community’s early education center. But thanks to the inclusion of his wider community and practices that resonated with his family’s experiences, his family and a team of educators found a way to support Tutchone where he was and offer outlets he could access when overstimulated. As a result, his behavior adapted quickly, and school became a safe place for him to grow and thrive. 

“Mapping the positive is the reciprocity of relationships across cultures. It is our love that brings people together,” Kuerschner shared in closing.  

Photo of facilitated event discussion tables at the Oregon Early Childhood Summit

The final part of the event led participants to facilitated groups for reflection on many early childhood subjects, from neurodivergence and medical care to workforce development and home visiting services. The room buzzed with ideas as tables discussed changes in policy, practices to be implemented, and hopes for social and emotional development of children across the state.   

As the day closed, participants paused for a moment of gratitude, standing united for children from every corner of the room – and state.

We look forward to the next opportunity to come together, and we want to give a huge thank you to our partners at Trauma Informed Oregon for making this special day possible.  

The Detour, Ep. 4: Talking about Belonging with Kids

The Detour, Ep. 4: Talking about Belonging with Kids


Our most recent episode is a co-production of the Oregon Humanities podcast, The Detour. The theme of this segment is belonging, and we talked with students at Fern Hill Elementary School in Forest Grove and Crestview Heights Elementary in Waldport about where they feel they belong and how to help others feel like they belong. You’ll also hear from a few adults who work at these schools about how they create a welcoming community inside and outside of the classroom.


Thank you to everyone at Fern Hill Elementary School and Crestview Heights Elementary for welcoming us into their schools. And thank you to Adam Davis, the host of The Detour, and the team Oregon Humanities for their collaboration and commitment to elevating student voices and perspectives.




More about The Early Link Podcast

The Early Link Podcast highlights national, regional, and local voices working in early childhood education and the nonprofit sector. The podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Rafael Otto, Children’s Institute’s director of communications.

Listen to more episodes of the Early Link Podcast here or stream on Spotify, Stitcher, Amazon Music, TuneIn, and Apple Podcasts. 

Inclusive Early Childhood Classrooms Support All Children

Inclusive Early Childhood Classrooms Support All Children

This image features our podcast guest Liane, who has short grey brown hair and is wearing a black and white checked shirt while sitting in front of the mic to record


This week, the CI communications team visited the Hillsboro Early Childhood Center in Hillsboro, Oregon. The goal? To meet with Liane Chappell, principal and former instructor in the Early Intervention and Early Childhood Special Education program located at the Northwest Regional Education Service District (NWRESD).  

We arrived on a bustling Tuesday morning as educators and students emerged from classrooms, the children holding star-shaped links of a guiding rope as educators gently led them to their next learning station. Handmade art covered the walls, and the evidence of Valentine’s Day crafts and treats filled the air.  

Liane greeted us warmly in the main hall, leading us back to a playfully decorated office complete with a giant Harry Potter themed Lego set, and a collection of crocheted succulents. As we settled in and set up our recording equipment, we got to know our guest. Liane Chappel has been in the early childhood field for a long time, and her passion for teaching and caring for young children came through immediately.  

This image features an instructor and two students in an Inclusive classroom at NWRESD.

Chappell shared that the center’s goal is to serve kids who have delays and disabilities, and to help them make progress in the areas where they need support.  

“We’re looking to serve every kid in an inclusive, natural environment. Natural meaning, wherever that kid would usually be, that’s where we serve them—at home, in the classroom, or even on an errand with their family,” said Chappell.  

Often, the Early Childhood Center is a family’s first exposure to special education. Chappel also explained that, not only does the center collaborate with children, but it also works with caregivers and families to help them advocate for themselves and create the best outcomes possible during the earliest years of a child’s life.

this image features a young boy and a young girl student sitting at a table for snack time in an inclusive classroom at NWRESD.

“When we’re working with parents and caregivers, we’re helping them develop as advocates for their kids,” she said. “Helping families develop the skills to advocate for their child as they go on in their special education journey is really valuable. And at the same time, the preschool teachers and child care providers we work with are getting the opportunity to learn skills that will benefit many other kids down the road.” 

A lot of people realize that the school experience for kids comprises an important part of their healthy development. But not everyone knows how early this impact starts. As we talked with Liane about what brought her to this field, she shared more about the potential in young children and the value of early intervention.  

“EI/ECSE has been an overlooked field for a long time,” Chappell said. “But research keeps showing the importance of starting at a younger age and how it can positively impact children for the rest of their lives.”  

She continues, sharing that she’s always had a passion for inclusion – because kids with learning challenges or different abilities should be part of their communities like every other kid. “I’m working to see every kid be included and get the opportunities they deserve.” 

This image features Suze from the Comms team with recording equipment in an EI/ECSE inclusive classroom at NWRESD.

After our conversation, we toured one of NWRESD’s inclusive classrooms, where children of all abilities come together to learn. Beautiful, kid-made art, stations for practicing different developmental skills, and opportunities for curiosity to flourish filled the room. 

It was snack time, and the kids made joyful comments about the crackers and veggie straws on their plates. The instructors were smiling, asking questions, and handling the variety of emotions expressed with grace. It was a happy, safe space, and our team left the center smiling – both from being around the kids and from seeing these dedicated teachers soar.

We think you’ll want to hear the rest of Liane’s story. You can find it in our latest podcast: Inclusive Early Education for All Children on Spotify, Stitcher, Soundcloud, or wherever you get your podcasts.  

As the 2024 legislative session continues, we want to emphasize the importance of Early Intervention and Early Childhood Special Education opportunities for children across Oregon. EI/ECSE services are effective at increasing school readiness, reducing K-12 special education costs, and supporting families to foster life-long success.  

In 2022-23, over 15,000 children received EI/ECSE services. This represents 2-3% of infants and toddlers and 6-7% of preschool-age children in the state. But here’s the deal: EI/ ECSE programs need a minimum of $22M during the 2024 Legislative Session to maintain the current service level (CSL) for children ages 0-5 years with disabilities. 

Tell your representatives to fund EI/ECSE – because no child should be left out of quality, accessible early childhood education opportunities.