On this episode of The Early Link Podcast, host Rafael Otto speaks with Jenifer Wagley and Chris Coughlin from Our Children Oregon about their advocacy work, and what the data is telling us about children and families in Oregon and across the country.
Jenifer Wagley is the CEO and Executive Director of Our Children Oregon, an advocacy and research organization committed to improving child well-being statewide so all children and youth can achieve their full potential. The organization was born under her leadership after she successfully led the merger of two historic Oregon organizations, Children First for Oregon and The Children’s Trust Fund of Oregon. Jenifer brings more than 15 years of deep experience in community development, grass-roots power building, and organizational leadership. She was a 2018 recipient of the national Local Initiative Support Corporation Rubinger Fellowship. Jenifer spent her fellowship year working to build bridges across a divided nation. Her time spent writing, researching, traveling the country, and presenting and engaging diverse audiences eventually led her to Oregon. Jenifer is driven by her passion to create a more equitable, healthy, and loving society.
Chris Coughlin has extensive policy, advocacy, communications, coalition management, and outreach experience. She has worked with communities, non-profits, political campaigns, and businesses, as staff, consultant, and volunteer on a wide range of issues for more than 30 years. Chris has focused much of her work in non-profit management having served as Executive Director of several non-profits. Chris has worked on policy issues impacting children and families including child welfare, health care, education funding, and tax and revenue issues.
Jennifer provides an overview of Our Children Oregon and describes the organizations “whole-child philosophy.” Next, Jennifer and Chris describe the state trends in child well-being found in the KIDS COUNT Data Book and share what story the 32 years of data is telling us about how Oregon’s children are doing. They also describe what the data tells us about the impacts of COVID on children and families and discuss the benefits of the new Child Tax Credit. Finally, Jennifer and Chris look ahead to the next 30 years of data collection and share what changes they hope to see for children nationally and in Oregon.
Rafael Otto: [00:00:00] This is the Early Link Podcast. I’m Rafael Otto. As usual, you can catch us on the airwaves on 99.1 FM in Portland on Sundays at 4:30 PM or subscribe and listen wherever you find your podcasts. Today, I’m speaking with Jenifer Wagley and Chris Coughlin from Our Children Oregon. Jenifer is the executive director and Chris is the policy advocacy and engagement director. Both have extensive experience working on advocacy and policy in the nonprofit sector on issues relevant to children and families. We’re going to get into that and talk about some of those things today and take a look at the data picture. What’s happening for children and families in Oregon and across the country.
Jenifer and Chris, great to have you here today.
Jenifer, I thought maybe you could start. Could you provide an overview of Our Children Oregon and the role of your organization and advocating for children in the state?
Jenifer Wagley: [00:00:51] Yeah, thank you. Our Children Oregon is the only whole child children’s advocacy organization in the state of Oregon. And what that means is that we are intersectional and that we bring together well over a hundred partner organizations throughout the state to develop a shared agenda for all of the children in Oregon.
And then we put that together in the children’s agenda and advocate for that so that children and youth across the state have representatives in us and in the capital.
Rafael Otto: [00:01:24] Can you say a little bit more about your whole-child philosophy and how that shapes your work?
Jenifer Wagley: [00:01:29] Yeah. A lot of organizations focus on particular concerns and opportunities that children need. And for us, the approach is really to be intersectional. Children don’t live in sectors and when I’m talking to, you know, regular people, it’s like, you know, you don’t live in the education sector, you don’t live in the healthcare sector.
I mean it takes a lot of things for a child to thrive. Whole-child is really just representing that it takes everybody leaning in together, all sectors, to have healthy thriving children. So our work is to bring those organizations and the communities together so that we have a comprehensive, whole look at what it takes for children and youth to reach their full potential.
Rafael Otto: [00:02:07] Can you say a little bit about that? Maybe Chris, if you want to chime in too about how you manage that in terms of developing a policy agenda with so many organizations at the table and so many issue areas for you, how do you make that? How do you make that happen?
Chris Coughlin: [00:02:21] Well, it’s a lot of work and our partnerships are really important. So we have a steering committee of nine members, who are those subject matter experts in those different areas whether it be housing or early childhood or broader education, wellbeing, healthcare, and others. So that we have people at the table and the steering committee helping look through the different policies that are potentially moving forward and really thinking through what’s going to have the biggest impact on children’s lives and how do we also think a lot about what needs and extra booth. Because there are a lot of good ideas out there and there are a lot of ways money can be spent. But we really want to think about targeted universalism of thinking about which policies and investments can make the biggest impact for those children and families who are furthest from the universal finish line. And that is something that we always keep in mind. And so look at data, we think about what are those targeted investments that can be made. Then we look to our partners for both what they’re working on, what are best practices from other parts of the country and obviously the political landscape is also a consideration as we’re moving things forward.
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