While many of our urban areas are thriving, it’s important for our state and federal officials to understand that rural communities are continuing to fall further behind.

As child advocate for Douglas C.A.R.E.S., I have seen how financial instability in Douglas County has led to heartbreaking increases of child abuse and neglect.

As Oregon’s congressional delegation considers reforming federal forest policies as a way to help our rural communities, it’s important that they focus on permanent and comprehensive solutions that rebuild our safety net over the long term, while combatting the high levels of poverty that have devastated our families and harmed our children.

Forty-eight percent of children living in Douglas County live near the poverty level, twenty-six percent live below the poverty level and 71.8 percent of public school children were eligible to receive free or reduced-priced lunches during the school year.

Our rate is twice that of the state level. Our median family income is $50,600, which is 18 percent lower than the state median. Douglas County had 480 children in foster care during 2012, which in per capita, equals urban Clackamas and Jackson counties.

Faced with high unemployment and few economic opportunities, the rates of physically and sexually abused children are reaching pandemic levels.

That’s why it’s critical that our officials find solutions that create quality jobs that help end the cycle of abuse we are seeing in many local homes.

We need our leaders to act because the future of Douglas County is at stake. Those who experience child abuse and neglect are 59 percent more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28 percent more likely to be arrested as an adult and 30 percent more likely to commit violent crime.

Abuse leads to poor physical, emotional and mental health, as well as cognitive dysfunction and high-risk behaviors.

Most longtime residents recognize that it wasn’t always this way in Douglas County. Because our communities are surrounded by abundant natural resources, there were many good, family-wage jobs available in our national forests and nearby mills.

A strong economy helped foster strong and healthy families, along with lower rates of poverty and child neglect. Then timber harvests were drastically reduced, thanks to conflicting regulations, endless environmental litigation and many broken promises by the federal government. As a result, we lost thousands of jobs along with several sawmills and other businesses that were tied to our forests.

Our local leaders have worked tirelessly to keep our communities together and sustain vital services during these challenging times. Though we have had some success in diversifying our economy, we have yet to replace the jobs and business activity that timber-based industries once offered.

Though we will never return to past harvest levels, it’s important for our elected officials in Congress to find a long-term solution that helps restore many of these jobs and the tax revenues they generated.

Douglas County is blessed with abundant and renewable natural resources. Our forests are our greatest asset and should be managed for both economic and environmental benefits. Increasing timber harvests, such as on local Oregon and California timberlands, can help provide good jobs, lift more families out of poverty and help more children lead healthy and productive lives.

Evelyn Badger-Nores is the executive director at Douglas C.A.R.E.S., a child abuse response and evaluation service provider based in Roseburg. The views in this column are hers alone.

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