The health and well-being of children, youth and their families are crucial to the resilience and strength of our community. Washington County Health and Human Services (HHS) recognizes the importance of serving the entire family to create nurturing, supportive environments for youth and children. This is why we choose to examine the health and well-being of children and youth in a holistic fashion, as no single factor can determine the success of a family. By focusing on a variety of measures spanning multiple sectors (e.g., health, education), we have a clearer picture of how families are being served and prepared for long-term life success.
Infants Born with Low Birth Weight
Birth weight is one of the major predictors of infant mortality during the first few weeks of the infant’s life. Low birth weight (born weighing less than 2,500 grams or five pounds, eight ounces) was found to significantly increase (by 40 times) the likelihood of infant death during the first month of life. Babies born with low birth weight may be at increased risk of complications and poor health. Approximately six to seven percent of all babies born in Washington County are born with low birth weight.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking, alcohol consumption, lack of weight gain, a maternal age younger than 15 or older than 35, having low income, having low educational attainment, experiencing excessive stress, experiencing domestic violence or other abuse, having had a previous preterm birth, and/or exposure to air pollution or contaminated drinking water may increase a pregnant woman’s chance of having a low birth weight baby in her lifetime.
Home-visiting services provided by the Washington County Maternal Child & Reproductive Health (MCRH) team may influence a decrease in the incidence of low birth weight babies in our community by helping pregnant women receive early and regular prenatal care, by providing resources to assist in quitting smoking or other substance abuse, and by improving pregnant women and families' connections to important resources within Washington County. In particular, the Washington County Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) program works to break the cycle of poverty for low-income, first-time mothers by promoting self-sufficiency and empowerment. The MCRH team works to addresses the social determinants of health and improve social, physical and mental health outcomes by positively influencing local policy and expanding support systems for the prenatal and early childhood population in our community.
Washington County exhibits higher breastfeeding percentages compared to other counties across Oregon. We strive to increase both exclusivity and duration rates (i.e., feeding babies breastmilk only for the first six months). Nurturing and maintaining a breastfeeding relationship between nursing parent and baby includes support for families in a variety of ways. Washington County is committed to identifying and reinforcing those factors that lead to breastfeeding success.
Breastfeeding supports positive health and development in the infant. Some specifics include healthy digestion, optimal brain growth and development, normal weight gain, and healthy teeth and jaw development. Breastfeeding may also protect the infant from developing allergies, asthma, infectious diseases and ear infections, and has a protective effect against SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
Breastfeeding also supports the mother’s health by protecting against breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers, and osteoporosis and bone fractures. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of postpartum depression, heart disease and may delay fertility in those exclusively breastfeeding. Practicing breastfeeding may also build self-confidence and parent-baby bonding. Breastfeeding is economically and environmentally friendly, reducing the need for purchasing formula.
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months. Thereafter, infants should receive complementary foods with continued breastfeeding up to two years of age or older. The longer and more exclusively a mother breastfeeds, the greater health benefits they both receive.
Healthy People 2020 breastfeeding goals include that at least 82% of mothers breastfeed for any length of time and 25.5% of infants exclusively breastfeed for at least the first six months of age.
Washington County and Oregon exceed these goals, with 95% of all mothers breastfeeding their babies for some length of time and over 60% exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months after birth.
Breastfeeding by Race
More than 90% of mothers from all races in Washington County breastfeed their children, and the majority of those breastfeed for at least six months. The percentage exclusively breastfeeding for at least six months ranged from 82% among Japanese mothers to 61% among mothers who identified as Other races.”
Attendance is a key predictor of academic performance and engagement in school. Children who develop good attendance habits early in their school experience are more likely to meet key benchmarks in reading and mathematics throughout their academic careers. To learn more about this topic and how Oregon is responding, visit the Oregon Department of Education's site on chronic absenteeism.
Experts in the field define chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent or more of school days and severe chronic absenteeism as missing 20 percent or more of school days, including excused, unexcused and discipline-related absences (Ehrlich, Gwynne, Pareja, Allensworth, Moore, Jagesic, & Sorice, 2014; Buehler, Tapogna & Chang, 2012; Connoly & Olson, 2004).
A school culture that reinforces positive student-teacher and peer-to-peer relationships encourages students and families to engage with the school community, increasing school bonding and attendance. In Washington County, we are actively promoting the use of the Paxis Institute’s Good Behavior Game (PAX GBG) in district classrooms. PAX GBG aims to create nurturing classroom and school environments that mitigate the impacts of trauma and increase school attachment. Additionally, integrating PAX GBG into preschool environments improves students' preparedness for, and transition to, kindergarten.
3rd Grade English Language and Mathematics Assessments
The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) conducts annual English language and mathematics assessments among all 3rd graders in the state. These assessments, which are used to determine if a student has learned what they were expected to learn, provide valuable information on how the educational system prepares children for school success, and are useful for identifying areas in which curricula need to be modified. To learn more about Oregon’s system of testing and assessment, visit the ODE’s page on student assessment.
Washington County, along with the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, hosts Early Learning Washington County, the mission of which is to "develop and implement an early learning system that provides opportunities, services and supports needed to ensure children ages birth through six and their families are prepared for educational and life success."
High School Completion
A cohort graduation rate follows the students who are first-time high school students in a particular year and determines the percentage who graduate within a given time frame. The data below show the four year rate for the 2017-2018 graduating class.
Dropout rates include youth who left school prior to their senior year. Youth who do not complete high school or obtain a GED are more likely than their peers who graduate from high school to have poor health outcomes, work in lower wage jobs, and be involved in the criminal justice system.
It may be easy to look at these rates and attribute them to individual behavior or make assumptions about communities, especially communities of color. However, disproportionate high school dropout rates point to schools failing children, not children failing school. We have a responsibility to address these disparities and ensure all communities are safe and have the services they need to thrive in our educational systems. Washington County takes an active role in high school dropout prevention. We fund culturally-specific activities designed to impact school success among students in diverse communities. The county also funds multiple school-based health centers, which integrate mental and physical health services into school settings.