Saturday, September 8, 2012

Support the Commissions on Children and Families

This blog has been generally focused on school issues, but I've received some questions recently about another group of which I'm a member, the Washington County Commission on Children and Families (CCF for short).  The CCF is a group of local citizens appointed by the Board of County Commissioners (the governing body of each county), as part of a system of commissions in each of the counties of Oregon, helping to oversee and advise various programs related to early childhood education & readiness for school, child health care, abuse prevention, positive youth development, etc.

The main reason you haven't seen much here is that for the last year, the CCF has been spending most of its time staring at a Sword of Damocles over its head, the new H.B. 4165.    This bill replaces the system of local commissions with... get ready... ANOTHER system of boards, with a different name!   Amazing what a legislature can achieve when they put their minds to it.    OK, the new bill has lots of other stuff in it, but I think this is a reasonable summary of the CCF-related portions.    And naturally, it will enable the current governor and legislators to take credit for anything positive the "new" system does.

This new Early Learning System is based on a set of local Accountability Hubs (not called that anymore, the name has morphed a few times, but I've lost track), which are less rigidly defined than the CCFs, but will similarly be chartered to engage early learning programs in the local communities. It will be up to the state Early Learning Council to appoint these local hubs, which may take many different forms.

An obvious question is: why shouldn't the CCFs apply to become the hubs of the new local system, and continue in existence in roughly the same form they are now? It seems to me that this makes a lot of sense: why destroy a successful system of local oversight that is currently working?    The Washington County CCF has applied to become one of these local hubs, possibly merging with the Columbia County CCF in the process.

I see three main reasons to support the CCF:   
  • Local Control: The biggest danger of social programs is seeing the money disappear into a huge state bureaucracy, never to be seen again. Bodies like the CCFs, composed of community volunteers close to the ground appointed by each county commission, help to ensure that the programs really will be directed to help the local community. 
  • Leveraged Funding:   There is a lot of money extracted from us in taxes that goes to higher levels of government, and then is designated to be dribbled back to us in various programs. The CCF has been very effective at applying for and gaining these grants, bringing the money that was taken from the community back to us in a positive way. The CCF has also been good about partnering with private charities and other non-government entities, to help increase the overall effectiveness. 
  • Baseline Social Programs : It's pretty clear that in Oregon, a solid majority of the voting public agrees that we expect some level of a social safety net to be provided by the government.   With local control and oversight, it's much easier to ensure that this safety net is provided in a transparent way, and that the programs really do help those for whom they have been designed.  

Now of course, all is not perfect: it looks to me like sometimes the CCF has a hard time making choices and prioritizing programs when funding is limited, and I think we need to work on coming up with solid, quantitative measures of success for each program the CCF oversees. But overall, as a body for overseeing these local programs, it looks to me like the CCF is far superior to the alternatives.

(BTW-- if you're on Facebook, be sure to join the Washington County CCF fan page .)