Oregon State University student Jax Richards, at the young age of 19, is the owner of child welfare and rights 501c3 nonprofit Safeguard Youth – a state-based organization seeking to, in his words, “provide a platform for youth, students and abuse survivors to advocate higher quality child welfare in Oregon.”
Richards and his nonprofit unify and amplify the voices of youth affected by child abuse and neglect from across the state, bringing them together to speak on important issues and advocate for change in Oregon.
Richards is currently finishing up his freshman year of his undergraduate degree in economics and public policy. He says that for a long time his biggest passion has been child welfare and children’s rights. This, in a large part, is due to his personal past experiences with child abuse and neglect, growing up in Beaverton, Oregon with a single mother and an abusive father.
“We had to choose between electricity and running water because we couldn’t afford both,” Richards recalls. “My parents were divorced, and my father was, and still is, a career criminal, meth addict, and abuser. As young as four, he exposed me to drugs, sex, and the life of a criminal. He was often passed out for 24 to 48 hours, as a result of coming down from his high, and more than once, I, at a young and vulnerable age, took to the streets of whatever city we were in to try and find food. I’ve been afraid for my physical safety – seen my father get violent and go to prison. Only now I can admit to myself that I have been neglected, starved, and abused.”
His personal experience with child abuse and neglect fueled a fire within him to create positive change. One night, while pulling an all-nighter to write a school essay on “An Autopsy of Oregon’s Child Welfare System,” Richards decided he’d had enough.
“It was then that I realized that this issue is something a lot more pervasive and horrifying than I initially thought. Child abuse and neglect is something that’s incredibly common in American society – which everyone knows about – however, because people don’t want to talk about it, it doesn’t get addressed.”
Richards also saw a large issue with the fact that the majority of officials, including those who create the laws and policies meant to protect citizens, have never experienced childhood abuse. Thus, they cannot fully understand the vital importance of providing protections for victims and survivors of child abuse in Oregon, and additionally, the voices of those who have experienced these traumas are not being heard.
To combat this, Richards created Safeguard Youth in 2019, which, by engaging with businesses, local government, other nonprofits, and survivors of child abuse, brings awareness to child welfare issues and advocates for state-wide changes for higher-quality child welfare and education.
Safeguard Youth works to positively impact the state’s current child welfare systems through three branches: Exterior Relations, Youth Network, and Community Caucuses. Activities include fundraising, corporate sponsorship, artist and nonprofit collaborations, youth lobbying, education, community outreach, and community caucuses. Thus far, Safeguard Youth has grown to educate and collaborate with several high schools and almost a dozen colleges, including Oregon State University in Corvallis.
Though Oregon is the current priority for Safeguard Youth, Richards hopes to eventually expand to Washington and California. After he graduates, he hopes to stay in the realm of children’s welfare and rights, but plans to transition leadership of the nonprofit to a younger generation.
Richards asserts, “Abused children and foster care kids are quite literally the most vulnerable people our society has to offer.”
He elaborates that recent events, such as the pandemic and police brutality, have only further highlighted the need for high-quality child welfare and children’s rights.
“As of right now, during a global pandemic, child welfare systems are in a lot of trouble. These include state budget cuts, ceasing at-home inspections or visitations, limited family court proceedings, decreased reporting rates and less exposure to mandatory reporters, among many other things. Additionally, with the George Floyd protests, we’re seeing an increase in police brutality towards youth.”
Richards highlights the importance of getting involved, supporting nonprofits, and making positive change within your community.
“There will not be any meaningful change with abuse towards kids unless people take action.”
By Cara Nixon