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What is Help Me Grow?

Rachel author headshotBy Rachel Boudreau, intern with Help Me Grow Alaska & the All Alaska Pediatric Partnership

Alaska is a large state with a small population. While we are fortunate to have many services to support families and children, sometimes the services a family needs are not available or, if they are, access to them can often be challenging. This can be an extremely frustrating and exasperating barrier for families trying to do their best raising happy, healthy kids.

For the last three years, a diverse group of professionals from the field of early childhood and pediatrics have worked together to find a solution, a “glue” if you will, that connects providers, community-based services, and families to ensure easier access and to help guide what new services still need to be created or expanded. That glue is a system called Help Me Grow, and we are excited to finally bring it to families here in Alaska.Help_Me_Grow_logo_update

What is Help Me Grow Alaska?

Help Me Grow Alaska (HMG-AK) is a resource and referral system that provides care coordination services and links families with services and supports throughout the state. HMG-AK is based on a national model developed in Connecticut in 2005 out of a need for a better way to connect families with community-based resources. HMG-AK is not an agency designed to offer more services, but it is intended to connect families with the resources that are already in place in communities across the state, and to help identify where more services are needed. Help Me Grow’s mission is to identify children who are at risk for developmental delays and/or behavioral problems, and then to link these children and their families to community-based and statewide resources.

Why do families need to be connected to developmental screenings?

As part of its mission, the Help Me Grow system promotes and provides a standardized tool to screen children ages 0-5 for developmental delays or disabilities. Periodical developmental screening monitors a child’s developmental milestones, such as walking, using words, expressing emotions, playing with peers, etc. Answers to the screening questions show what the child’s strengths are and will identify any areas where the child may need support or extra practice.

The screening tool is easy to complete and can offer fun ideas for interacting with children in an age-appropriate way. HMG-AK provides families with free access to this developmental screening tool on paper or online, and the care coordinators work with the family to connect them to further evaluation, should there be any concerns of a developmental delay. When reviewing the screening results together with the parent, the care coordinator will also provide additional activities to do at home to help support the child’s healthy development while enjoying fun, free and high quality time with the child.

A child does not need to have a delay or disability to receive services or activity ideas from a Help Me Grow coordinator. The service is available and free to all families with children.

Why would a family contact the Help Me Grow call center?

HMG-AK is designed to assist families with young children looking for a broad range of support. This could be anything from questions or concerns about their child’s development or behavior to helping a family who recently moved to a community find a medical provider and social supports and community activities such as parenting groups or organized play time for kids. The care coordination model is set up to help families navigate complex situations through follow up and continued support to ensure the family feels comfortable and confident in the next steps for their child and themselves.

How do I access HMG-AK?

HMG-AK is available to anyone raising a child as well as medical providers, childcare providers and community members. All it takes is one call to the HMG-AK call center to speak with a trained care coordinator. HMG-AK’s care coordinator will answer questions a family might have and then link the family with the needed resources or find alternative supports to assist the family until the appropriate services are available. The care coordinators will follow up with the family to ensure a connection was made to the recommended resources and to discuss any additional concerns the family might have.

As Alaska’s Help Me Grow system develops, families can expect to see local Help Me Grow family-friendly events in their communities and useful educational materials to help parents understand more about their child’s development, how to manage stress (both for the parent and the child), managing difficult behaviors and more.

When will HMG-AK be available in my community?

We are currently in the very beginning phase of launching Help Me Grow in Alaska and still have a lot of work ahead of us. The first phase is focused on three regions: Norton Sound, Kodiak and Mat-Su. We are working hard and putting a lot of effort and thought into the planning, and hope to expand the program statewide, shortly after. Stay tuned through the Help Me Grow mailing list for updates!

Dr. George Brown Honored as 2018 Champion for Kids

Alaska Children’s Trust (ACT) is pleased to honor the late Dr. George Brown as our 2018 Southeast Champion for Kids. The award was announced and celebrated at our fundraising reception that took place February 13 at the Governor’s house in Juneau.

George Brown Courtesy of Michael Penn

Dr. George Brown, photo courtesy of Michael Penn

During his 48 years as a pediatrician, Dr. Brown practiced in Anchorage, Hawaii, Palmer, Vermont, Africa and Juneau, in addition to his itinerant Public Health Service work all over Alaska. He cared for thousands and thousands of children and families.

Throughout his career, the prevention of child abuse and neglect was Dr. Brown’s primary focus. This was lived out in clinical and hospital practice, seemingly eternal weekend and night call, behavioral health, family counseling, court systems, public speaking, teaching, professional writing, community leadership, house calls, and the thousands of high-fives he exchanged with children. Paramount in his work and relationships was the integration of safety, nurturing, family, community and the highest quality of clinical care and public health.

Among his many activities, Dr. Brown participated in the development of the Child Study Center, the first intervention and prevention services for child abuse and neglect in Alaska. During his time in Vermont, he was also integral to the development of the Safe Child Program. He was a volunteer physician in Kenya, Africa, where he helped develop an HIV-AIDS identification and treatment program. He later developed the visionary Kenya Health Scholarship Program to train Kenyan high school graduates in health-related careers. He was also the founder and host of the Juneau-based Father’s Café, which provided fathers and their children a forum to share fatherhood, childhood and protection/safety for their children. He was, in fact, en route to a Father’s Café gathering on the day of his heart attack in December 2017.

Dr. Brown was deeply and directly involved in the creation of ACT. For many years he bombarded legislators and executive branch officials with his letters and presence to urge the creation of ACT. During his years of practice in Palmer, he worked with then-Sen. Jalmar Kerttula for the creation of the statutory framework of the trust.

For his many years of dedicated service, Dr. Brown was honored with the Ray Helfer Award for Community Pediatrics from the National Alliance of Children’s Trusts and the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2009.

Our annual Champion for Kids Awards recognize individuals, like Dr. Brown, who have demonstrated dedication and commitment in working toward eliminating child abuse and neglect by ensuring that children are living in safe, supportive and nurturing communities. The purpose of the award is to recognize these individuals for their contributions to Alaska’s children, whether it is through their professional employment, volunteer work, community activities, or actively working with children. View past recipients on our website.


Unraveling the stories of sex trafficking in Alaska

By Eileen Wright, trafficking case manager, Covenant House Alaska

In April 2017, Covenant House released a groundbreaking study that shed new light on the link between youth homelessness and human trafficking. It was the largest study ever of human trafficking among homeless young people, conducted in 10 cities nationwide, including Covenant House Alaska in Anchorage. The results were staggering. Of the 10 cities studied, Anchorage had the highest reported prevalence of trafficking. 28 percent of the youth surveyed at Covenant House Alaska were found to be survivors of human trafficking – more than a quarter of youth at the shelter, compared to 19 percent in the survey nationally. Eileen Wright, trafficking case manager at Covenant House Alaska, relates her experiences about the work done at the youth shelter for survivors of sex trafficking.

Not too long ago, a teenage girl arrived at our shelter at Covenant House from a small village in rural Alaska. Like most our youth, she had experienced some kind of trauma and was looking for a safe place to spend the night off the streets. Little by little, we began to unravel her story. The girl had been locked inside a boarded-up room and held against her will, armed men outside barring her escape. Her boyfriend – the trafficker – had brought customers into the room to sexually assault her as he profited from her abuse. She had come to Anchorage from the village to escape a dangerous home life. She now found herself trapped in the nightmare of sex trafficking, with no place to go.

Sex trafficking is an insidious crime, where predators target the most vulnerable of society. And in Alaska, we have one of the most vulnerable populations in the entire country: our children. Alaska sadly has the highest statistics of child molestation and abuse in the nation, and the highest rates of sexual assault and child neglect. These children are particularly at risk to sexual exploitation and chronic homelessness later on – they’ve already been “normalized” to a life of abuse and so are easy prey. There are criminals out there, looking to make a profit. Homeless youth are the targets.

Traffickers groom young people through manipulation, through coercion and lies. It usually starts out with a relationship with a youth who is already vulnerable, who has no sense of value or self-worth. The trafficker lies to them, telling them they are loved, they are appreciated and will be cared for. For many at-risk youth, this is the first time anybody has lavished them with such praise and affection. A young girl soon cannot imagine their life without this person; in their minds, they are the only ones who have ever truly cared for them.

Then comes the abuse. Their boyfriends, the pimps, tell them, “If you really love me, then you will do this favor for me.” Resistance meets with beatings and threats. Girls will often be tied down and injected with meth or heroin, igniting painful addictions. And thus the cycle of trafficking begins.

When we found out the results of the study – that 28 percent of our youth at Covenant House Alaska were survivors of human trafficking – none of us here were surprised. If anything, we felt that it was underreported. We were also not surprised to learn that Alaska experiences the most heinous cases of sex trafficking in the nation. The researcher, Dr. Laura Murphy of Loyola University’s Modern Slavery Research Project, told us that from among all the Covenant House sites across the country, ours had the most brutal cases of sex trafficking – worse than the big, crime-filled cities of Los Angeles, Detroit, New Orleans and even New York. And it’s true. When youth finally do open up to us, their stories are horrific. It is absolutely soul-crushing.

I love these young people. All of us here at Covenant House truly do. And I believe that the most important thing we can do for youth who are being trafficked – for all our youth who experience abuse and homelessness – is to show them unconditional love and respect. We build trusting relationships with them and always accept them for who they are. We make it so that Covenant House is a safe place that they can always come back to. The more times they come back here when they’re in trouble, the more likely they are to open up to us. And we become that relationship of unconditional love that they thought they had, which unlocks the ability for them to share the abuse they’ve suffered. Burdens are easier to carry when someone else is supporting you.

We all must do something to end this epidemic of sex trafficking in Alaska. It can start with our most precious resource: our children. Our mission at Covenant House is to “serve the suffering children of the street and to protect and safeguard all children.” If more Alaskans took that mission to heart, then perhaps we could begin to tackle the underlying trauma that brings youth to the streets – and ultimately to sex trafficking – in the first place.

Eileen headshot

Eileen Wright, trafficking case manager, Covenant House Alaska

Covenant House Alaska is the state’s largest shelter serving youth ages 13 – 21 experiencing homelessness, abuse and trafficking. It provides safe shelter and warm meals, as well as medical, counseling, education and employment services. Since 1988, CHA has served over 25,000 at-risk youth in Alaska. To read the Covenant House study on human trafficking, go to For more information on how you can join Anchorage’s movement to end youth homelessness, please contact Covenant House Alaska’s volunteer specialist at 907.339.4261 or

ACT is Coming to Juneau

We are looking forward to the Alaska Children’s Trust fundraising reception coming up next week in Juneau! The reception, hosted by First Lady Donna Walker and Ms. Toni Mallott, takes place Tuesday, February 13 at 5:30 p.m. at the Governor’s House. During the event, we will recognize Dr. George Brown, our 2018 Southeast Champion for Kids. If you plan to attend, please RSVP to or 907.248.7374 by this Friday, February 9. We hope to see you there!

ACT First Lady invite for email

Getting a Head Start on Success

By Mark Lackey, CCS Early Learning, Executive Director, and Anji Gallanos, Department of Education and Early Development, Early Learning Administrator

Head Start and Early Head Start in Alaska are a crucial component in helping children and families across our state be more prepared for success in school and in life. However, many people don’t have a solid understanding of what services these programs provide or how they operate. Let’s take a quick look…

Broadly speaking, Head Start (ages 3-5) and Early Head Start (expectant mothers – age 3) are federally funded and federally regulated programs. Over $40 million in federal funding is delivered directly to local grantees in Alaska – it does not come through the state government. However, each local grantee must provide a 20 percent non-federal match (cash or in-kind) against their federal grant to demonstrate that states and local communities have “skin in the game” and remain confident in the grantee providing the services. The State of Alaska contributes $6.8 million towards this match and grantees gather the remainder of the required match in a variety of ways. Some examples include contributions from Native corporations, United Way and other local grants, facilities or community services provided at reduced rates, parent volunteer hours, and donations received from individuals and corporate donors.

While the federal government provides the law (The Head Start Act) and the regulations (Head Start Program Performance Standards) about how these programs must be operated, they allow much flexibility in allowing local grantees to deliver services in a way that meets the needs of their local community. Programs must do a community assessment that provides a careful examination of what the needs within their community are. Local oversight is provided by two governance bodies: a governing board (board of directors or elected officials) and a policy council (comprised of parents of enrolled children). These two groups are tasked with making sure the grantee offers services that best meet the specific needs of the children and families that have been identified in the assessment.

In Alaska, there are currently 17 different grantees providing Head Start and Early Head Start services in over 100 communities all around the state. In the 2016-2017 school year, Alaska grantees served 3,558 families and 3,879 children. Of these children, 762 were enrolled in an Early Head Start program and 3,117 were enrolled in a Head Start program. Approximately 60 percent of enrolled children were from families who had income below 100 percent of poverty (as an example, a family of four would need to have income of less than $30,750). Approximately 8 percent of enrolled children were homeless, and another 6 percent of enrolled children were in foster care.

So what services were actually provided and what impact does Head Start or Early Head Start have? As mentioned above, these programs serve both the child and the family. We know and understand that parents are the first and most important teachers for their children and will have the greatest opportunity for having a positive impact on their children. The top five services that were provided to families in Alaska during the last school year were:

  1. Parenting Education (1,318)
  2. Health Education (885)
  3. Emergency/Crisis Intervention, such as meeting immediate needs for food, clothing or shelter (573)
  4. Housing Assistance, such as subsidies, utilities, repairs, etc. (356)
  5. Mental Health Services (251)

Other examples of family services that were provided include adult education, and asset-building services such as financial education, job training, and English as a second language. Generally speaking, services to families are determined by what each individual family identifies as a need or a goal that they would like assistance in working towards. Our job is to help these parents be outstanding advocates for their child and to equip them with the parenting and self-sufficiency tools that they will need moving forward. We provide these family services directly when we can, and/or connect them to other community resources that might be available.

The services provided to children are individualized as well. Each child comes into our programs at a different place and on their own developmental path. We work very closely with parents to determine where each child is developmentally and to determine what child goals we should reach for together. Our staff use ongoing assessment tools to observe and measure where children are in a host of areas at the beginning, middle and end of each school year, helping and encouraging each child to progress all along the way. Teaching Strategies GOLD® is the assessment tool that Head Start programs in Alaska utilize. The charts below give a few examples of the growth that 4-year-old children in Alaska Head Start programs made last year, as measured by observations and assessments documented in Teaching Strategies GOLD®.

Based on 2016/2017 data. N=1299 

To demonstrate growth in these areas, we would see the percentages of “meets” and “exceeds” (orange and gray) to be getting larger in the spring after a school year in our program, while the percentage of children who are “below” (blue) should be decreasing.

In addition to the academic areas above, we also assist children to be more prepared for school readiness by helping them develop their social-emotional skills. We teach and assess growth in dimensions like following limits and expectations, and balancing the needs and rights of self and others – both of which are also very important as children move into their school years.

Finally, there is ongoing research into the long-term outcomes for families and children who participate in Head Start and Early Head Start. A very recent study released by Michigan State University found that, “Kids up to age 5 in the federal government’s preschool program were 93 percent less likely to end up in foster care than kids in the child welfare system who had no type of early care and education.” Another study described in the Wall Street Journal in September suggests that the impacts of participation carry over to the next generation as demonstrated by this quote: “Societal investments in early childhood programs can disrupt intergenerational
transmission of the effects of poverty.”

For more information about Head Start or Early Head Start in Alaska, visit the Alaska Head Start Association website at You also can connect to the local grantee in your community to find more information about enrolling your child, the specific services that are provided, and/or supporting and partnering with them in the important work that is being done!

Mark Lackey

Mark Lackey is the executive director of CCS Early Learning. Formerly known as Chugiak Children’s Services, CCS Early Learning is a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides early childhood services in the Mat-Su Borough and in Chugiak and Eagle River.


Alaska, Our Children Need Us

5 Ways Your Support Can Help Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect

umbrella infographicAlaska, our children need us.

Our state continues to have one of the highest rates, per capita, of child abuse and neglect in the nation.

If you’re like most of us, you’re probably asking, “What in the world can I do to prevent child abuse and neglect? How can I possibly make a difference?”

There are many factors that contribute to child abuse and neglect – lack of resources, substance abuse, inadequate healthcare, lack of affordable housing, shortage of care during out-of-school time, trauma that the parent themselves experienced …

All of these things can cause stress in the family and set the stage for child abuse and neglect to occur.

That’s why we have to take a comprehensive look at all of these factors, and address them holistically to ensure our children grow up in safe, stable and nurturing environments.

Of course, we – as individuals and as an organization – can’t do that alone.

That is why Alaska Children’s Trust has formed partnerships with many individuals, businesses and organizations across Alaska. We support their local nonprofits efforts through our community investment grant-making program. We collect and share research and data to help build a road map to prevention. We act as the backbone for collective efforts like Alaska Resilience Initiative, which is striving to minimize toxic stress and build resiliency. Through the Alaska Afterschool Network, we work to strengthen afterschool programs and build protective factors in our youth. We join our voices together to educate Alaskans and help influence public policy through efforts like Voices for Alaska’s Children and Protect Our Care Alaska.

We work together toward a shared goal: To strengthen families. To safeguard children. To support the people and organizations already working to support kids. And ultimately, to prevent child abuse and neglect.

This isn’t an issue that can be solved alone. We all have a role to play. There are ways you can make a difference. And Alaska’s children need you to.

One very easy way to make a difference is to make a gift to Alaska Children’s Trust, and there are two easy ways to do that:

  1. Pick. Click. Give. to Alaska Children’s Trust when you apply for your PFD this year. Remember, the application period opens this coming Monday, January 1.
  2. Make a direct contribution to Alaska Children’s Trust on our website.

Your gift will help forward the work we and our partners are doing on many different fronts to address the issue. For example, when you make a gift to Alaska Children’s Trust, you’ll be helping to:

  1. Bring families closer together. 
  2. Give kids a safe place to be after school. 
  3. Teach teachers how to help kids who have experienced trauma. 
  4. Ensure Alaska’s kids don’t lose their health care.
  5. Provide a safety net for families in crisis. 

By joining together, you can help prevent child abuse and neglect.

Make a difference. Make a gift and help prevent child abuse and neglect. Give to Alaska Children’s Trust when you fill out your PFD application this year, or make a direct donation at

Addressing Children’s Environmental Health in Alaska

By Pamela K. Miller, Executive Director, Alaska Community Action on Toxics

Children in Alaska and the Circumpolar North experience disproportionate exposures to toxic chemicals that may have long-term negative health consequences, such as neurodevelopmental effects, cancer, birth defects, metabolic disorders, and compromised immune systems. In order to address these health disparities, Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) organized the 2016 Children’s Environmental Health Summit – the first of its kind in Alaska.

The summit took place on October 5 and 6, 2016, at Alaska Pacific University. Participants included students, health care professionals, Alaska Native leaders, scientists, teachers, policymakers, and children’s health advocates. Fifteen Alaska communities were represented, and the sponsorship program made it possible to provide scholarships to 13 participants from eight different communities (Gambell, Savoonga, Nome, Kivalina, Elim, Diomede, Atqasuk and Brevig Mission).

Kathy Sanchez

Kathy Sanchez MA, Tewa Women United, presents about the impacts of historical trauma.

The first day of the summit consisted of plenary sessions addressing case studies from communities around Alaska, as well as the state of the science on certain health disparities, such as birth defects and childhood cancer. Presentations focusing on critical children’s environmental health concerns from Alaska-based community leaders and health care providers created a balance of on-the-ground perspectives and traditional knowledge and wisdom.

The summit was intended to be a springboard for action rather than an end in itself. So, much of the second day of the summit was devoted to work group discussions in the areas of policy, research, health care, education and outreach, and environment. The work groups resulted in a series of recommendations and actions that will be carried forward following the summit, with the help of the Children’s Environmental Health Task Force.

These are some of the highlights and common themes from each of the work groups:

Health care:

  • Emphasis on ideas to educate and more fully engage health care professionals
  • Change the system of health care to be more responsive to environmental health concerns

Education and outreach:

  • Identified the need to develop educational materials to reduce harmful exposures
  • Prepared a summary of important audiences to reach, key messengers for those particular audiences, existing resources, and new opportunities for outreach – parents, health care providers, students, policy makers, community leaders, media and store managers.
Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee, Citizens for Clean Air, presents some of the working group recommendations.


  • Identified the primary areas of concern for children’s exposures, including indoor and school environments, as well as contaminated sites in and around the communities, such as military and industrial sites, solid waste and incineration facilities. Climate warming is a major concern because it is mobilizing contaminants with increasing storm surges and melting of ice.
  • Recommended solutions include community education and trainings, youth activities, and working with local stores to offer healthier alternatives.


  • Offered ideas about policy priorities at the local, school board, and state level – including support for the Toxic-Free Children’s Act (HB 53).
  • Emphasized importance of implementing the recommendations of Project TENDR (Targeting Environmental Neuro-Development Risks).
  • Need to strengthen partnerships with health care professionals to be an effective force for change.
  • Recommendations for market shifts toward healthy products, focusing on retail stores that serve rural Alaska.
  • Importance of strong implementation of the new Lautenberg Act, which amends the Toxic Substances Control Act – enforcing the language to protect vulnerable populations.


  • Develop “rapid response” tool kit for communities to investigate potentially harmful exposures from industrial or military facilities.
  • Longer term: Cultivate support for community-based participatory research – education and engagement of potential research partners.
  • Ways to address health disparities and develop effective interventions.
  • Establish children’s cohort in Alaska to address key health concerns.
  • Investigate connection between climate change and increasing levels of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in the Arctic; chemical mixtures.
Summit participants

Summit participants and task force members

At the end of the conference, 12 participants offered to serve on a task force to implement the recommendations developed by the working groups. This task force consists of a diverse group – from traditional healers and environmental coordinators, to parents, health care professionals and academics – representing the wide base of advocates that is needed to address the complex challenges facing children’s environmental health in Alaska and the Circumpolar North.

Another outcome of the Summit is a report entitled “State of the Science: Children’s Environmental Health in Alaska and the Circumpolar North.” This report summarizes the scientific evidence linking environmental exposures and adverse health outcomes for children in the Arctic, including neurodevelopmental disorders, birth defects, childhood cancers, respiratory conditions, metabolic disorders, and compromised immune systems.


The task force currently meets via monthly teleconferences, and is working to prioritize the recommendations and put them into practice. If you are interested in learning more about the task force or joining the team, please email Sama Seguinot-Medina at

Pamela K. Miller is the executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics.

Real story #4: Trauma-informed transformation

Part four of our four-part Real Stories series; read more in our 2017 community report

Imagine a child. A young boy or girl who has experienced trauma. Perhaps it’s emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Perhaps there’s substance abuse or mental illness in their home. Or perhaps their parents are divorcing or a family member is in jail.

Imagine now the child in school, where they are supposed to sit quietly, listen attentively and work diligently. But because of the biological changes that have taken place in their bodies because of trauma, they are simply unable to.

Instead they act out. Perhaps they yell at another student. Kick over a chair. Walk out of the classroom.

In response, the teacher sends the child to the principal’s office, where they are reprimanded. Perhaps the parents are called. Perhaps a harsh punishment awaits the child at home.

And the cycle continues.

Changing this cycle is one of the focus areas of the Alaska Resilience Initiative (ARI), an initiative of Alaska Children’s Trust. “Our goal is to support Alaska’s institutions to be trauma informed and culturally responsive, providing children and families the opportunity to heal, while also working to prevent new traumas,” explains Laura Norton-Cruz, ARI program director.

Trauma-informed, culturally responsive institutions focus on helping the person who has experienced trauma, rather than removing or punishing them. And they offer help in a way that is just, equitable and accepting of different identities. “Being culturally responsive is equally important to being trauma informed,” Laura says. “Those things together create a safe, empowering, trustworthy environment.”

ARI’s collaboration with the Anchorage School District (ASD) is just one example of efforts to create trauma-informed, culturally responsive transformation in Alaska.

In August, Laura presented to all of the ASD elementary school principals, discussing the importance of trauma-informed, culturally responsive schools. “School needs to be a safe place for all kids – and especially kids who have experienced trauma,” she says.

Following the presentation, Nunaka Valley Elementary School principal Timothy Blake invited Laura to come to his school. “I was moved by her talk,” he says. “Many of the characteristics of children with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that she described are evident here on a daily basis and impact our school greatly.”

Laura spoke to his entire staff – from teachers and counselors to the custodian and lunch lady. “It was very well received and generated a lot of discussion,” says Timothy, who has since joined ARI’s trauma-informed systems change workgroup. “The most important thing we took from the presentation was the importance of building connections with students and focusing on building resiliency through supportive relationships with kids.”

Going forward, Nunaka Valley staff will continue their professional development in social emotional learning and trauma-informed practices. They are also looking to establish family support groups and offer parenting workshops.

“Being trauma informed creates supportive relationships with our students and families,” Timothy says. “Understanding the effects and characteristics of ACEs allows us to use informed practices to create successful opportunities for every child.”

In addition to providing direct training, ARI also works to connect people and amplify existing efforts – such as those at ASD’s Northwood Elementary. Three years ago, led by principal Deanna Beck, the school began its trauma-informed systems change journey, beginning with a focus on staff wellness.

Through staff training, collaborative planning and implementation of practices such as morning greeters at the front door and “We are glad you made it to school today” cards in place of tardy slips, Northwood has experienced some real shifts. For example, according to the School Climate and Connectedness Survey, 79 percent of their 6th graders agreed with the statement “I can name at least five adults who really care about me” – a 29 percent improvement from the previous year.

After learning about Northwood’s efforts and successes, ARI began sharing the school’s story with others, publishing an article on the ARI blog and incorporating highlights into presentations.

“The trauma-informed work going on at Northwood is not because of ARI,” Laura explains. “We learned about it and amplified their efforts by telling others about it. And now other people are asking about it. Deanna is getting regular inquiries from other schools asking for guidance.”

ARI plans to continue collaborating with ASD, as well as expand trauma-informed systems efforts to other institutions and areas of the state. ARI, with input from many diverse statewide voices, is also in the process of developing curriculum and creating a cohort of trainers who can give presentations on ACEs and trauma-informed systems change to audiences across Alaska.

“When we address the root of trauma, we can begin to move the needle on many issues, including child abuse,” Laura says. “It’s a game changer.”

ARI’s shared goal is mobilizing Alaska to end child maltreatment, intergenerational and systemic trauma through healing and strategic advocacy. It is working toward that through networking, communication, policy advocacy, and trauma-informed systems change.



Real story #3: Too expensive to stay alive?

Part three of our four-part Real Stories series; read more in our 2017 community report

When Amber Lee was diagnosed last fall with a very rare genetic condition that can lead to aggressive kidney cancer, one of her first thoughts was if she would have insurance coverage to help cover the cost of care.

“It’s not a cheap disease to have. Without insurance, it would be impossible to manage,” says Amber, who must get MRIs of her kidneys regularly to monitor for cancerous growths that could quickly spread if not caught early. Currently, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) ensures that Amber can’t be denied health insurance coverage because of pre-existing conditions like this.

Amber is one of many Alaskans who would be profoundly impacted by the repeal of the ACA. She’s also one of many Alaskans speaking up to protect the ACA through Protect Our Care Alaska, a coalition of individuals, organizations and businesses.

“People and groups came together to protect the Affordable Care Act from repeal. It is still being threatened constantly,” Amber says. “The issue impacts everyone, and we are aligned with how important it is to get Congress to do the right thing.”

Voices for Alaska’s Children, a program of Alaska Children’s Trust, has been the backbone organization for the coalition, providing space and support for the grassroots effort.

“Health care is a critical tool to help prevent child abuse and neglect,” explains Trevor Storrs, ACT’s executive director. “Health care reduces stress on our most vulnerable families who are already struggling due to poverty, and inability to access services. Health care gives parents access to services to address their own trauma, provides preventive services, ensures children remain healthy physically and mentally, and minimizes the fiscal stress and impact on the family.”

For Amber, the importance of protecting the ACA goes beyond just her own health.

“The disease I have is genetic, so my kids could have it,” says Amber, who has two sons, ages 9 and 11. “If they are tested for the genetic condition and have it, they could be denied coverage for the rest of their lives.”

“There is already so much stress with the disease, and then on top of it, I have to worry about if I have insurance coverage and if I can pay for it. I make a decent salary, but it could get to a point where I can’t pay to care for myself. And for my kids, they could go through their entire lives without coverage. It is very stressful,” Amber shares.

“It gets to a point where you have to ask yourself, ‘Is it too expensive to keep myself alive?’”

“People talk about this like it is a political issue. But it’s about people’s lives,” Amber stresses. “Repealing the ACA means less coverage, less protection and more expense. It’s important for people to understand it.”

Amber strongly encourages other Alaskans to get involved in efforts to protect the ACA. “All these voices together send a strong message. We are not one special interest group. We are the majority of Alaska,” she says “Our voices are powerful.”

Get involved! Join ACT and others to #ProtectOurCare. Learn about the issue and how you can get involved at or on Facebook @protectourcareAK.

Real story #2: Connecting beyond bars

Part two of our four-part Real Stories series; read more in our 2017 community report

A mother singing her child to sleep – it’s perhaps one of the most timeless images of motherhood. However, it’s also one of the most out of reach for a mother in prison. This gap between a mother in prison and her child can be wide – both physically and emotionally.

“Even though my kids are older, it’s still very hard. Also my grandbabies – I am missing everything about their lives and growing up,” shares Stacy Lundy, an inmate at Hiland Mountain Correctional Facility in Eagle River, who has three grown children and three grandchildren, ages 5 and under.

The Hiland Mountain Lullaby Project seeks to bridge that gap and bring mothers at Hiland closer to their children – and grandchildren, in Stacy’s case. The Lullaby Project, modeled after a similar project at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, pairs incarcerated women with musician coaches to create beautiful, personal lullabies for their children at home.

“The Hiland Mountain Lullaby Project will help to lessen the trauma among the children resulting from the separation from their parent by helping mothers use music to support and convey to their children that they are loved; to create a sense of belonging; to share feelings, express joy, love and a connection to each other – all necessary for a child to develop a sense of security and healthy social/emotional development,” explains Shirley Mae Staten, who spearheaded the project in Alaska. Alaska Children’s Trust supported the effort with a $10,000 grant.

Last year, 16 mothers at Hiland participated in the first year of the project. “We all wrote a letter to our children and then our musician helped turn it into a song with music,” says Stacy, adding that she found writing the letter to be most challenging. “I wanted them to know how sorry I am and how much they all mean to me … It was very emotional.”

The inaugural year of the project culminated with a concert at Hiland, where the mothers and musicians performed the songs to an audience of 250 supporters. At the concert, Stacy presented her lullaby, “You Are My Sunshine,” to her children and grandchildren.

“I felt proud, blessed, guilty and emotional,” says Stacy. “They all loved their song and everyone was emotional.”

The lullabies were compiled into a 16-song CD, which were given to the inmates and their families, as well as available for purchase.

The inspiring project will continue this year with a few additions. Two former inmates who participated in the 2016 project will return as teaching artists, and two children of inmates will work with coaches to compose a responding lullaby to their mothers. A lullaby journal with sheet music for the songs will also be created and given to the inmates and their children, as well as to Anchorage elementary music teachers. And the concert schedule will be expanded to include performances for male inmates, female inmates and a public performance at Hiland.

“I think every mother should be able to participate in this program,” Stacy states. “It helps mothers reconnect with their children.”

Since inception, ACT has awarded more than $5 million in community investment grants to organizations in Alaska that work toward the prevention of child abuse and neglect.  In 2016 – 2017, we awarded $301,920 to 29 organizations across the state. See the full list of grant recipients and funded projects at