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Preventing Youth Suicide in Light of “13 Reasons Why”

The new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why has created a lot of buzz recently around the topic of teen suicide. The show graphically chronicles a fictional teen’s suicide and, in many ways, glamorizes it.13-reasons-why

Suicide among youth is a serious concern for everyone who engages with young people – whether at home, in school, or during out-of-school time. According to the Kids Count Alaska 2013-14 data book, suicides were the second-highest cause of deaths among youth ages 10-17. And in areas outside of Anchorage, the suicide rate among youth is four times higher.

Youth who are exposed to suicide or suicidal behaviors are more at-risk for attempting suicide, according to the American Association of Suicidology. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (ASFP) notes that risks of additional suicides increase when a story explicitly describes the method, uses graphic headlines or images, and glamorizes a death.

Seeing the graphic depictions and the sensationalized story of Hannah Baker brought to life in 13 Reasons Why has become a widespread concern among parents, as well as professionals in mental health, education and afterschool.

This type of glamorization has caused widespread copycat attempts, giving us more of a reason to talk about the reality of what is happening. Silence or ignoring the issue has never made it disappear. If anything, it has provided the right environment for it to grow out of control. ASFP states that we can prevent suicide by being aware and taking action – and that means talking about it.

The National Afterschool Association created the following list with recommendations for afterschool professionals and teachers on how to handle the latest Netflix hit:

  1. Watch 13 Reasons Why.

Rather than trying to get kids to avoid watching the series or talking about it — because they will, with or without permission — watch it so you are prepared to discuss the content when it comes up.

If you hear kids talking about the series, ask how they feel about the content. Watch how they’re reacting to the topic, paying close attention to their emotions.

  1. Watch for warning signs.

AFSP notes there’s no single cause for suicide, which most often occurs “when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.” Conditions such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse problems increase the risk for suicide — especially when unaddressed. 13 Reasons Why depicts additional triggers, including sexual assault and bullying. Most people who die by suicide exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do. Find a list of warning signs from AFSP here.

  1. If a young person exhibits warning signs, talk to him or her about it.

“Be direct,” says Valencia Agnew, Ph.D. “Don’t be afraid to ask if they’ve thought about suicide, or if someone is hurting them.”

  1. Listen to young people – without judgment.

Get kids to tell their stories while they’re alive — not after they’ve made a permanent decision to what could be a temporary problem.

“Listen to children’s comments without judgment,” Agnew said. “Doing so requires that you fully concentrate, understand, respond, and then remember what is being said. Put your own agenda aside.”

If you have concerns, consider reaching out to prominent adults in the young person’s life that you trust. Ask the adults if they’ve noticed anything unusual.

  1. Validate young people’s feelings.

Feelings aren’t always facts, but never downplay a young person’s stress level or emotions. Instead, try to understand and show you care. “Avoid giving advice to fix it,” said Agnew. “Pain isn’t going to kill them. It’s what they do with the pain.”

  1. If needed, get help.

If a young person you know is having thoughts of suicide, reassure him or her that you’ll help —then act. It’s not expected that the typical afterschool professional or teacher has the knowledge and skills to handle this alone. Work with the school and other trusted adults to find local resources available for help. Suicide Awareness Voices of Education offers a number of resources and tools, and is a great place to start.

Afterschool hours continue at home. Share these guidelines for parents and guardians on suicide prevention, in light of the series. Together we can ensure our children live in a safe, stable and nurturing environment.

Nominate a Champion for Kids by July 14

We are looking to celebrate the great work being done in Southcentral Alaska! Nominations due Friday, July 14.

Champ for kidsThe Champion for Kids Award, presented by Alaska Children’s Trust (ACT), recognizes individuals from different regions of Alaska who have demonstrated a dedication and commitment in working towards preventing child abuse and neglect. These individuals have committed their time and resources to helping children have a safe place to live, learn, and grow, whether it is through their professional employment, volunteer work, community activities, or actively working with children.

Currently, ACT is looking to honor a Champion for Kids in Southcentral Alaska, which includes the Anchorage, Mat-Su, Kenai Peninsula, Valdez and Cordova communities.

All across Southcentral Alaska, there are extraordinary individuals who are ensuring our children live in safe, stable, and nurturing communities. If you know one of these extraordinary individuals, ACT invites you to recognize them by nominating them for our 2017 Alaska Champion for Kids Award.

To nominate someone in your life, please fill out the Champion for Kids Award Application. Applications are due Friday, July 14, 2017. See past recipients.  

For additional information about past award recipients, the current Champion for Kids, and the application process, please visit Alaska Children’s Trust’s website.

Alaska CARES: Coming Together to Help Kids Heal After Abuse

By Bryant Skinner, Alaska CARES Manager

Bryant Skinner head shot

Bryant Skinner, Alaska CARES

According to the Child Welfare League of America, Alaska consistently has one of the top five rates of child abuse in the United States. In Alaska last year, at least 8,000 children were physically or sexually abused, and this represents only reported cases[i].

Adverse childhood experiences like these cause toxic levels of stress that can strain and weaken children’s health and development, and can lead to lifelong social, emotional and cognitive impairments. Often these impairments result in the adoption of high-risk behaviors, disease, disability and social problems. In fact, children experiencing trauma are 49 percent more likely as adults to be unemployed and 92 percent more likely to earn less than $20,000 annually. Child trauma contributes to 60 percent experiencing frequent mental distress into adulthood. Additionally, the impacts of repeated adverse experiences can even lead to early death.

The statistics are grim, but we don’t have to let our children become statistics. Studies show that doing just two simple things can help children grow and thrive:

  1. First, we can invest in primary prevention models that reduce children’s exposure to trauma, or sustained, severe adversity.
  2. Second, we can support early intervention that helps children heal when traumas are experienced, and support children developing resiliency through positive, healthy, supportive relationships.

Alaska CARES is one program that specializes in the second strategy. Alaska CARES is a Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC), a comprehensive, child-centered program based in a facility where victim-advocate, law enforcement, child protection, tribal health, forensic medicine, and mental health professionals are co-located and work together in cases of child abuse.

In the old model of care, kids making a report of harm would have to go to several adult-centered locations to tell their story over and over, which was counterproductive to the child’s healing. The benefit of the CAC model is that it brings all those services together under one roof in a secure environment, designed for the privacy and dignity of young patients. Together, the multi-disciplinary team at Alaska CARES makes sure children feel safe and supported as they come forward to courageously tell their story.

One such child, we’ll call her Kimi, literally illustrates the healing power of early intervention.

Kimi was just 8 years old when she was the victim of sexual abuse by her neighbor. At the time she experienced the abuse she knew something was wrong and worked up the courage to tell the perpetrator “NO,” and then left the room. But her little sister was left with the offender. She found the courage to tell someone about the abuse and an appointment was set for her to be evaluated at Alaska CARES.

angerIt was determined during her visit that seeing a mental health therapist at Alaska CARES would be essential to starting the healing process. The first picture Kimi created (right) was completed during the first two weeks of her therapy. “Anger, Hurt, Sad, Guilt, Nervous, Scared” were the words Kimi used for this painting. She used all of the colors that she didn’t like as she began to process the trauma she experienced. 

guilt

“Guilt” was how Kimi described her painting after six months of therapy (left). Yet, her therapist noted that she was much more present in her session and no longer withdrawn! Although these colors look dark, they were colors that she actually liked and she placed an X to represent “Danger” or “Do not enter,” similar to a poison bottle. She labeled this drawing “Guilt,” which was significant in her progress toward being able to identify and resolve the more specific emotion relating to leaving her sister behind with the abuser.

peace

After one year of care at Alaska CARES, “Peace” was what Kimi called this painting (right). Kimi, her sister and her family were able to work through many emotions and develop tools to manage their feelings and build resiliency. Because Kimi was brave and disclosed the incident, her offender was held accountable for his actions. The care she received in her healing journey helped change the trajectory of Kimi’s life, her sister’s life and the health and resiliency of their entire family.

The issue of child abuse is a moral, social and human issue that impacts our entire community. The earlier the intervention, the better the intervention, and the more likely it is that we can help kids like Kimi as they grow up into adulthood. Alaska CARES demonstrates what is possible when professionals, community members and government agencies work together to support children.

If you would like more information about Alaska CARES, or if you know someone who might be helped by the services of Alaska CARES, visit their website.

[i] http://alaska.providence.org/locations/c/cares/abusefacts

 

 

 

 

Local Nonprofits Grant $82,000 to Support Suicide Prevention in Alaska

The Alaska Community Foundation (ACF) and Alaska Children’s Trust (ACT) are proud to announce the 2017 recipients of grants to support youth suicide prevention in Alaska.

In April, the Teen Suicide Prevention Grant Program awarded 17 grants totaling $81,928 across the state. Applicants were encouraged to align projects with strategies from the Alaska State Suicide Prevention Plan.

This grant program, now in its sixth year, is supported by many funders both within Alaska and outside. In addition to support from ACF and the State of Alaska, the program also receives critical funding from Rasmuson Foundation, Wells Fargo, and, for the first time this past year, WalMart Foundation. The program also received a grant from the Caroline Christen Torgerson Memorial Fund, an unrestricted fund at ACF.

Katie St. John, director of programs and grants at ACF, says, “We were thrilled to be able to award such a large number of grants this year to so many worthy organizations across the state, many of them rural communities providing critical services to their residents. From Metlakatla to Paimiut to Kiana and Hooper Bay, organizations throughout Alaska are working closely with their communities to provide help, hope, and healing to those suffering from the effects of suicide or struggling with it themselves.”

See a complete list of grant awards on the ACT website. For more information about suicide prevention efforts and resources in Alaska, please visit StopSuicideAlaska.org.

 

 

You’re Invited: May 9 Evidence-based Policy & Practice Lecture

lectureAs a precursor to the National Citizen Review Panel conference being held in Anchorage this month, Debra Schilling Wolfe will be speaking about Evidence-based Policy and Practice: Role of Research in Child Protection Enterprise. The presentation will be held Tuesday, May 9 at 7 p.m. in Rasmuson Hall on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus.

Schilling Wolfe is the executive director of The Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice and Research at the University of Pennsylvania.

More information can be found in the Debra Schilling Wolfe Public Lecture Announcement flyer and on the Alaska Citizen Review Panel website.

 

Vaccinating on Time Protects Against Serious Diseases

By Rosalyn Singleton, MD MPH

Parents agree that feeding and sleep schedules are important to help keep their children healthy. The same goes for childhood immunizations. Vaccinating children on time is the best way to protect them against 14 serious and potentially deadly diseases before their second birthday.topskillscna

Vaccines have transformed medicine. Before vaccines, polio would paralyze 10,000 children each year, and rubella (German measles) would cause birth defects and mental disability in 20,000 newborns. Measles would infect 4 million people per year, and diphtheria would be one of the most common causes of death in school-aged children. Haemophilus influenzae (Hib) meningitis would affect 15,000, leaving one-third with brain damage or deafness. Whooping cough would kill thousands of infants.

Before vaccines, there was a lot of fear in communities about outbreaks of diseases like polio, measles or Spanish Flu. Many parents kept their children away from community pools in the summer for fear of polio. The last U.S. polio case was in 1979. Now that routine vaccination has led to disappearance of some of these diseases, some parents question the necessity of vaccines.

Vaccines have had a tremendous impact on health of Alaskans. Before vaccines, there were up to 80 cases of Hib meningitis and sepsis every year – now cases are rare. Alaska had massive outbreaks of Hepatitis A (infectious hepatitis) – now the only hepatitis A cases are brought in by travelers. Measles outbreaks contributed to high infant death rates in parts of the state – after vaccine, there were no measles cases between 2000 and 2014. Before vaccines, Alaska Native children had one of the highest rates of meningitis (brain infection) caused by the Hib bacteria – now Hib infections are rare.

Public health experts and physicians base their vaccine recommendations on many factors. They study information about diseases and vaccines very carefully to decide which vaccines kids should get and when they should get them for best protection.

People often ask pediatricians about getting their shots late or spreading them out for their children, but there is no scientific evidence that really supports doing that. Pediatricians agree that getting shots late puts children at risk for getting the disease the shot protects against. It hasn’t been shown to be beneficial for the kids to get the shots spread out.

Although the number of vaccines a child needs in the first two years may seem like a lot, the number of proteins in today’s vaccines are fewer than in the past. A healthy baby’s immune system can handle getting all vaccines when they are recommended. Pediatricians caution against parents delaying vaccination. Most of the time, doing the shots in multiple clinic visits is actually more stressful than doing them all at once.

When parents choose not to vaccinate or to follow a delayed schedule, children are left unprotected against diseases that still circulate in this country, like measles and whooping cough. Measles was eliminated in the United States in 2000; however, pockets of unvaccinated people still lead to measles outbreaks. In 2014, the U.S. experienced the largest number of cases since measles was eliminated. Alaska was free of measles from 2000 to 2014, but in 2015 there was a case of measles in a traveler to Alaska. Staying on track with the immunization schedule ensures that children have the best protection against diseases like these.

Parents can work with their child’s healthcare provider to keep their children protected against these harmful diseases. Immunization is a shared responsibility. Families, healthcare professionals, public health officials and the media can all work together to help protect the entire community.

Naturally, we all want to protect our children. We don’t want them to have the illnesses that they can be exposed to without vaccines. While it’s true that vaccines are not without risk, most vaccine side effects are mild, and the risk of disease far outweighs the risk of vaccine.

If you have questions about the childhood immunization schedule, talk with your child’s healthcare provider or nurse. For more information about vaccines, go to roswww.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents or http://www.chop.edu/centers-programs/vaccine-education-center.

Rosalyn Singleton, MD MPH, is a pediatrician and research physician with the Alaska Native Health Tribal Consortium.

 

 

Take Action for Alaska’s Kids

Voices for Alaska’s Children Action Center

Voices FB profileA few weeks ago we announced the website for Voices for Alaska’s Children, a new grassroots, community movement that makes it easy for you to speak up on issues important to children and families in your community.

We hope you’ve had a chance to check out the new site. We especially want to be sure you’ve explored the Voices action center, where you can:

  • Find – and contact – your elected officials. Sometimes the hardest thing about speaking up is knowing who to speak to! The Voices action center makes it easy to get the ear of the right decision makers. You can not only find your local, state and federal representatives, but you can also contact them right from the website!
  • Get the inside scoop on proposed legislation, track existing bills and read up on the latest news related to children and families in Alaska.
  • Make your voice count by following tried-and-true advocacy tips and guidelines.

The Voices website is also the access point for KIDS COUNT, the premier source for data on child and family wellbeing both in Alaska and nationwide. Through our KIDS COUNT data center, you can:

  • Access data from the most trusted sources, find the most relevant statistics and compare your community with others.
  • Use intuitive visual tools to easily create customizable maps, graphs and tables.
  • Connect with data experts at the Annie E. Casey Foundation and throughout the KIDS COUNT grantee network.
  • Expand your reach through social media.
  • Encourage policies that support smart decisions about children and families.

Ready to raise your voice? Visit the Voices action center now and subscribe to our email list so we can keep you updated on news and ways you can get involved.

Want to support the work of Voices? Please consider making a donation to support our efforts.

Because even the littlest voices deserve to be heard.

 

Giving Thanks for Pick. Click. Give.

(Get inspired to help us reach our goal!)

We are giving thanks for our Pick. Click. Give. donors who gave $5,225 to support our mission to prevent child abuse and neglect this year!

We ended the campaign $775 short of our goal, but we have hope that we can reach $6,000 in donations. While the PFD application period has ended, supporters can still add or change a Pick. Click. Give. contribution until August 31.

Get inspired to give! Read these stories about what you are supporting when you Pick. Click. Give. to Alaska Children’s Trust:

Here’s what you can do to help us reach our goal (we are so close!):

  • Visit pfd.alaska.gov.
  • Click the “add or change a Pick. Click. Give. donation” button on the right side of the page.
  • Log in to your account.
  • Make your Pick. Click. Give. donation to Alaska Children’s Trust!

Together we can prevent child abuse and neglect!

Science Action Club Builds STEM Identity Among Youth

20170227_102025_resizedTwenty youth at Bristol Bay 4-H Club stealthily maneuver in the outdoors, keeping their eyes to the sky – they’re on the lookout for birds. These youth are citizen scientists, actively counting birds and documenting their findings in an online platform where professional scientists and ornithologists use the submitted data for research.

The following week, the youth explore how oil spills can affect birds. Comparing two feathers – one dipped in water, the other dipped in oil – the youth discover that the feather dipped in oil will not dry, and investigate environmental solutions to cleaning oil from feathers.

“My favorite activity was seeing what happens to feathers in oil,” says Jacob Belleque. “I was surprised. I thought the oil would come out of the feathers, but it didn’t.”

This is Science Action Club – a curriculum designed to engage middle school youth in authentic, hands-on science during afterschool.20170228_170918_resized

Programs such as Science Action Club address a real need to engage more youth in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) at a young age. Alaska employers say STEM jobs are going unfulfilled because students are graduating from high school without the requisite skills. And in college, too few entering freshman see themselves as scientists, mathematicians, technical experts and engineers. Many youth, especially girls and other underrepresented groups, see STEM as something “other” people do – not something they can pursue.

Science Action Club is helping to make STEM relevant, important and fun for all youth. And once students engage in hands-on science, they begin to reconfigure their beliefs about themselves and their abilities. The club has helped the youth at Bristol Bay 4-H Club understand that they are part of a larger community – the Citizen Scientist Community. This sense of belonging has led to increased levels of self-confidence and STEM identity among club members.

At the start of Science Action Club, many of the youth stated that they did not consider themselves to be scientists, but that opinion has changed over the course of the club. Youth talk about activities with their peers and influence them to join the club – and the learning doesn’t stop when the club lets out. Youth voluntarily track bird activity at home and seek out and share birding books with each other. Parents have noted that dinner discussions are very animated on club days.

And that’s possibly because Science Action Club doesn’t look like your typical science class.Dillingham SAC 2

Instead, it looks like engineering a device that prevents a raw egg from breaking when dropped from a certain height.

It looks like designing paper airplanes to fly across the room, mimicking the flight styles of owls and falcons.

And it looks like real-life experiments, such as dissecting owl pellets, as well as going on regular birding walks.

“I like Science Action Club because we can identify birds and study them to get to know them better,” says one club member.

STEM education creates critical thinkers and increases science literacy. Science Action Club is only one example of the impact of an engaging STEM curriculum in out-of-school time. And while the Science Action Club curriculum is portable and can easily be taken on the road to different communities, access for many young people is still a problem.

Dillingham SAC 3The Alaska Afterschool Network aims to address these barriers, especially in rural Alaska, by forming partnerships to provide high-quality programming opportunities in the state. The Science Action Club is an example of such a partnership. The Alaska Afterschool Network brought the Science Action Club curriculum to 15 program sites across Alaska in conjunction with the National Girls Collaborative Project and the California Academy of Sciences, with funding support from BP Alaska.

The Science Action Club is only a dent in the surface of creating greater access to high-quality STEM learning in out-of-school time. And even though the research is clear on the benefits of exposing students to STEM activities, both within and outside of school, funding can still be a challenge.

Without continued, intentional support of STEM learning in afterschool, students may not get the chance to discover a future career as an ornithologist, or may not choose to pursue a college degree in physics. Afterschool programs bring STEM alive for youth – and support and active partnerships are crucial to continue bringing opportunities to our youth.

To get involved in supporting important afterschool efforts like the Science Action Club, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Alaska Afterschool Network.

“Resilience” DVD for Loan

The movie Resilience, directed by the same team that brought us Paper Tigers, is a view into the discoveries made by researchers as to the dangerous biological effects of abuse and neglect during childhood.

As this new documentary reveals, toxic stress can trigger hormones that wreak havoc on the brain and bodies of children, putting them at a greater risk for disease, homelessness, prison time and, in cases, early death.

However, trauma can be prevented and the long-term effects can be reduced through intervention. Leaders in pediatrics, education and social welfare are using innovative science and field-tested therapies to protect children from the treacherous effects of toxic stress on children. Check out the movie trailer.

The Resilience DVD is available for loan at Alaska Children’s Trust (ACT). If your organization is interested in using this video as a learning tool or hosting a community showing and dialogue, please complete DVD Loan Agreement and send the request to vlewis@alaskachildrenstrust.org.

The DVD and discussion guide are available at no cost and it must be requested four weeks prior to the event. For more information and to request the DVD, go to the ACT website.