Skip to content

Talk is Cheap – and Priceless

By Abbe Hensley, Executive Director, Best Beginnings

img_3695web_24049455834_oPeople say talk is cheap, but for babies, talk is priceless. Talking with babies has been shown to have an amazing impact on the growth of their brains and development of language, key to their future success in school and in life. And, unlike products that are advertised to parents as critical to making their babies smart, talking is free!

Have you heard of the 30-million word gap?

It all began with the 1995 landmark study by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley in their book Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children:

“In four years, an average child in a professional family would accumulate experience with almost 45 million words, an average child in a working-class family 26 million words, and an average child in a welfare family 13 million words.”

At first, the focus was primarily on the number of words a child heard. There were discussions about whether words a child heard from television or recordings would “count.” Was it only the quantity of words that made the difference?

Taking a closer look at Hart and Risley’s conclusions, however, people began to appreciate that there were meaningful differences in the quality of the words, too. Children in professional families heard six positive messages for every negative one. Children in middle-class families heard two positive messages for every negative one. And children in poor families heard only one positive message for every two negative ones.

More parents in the last category were using “business talk” with their young children. For example, the child drops a spoon. These parents were more likely to be directive and say, “Pick it up.” Parents in the professional category were more apt to say, “Oh, you dropped your spoon. Pick it up from under the table and we’ll take it to the sink to wash it. Then you can use it again.” A much richer language experience for the child.

This short video tells and shows the story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5BAO204Sqo

More recently, Stanford University researchers have observed that these differences emerge as early as 18 months. The effects persist through the school years. The good news: if parents increase the quantity and quality of their verbal interactions, their babies benefit. Many organizations are tackling the issue and resources are developing all the time.

So what can parents and other caring adults in a baby’s life do? One of the organizations working on this, the LENA Research Foundation, has an easy way to remember what to do that is called “words and turns.” “Words” refers to the quantity of words a child is exposed to, and “turns” means the interactions between adult and baby that can also be described as “serve-and-return” activities – baby begins to babble, adult talks back, baby vocalizes again.

According to a story in Education Week in April 2015, Jill Gilkerson, LENA’s director of child-language research, said, “Conversational turns are vastly more important than the number of words a child is exposed to.” She went on to say that she and her colleagues found parents of children who scored in the top 10 percent on preschool language tests had conversations with their children that involved 18 more turns taken per hour than parents of children scoring in the bottom 80 percent.

It’s obvious that both words and turns are important in helping babies and toddlers develop language. What role might shared book reading play? Stephen F. Warren, PhD, says, “Reading together with a young child in a way that promotes interaction and turn-taking is among the most important routines that can be built into a child’s day. It should be a high priority every day.”

The best time for families to develop routines like this is shortly after the birth of a new baby. In fact, in June 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement recommending for the first time that parents should read with their children beginning in infancy. The statement also says that “reading aloud with young children has been found to increase the richness of the vocabulary to which they are exposed as well as the complexity of syntax. In addition, books and early conversations and play around books and reading stimulate increased interaction between the adult and child. These interactions build nurturing relationships that are critical for the child’s cognitive, language, and social-emotional development.”

Research and common sense agree: it’s words and turns. Parents who talk with their babies and young children, whose conversation includes lots of “serve-and-return” moments, and who read with their children from the time they’re born, are promoting crucial brain development and setting the stage for their children’s success in school, and in life.

IMG_3421

For more on the 30-million word gap, go to https://www.bestbeginningsalaska.org/why-early-learning-matters/the-30-million-word-gap.

Abbe Hensley is the executive director of Best Beginnings, a public-private partnership that mobilizes people and resources to ensure all Alaska children begin school ready to succeed through support from businesses, foundations, nonprofits, government, and individuals.

 

Advertisements

Does Alaska CRP make a difference?

Headshot of Diwakar Vadapalli, Ph.D.
By Diwakar Vadapalli, Ph.D.

Chair, Alaska Citizen Review Panel

Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska Anchorage

I have been the Chair of Alaska Citizen Review Panel (CRP) for more than four years now. The panel’s job is complicated and comes with considerable responsibilities, yet understanding the significance of the CRP’s role in protecting children has made the volunteer experience both rewarding and inspiring. However, recruiting others to serve on the panel has been difficult due to a lack of information on the role of the CRP in general, as well as the responsibilities of panel members more specifically. Potential members often have three main questions – What is the CRP? What does it do? What difference has it made?

The first question is relatively simple to answer. CRP is mandated by Congress as a mechanism to encourage members of the general public to participate in improving the effectiveness of child protection services (CPS) in their respective states. Every state must have at least one CRP, and the panels are primarily administered and funded under the authority of the state governments.

The second question becomes more complicated because of a CRP’s extremely broad mandate. CRPs have three main functions – review, outreach, and advocacy. Simply put, a CRP reviews the policies, procedures, and practices of a state’s CPS agencies; reaches out to families and communities to assess the impact of those policies, procedures, and practices; and recommends any necessary changes in those policies, procedures, and practices.

After four years of leading the panel, it is clear that doing all this is anything but simple. It requires clarity of purpose, adequate staff and financial resources, willing partnerships with the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) and other stakeholder agencies, and, most importantly, dedicated volunteer time. The panel made a lot of progress in clarifying its purpose, and its partnerships with OCS and other stakeholder groups are constructive and promising. The panel could use more than the current budget allocation of $100,000, but any increase seems improbable in the current fiscal climate. The last challenge, however, – dedicated volunteer time – has been the most difficult. Recruiting and retaining volunteers is challenging because the CRP’s work can be very technical, contentious, and at times, disillusioning.

So, naturally, with all that is expected of a CRP, volunteers wonder if all their effort makes any difference. Does CRP make a difference? I have been trying to answer this question since I discovered the panel’s work back in 2011. I was a new faculty member at the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER), trying to understand the complicated world of Alaska’s OCS. In one of my many searches, I found the CRP’s website. The panel was just beginning its 11th year of work.

Back in 2004 – 2006, before I left Alaska to get my Ph.D., I was an Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) worker in Sleetmute, in Western Alaska. My caseload included about 10 – 15 children in and out of custody at any time, and life was busy. Aniak was the closest OCS field office. Bethel also had an OCS field office, but along with the office in Aniak, they were required to report to the Wasilla Regional Office. It was strange having to work with OCS staff in the Mat-Su Valley to serve children and families living in our region. Many of us often wondered how administrators from a relatively urban location that existed entirely within the road system, and who had likely not been to villages in Western Alaska, could make meaningful and culturally appropriate decisions that significantly impacted the families we served. But, as a local ICWA worker, it was one of those high-level administrative decisions beyond my control, even though it had a direct impact on my ability to do my job. When I came back to Alaska five years later, in 2011, OCS had five regions. The Western Region was created in 2010, with its headquarters in Bethel.

When I found the CRP in 2011, I read through all its annual reports since 2002. It was strange to see that the panel repeated its annual recommendations, sometimes for several years. OCS responded in writing each year since 2005, but it is hard to tell if the recommendations were implemented, or even seriously considered. In some cases, changes happened at OCS, but it was unclear if the change was a result of a CRP recommendation, or if it was just a happy coincidence. One such change was the creation of the Western Region. CRP first recommended it in 2006. The panel made a very strong case for it in 2008. And repeated the recommendation in 2009. Each time, OCS’ written response was nonchalant at best. And then, suddenly, the Western Region was created in 2010, with no acknowledgement of any connection between the CRP’s recommendation and the actual decision.

I called the CRP in early 2012 to better understand how it works, and if the CRP’s recommendations had anything to do with the creation of the Western Region. The panel at the time was very focused on getting the necessary staffing and resources for the new regional office in Bethel, and was in need of new members with ground-level experience in the Western Region. With my previous experience in Sleetmute, I was a perfect fit, and joined the panel. I did not have the time to worry if the panel made a difference in the past, and began to worry if the panel was currently making a difference. Within a year, I found myself to be the Chair of the panel.

Over the last five years, many people asked me if the CRP ever made a difference. News reporters, legislators, service professionals, OCS employees, current CRP members, folks from across the nation, and my students – they all asked. I kept looking for the best answer, but could not find a better example than the creation of the Western Region. So, I went back to that recommendation and dug a little deeper. From CRP presentations to House Health and Social Services (HSS) Committee, CRP annual reports, OCS written responses, and a couple of informal interviews, below seems to be the story of how it happened over the five-year period from 2006 to 2010:

  • 2006: The CRP recommended that OCS create a fifth region for the first time. It was a transition year at OCS with a new commissioner for the department, and a new deputy commissioner at OCS. The recommendation was brushed aside citing the transition.
  • 2007: The 2007 CRP report did not include a recommendation to create a fifth region.
  • 2008: Late in 2007, OCS proposed to move the Social Services Manager V position from Bethel to Wasilla. The position was vacant at the time. A group of OCS frontline workers from the Bethel office approached the CRP, very concerned about the lack of support and understanding from the regional office in Wasilla, and the devastating effect this move would have on the Bethel office’s relationships with tribal partners. CRP contacted local agency partners of OCS in Bethel and in the region, and received more than 30 letters of support for the creation of an entirely separate region, just like the CRP recommended in 2006. Subsequently, CRP’s 2008 annual report included a lengthy analysis of various perspectives and data, making a strong case for the creation of a fifth service region with Bethel as its headquarters. OCS’ written response to the 2008 recommendation downplayed the need for a fifth region, and assured all that a new staffing pattern would address these concerns.
  • 2009: CRP’s annual report essentially repeated the recommendation, citing all the sources from previous year, making an equally passionate case. OCS’ response, for the first time, acknowledges CRP’s effort on this front. However, OCS reminded CRP that there were “other” priorities at that time.
  • 2010: CRP’s presentation to the House HSS Committee in February that year could not have been more passionate. The panel described the Bethel office as in complete disarray, barely meeting its legal and statutory responsibilities. The Director of OCS, in response to the CRP presentation, mentioned that a plan to create a fifth region was in the works, but due to the continued increase of population in the Mat-Su Valley, OCS had to prioritize development of the Wasilla office. Five months later, in June that year, CRP’s annual report acknowledged the creation of the Western Region, and noted that it was pleased to see the outcome of a multi-year effort. OCS did not mention the creation of the Western Region in its response.

OCS went through an extensive federal review in 2009, and prepared a plan to address the areas that the review identified for improvement. Neither the federal review nor the OCS’ plan had any mention of a fifth region. OCS’ five-year Child and Family Services Plan for the years 2010 – 2014 did not mention any plans to create a fifth region. None of the other OCS’ reports from those years prior to 2010 had any mention of plans to create of a fifth region.

After the Western Region was created in 2010, OCS’ documents never explained the creation in any manner, nor acknowledged CRP’s effort in the matter. Other than a brief comment in the 2010 CRP annual report that the panel was pleased with the outcome, the CRP just moved on to other challenges. If you do not know that CRP exists, or did not take the time to read through the annual reports, you would never know that CRP was involved in this effort. I spoke to a few contemporary sources to check if there were other strong advocates, unrelated to the CRP’s effort. I could not find any. I may have missed something here, and I trust someone reading this will correct me as necessary.

Nevertheless, let us just pause and think about it – the Alaska CRP is a small group of volunteers, less than 10 members during those years. They had less than $100,000 per year, for some staff support. This small group changed the structure of OCS, and redefined the way services are delivered to families and communities in a major part of the state. They were persistent, focused, and dedicated.

So, to answer the last of the three questions – did the CRP make a difference? – HUGE! It is not often that a small group of volunteers change the course of a major bureaucratic agency. This is exactly what Congress had in mind when they wanted regular citizens, not just child protection bureaucrats, to play an “integral role” in child protection services. The story of the creation of OCS’ Western Region is a perfect example of what Congress wanted CRPs to do.

And, by the way, this is not the only impact. I hope people will take the time to read through the CRP annual reports and OCS responses. They are all available on the panel’s website at www.crpalaska.org. Of course, do not be surprised if you have to dig deep like I did to find the actual impact CRP may have had. It is almost never acknowledged.

If you are wondering how such a small group of volunteers can have such a significant impact, much credit goes to Congress’ vision for the CRP. Before there were CRPs, many states were experimenting with citizen groups. Based on the success of these groups, Congress designed the CRPs, and required every state to have at least one CRP. Some states, like Alaska, went further and enacted their own laws for CRPs. Beyond the vision from Congress, and beyond federal and state statutes, a lot of credit goes to the CRP members in Alaska, for the persistence, commitment, and focus that resulted in the creation of the Western Region. Thanks to their efforts, children and families in Western Alaska have a better shot at being protected from child maltreatment.

The CRP can be a powerful mechanism if we all use it, and use it effectively. There are many ways to contribute. Join the panel, be a resource person, contribute to its work indirectly, and utilize its products. Visit the panel’s website, or contact the panel coordinator for further information.

We are Expanding our Team!

ACTAlaska Children’s Trust (ACT) is expanding our team to include a vice president of philanthropy and external affairs!

This position is new to ACT. The vice president of philanthropy and external affairs is responsible for growing philanthropic giving to ACT, overseeing appropriate stewardship of existing donors, and ensuring effective communication with ACT’s constituents.

The vice president manages initiatives that build relationships with potential donors; oversees and strengthens the organization’s services to existing donors; oversees ACT communications that increases public awareness of ACT and its programs/initiatives and donor communications; and participates in the overall leadership of the organization.

ACT is looking for a dynamic individual who has a strong legacy in the development field. The individual needs to be creative and innovative. In addition, candidates need to have strong communication and public speaking skills, strong customer relations skills, and knowledge of community engagement.

Read the full job description. Applicants may email a cover letter and resume to tstorrs@alaskachildrenstrust.org or mail to 3201 C Street, Suite 110, Anchorage, Alaska 99503. The position will remain open until filled.

 

Time for a Serious Conversation on Early Care and Learning

Join thread on October 5: A Summit on the Economic Impact of Early Care and Learning

SBeglundBy Stephanie Berglund, CEO of thread

You are invited to join thread, Alaska’s child care resource and referral network, for a conversation about how the early care and learning industry strengthens Alaska’s workforce, both today and in the future. Stop by for breakfast or lunch only, or stay all day and hear from national speakers during Investing in Alaska’s Workforce: A Summit on the Economic Impact of Early Care and Learning from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Thursday, October 5, at the Anchorage Marriott Downtown.

How does early care and learning strengthen our workforce? Businesses and organizations rely on child care to meet the needs of their employees each day in order to maintain a quality workforce. At the same time, it lays the human capital foundation for tomorrow’s workforce. And, having a strong workforce is critical to having a strong economy.

Plus, early care and learning invest­ments are a major component of overall education reform and, as economists will tell you, yield a high rate of return. Having a high-quality early learning program instills a strong founda­tion of cognitive and social skills in children, making them more likely to graduate high school, refrain from criminal activities, attend col­lege, contribute to the workforce, and achieve higher earnings.

During breakfast at the summit, you’ll hear from Kyle E. Yasuda, MD, FAAP. Dr. Yasuda is the medical officer for children and families at Public Health Seattle King County and provides pediatric consultation for the county’s initiative, Best Starts for Kids, a prevention and early intervention initiative for children and youth 0 – 24 years of age. He is a clinical professor in general pediatrics at the University of Washington and is serving his second term on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) board of directors and is the chairperson of District VIII, a region consisting of 12 western states – including Alaska – and two provinces. In 2012, U.S. News and World Report named him as a top doctor. Dr. Yasuda has been able to utilize his experiences in primary care practice, academics, government, health policy, advocacy, and nonprofit organizations to actively advocate for the needs of children and families.

The luncheon keynote features Randy Laszewski, an audit partner in KPMG’s National Professional Practice Group in New York. KPMG supports youth and education and sustaining communities through workforce readiness. Through their corporate citizenship programs, KPMG is focused on serving children at every stage of their academic career starting at prekindergarten. Mr. Laszewski, an outspoken early childhood advocate, started his career in Atlanta, Georgia in 1981. For more than 35 years he has provided a full range of audit services to a variety of clients, primarily in the banking industry. Mr. Laszewski currently serves on KPMG’s regional and community banking practice national leadership team.

You will also hear from Nancy Fishman, the deputy director of ReadyNation, an international business membership organization that leverages the experience, influence, and expertise of more than 1,800 business executives to promote public policies and programs that build a stronger workforce and economy. Since 2006, ReadyNation members have made a bottom-line case for effective, bipartisan investments in children as the future workforce that will drive success in the global marketplace. Prior to joining ReadyNation, Ms. Fishman was the state director of the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission. The Commission, comprised of 75 senior-level business executives across the commonwealth, supports public investment in high-quality early care and education as a workforce and economic development strategy. Previously, Ms. Fishman was the director of Success By 6, the early childhood initiative of the United Way of Carlisle and Cumberland County, Pennsylvania.

She will be presenting the findings of the ReadyNation Report: Social-Emotional Skills in Early Childhood Support Workforce Success. In this national report, they examine how character skills formed in early childhood contribute to building a strong workforce with the necessary social-emotional skills for the 21st century economy.

You will also hear from business and government leaders in Alaska on how they are investing in early childhood locally. Plus, the day will be filled with group activities and open discussion.

Because of what’s at stake for both Alaska children and our society at large, it is time to have a serious conversation about where Alaska is compared to the rest of the country and where it’s going when it comes to investing in early care and learning. Register today to join the conversation on October 5.

Learn more and register for the summit on the thread website or by calling 907.265.3100.

Support provided by:

Investing in ACT

Grants to help ACT hire development director, advance children’s health care

Thank you to the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for their recent investment in the work of Alaska Children’s Trust (ACT).

The Murdock Charitable Trust recently provided ACT with a three-year capacity grant that will allow us to add a development director to our team. The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust was created by the will of the late Melvin J. Murdock and they provide grants to organizations that seek to strengthen the region’s educational and cultural base in creative and sustainable ways. This opportunity will allow ACT to strengthen our external relations and help grow our resources to effectively prevent child abuse and neglect.

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation has included Alaska in a multistate effort called The Finish Line Project to help secure health care coverage for all children in the United States. The Foundation supports advocacy organizations that work in states with the potential to significantly advance children’s coverage. Finish Line grantees receive financial support and communications and policy-related technical assistance to make a difference in their state. ACT is excited to work with this team of advocates to ensure Alaska’s children grow up in safe, stable and nurturing communities.

Watch our website, Facebook, e-newsletter and blog for future updates on these and other ACT efforts!

Gathering Together to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect

Reception Raises Funds, Honors Champion for Kids

At the Alaska Children’s Trust (ACT) fundraising reception in Anchorage Wednesday night, approximately 75 people gathered together in the spirit of a common goal – preventing child abuse and neglect. View our event photos on Facebook.

The event was particularly special as it recognized an individual who has shown extraordinary dedication to preventing child abuse and neglect. During the reception, we honored Heather Harris with our 2017 Southcentral Champion for Kids award. The award recognizes an individual who has demonstrated dedication and commitment in working toward eliminating child abuse and neglect by ensuring that children are living in safe, supportive and nurturing communities.

“It is nearly impossible to talk to Heather for more than a few moments without hearing her clear commitment to children and teens – especially those who are at greater risk of experiencing trauma in their lives. The more complex the human experience, the more she is ready to engage,” reads part of Heather’s award nomination. “Uniquely, however, Heather isn’t just interested in a quick fix, but rather her strategy is first to listen and understand and then to seek collaborative solutions that don’t make life better for just one person but for a system of people.”

Currently the executive director for Big Brothers Big Sisters, Heather has dedicated two decades to our most vulnerable children and youth, engaging with Alaska Youth Advocates, Standing Together Against Rape, Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association, Anchorage Youth Development Coalition and Alaska CARES, among others. She has worked with homeless youth, been an advocate for children who have experienced sexual abuse, and has promoted positive youth development through her leadership on various boards.

This dedication and passion does not stop at the office. “At home, Heather and her husband Josh create safe space in their extended family and in their neighborhood. That space engages the neighborhood kids who instinctively know that Heather and Josh are there for them,” her nomination explains. “Neighborhood kids, children in foster care or incarcerated or abused and neglected are all welcomed by Heather and Josh – there is truly enough love and support to go around.”

“There are few people that I know who can handle seeing so much adversity in the lives of children and still feel hope and optimism about the world,” Heather’s nominator concludes.

Following the award presentation, we had the pleasure of hearing from Zookeeper and Push, members of Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) Alaska, who spoke about how the role of protecting our children is the responsibility of everyone – even unlikely people like bikers. A big thank you to Zookeeper and Push for their time and insights!

We would also like to thank Wells Fargo, a long-standing partner of ACT and supporter of the children of Alaska. Wells Fargo provided a challenge grant of $10,000 – which was matched in full thanks to the generosity of our guests!

Finally, thank you to CIRI for hosting the reception at their lovely headquarters, as well as to our event co-hosts, and all of those in attendance. You can see photos from the event on Facebook.

Together we can prevent child abuse and neglect!

R.O.C.K. Mat-Su: Ending Child Abuse in Our Lifetime

By Desiré Shepler, Director, R.O.C.K. Mat-Su

Love. A sense of community. A sense of belonging. The feeling of being cared for. These are things all children should have. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

In 2013, the Mat-Su Health Foundation embarked on a community health needs assessment. As a part of the process, 23 community meetings were held across Mat-Su. Over 500 local residents and professionals spoke out at these community meetings and identified their leading goal: to keep Mat-Su children – all Mat-Su children – well-cared for and safe.

No one agency or sector can tackle this goal alone, so a group of influential champions was convened and asked to consider working together to achieve this goal. These champions, who were each working to improve the lives of children and families in Mat-Su in their individual agencies, committed to a new way of working. A way that moved beyond a single organization – or even single sector – view of the work in favor of a collective approach to working toward the common goal of promoting resilient families and ending child maltreatment. Out of this, R.O.C.K. Mat-Su, a cross-sector collaborative focused on Raising Our Children with Kindness, was born.

Made up of individuals representing the varied communities across the Mat-Su Borough, the partners of R.O.C.K. Mat-Su focus on building relationships and implementing innovative strategies in order to create systems change and connected communities. The ongoing work of R.O.C.K. Mat-Su reflects the genuine passion of a diverse group of community members to realize our vision that all Mat-Su children are safe, healthy and thriving.

Working collectively towards large-scale systems change, in our lifetime, R.O.C.K. Mat-Su will:

  • Strengthen families so all children are safe, healthy and thriving
  • End child abuse and neglect
  • And reduce Adverse Childhood Experiences.

We invite you to join us.

Heather Harris to be Honored at September 13 Reception

If you care about Alaska’s kids and want to work together to prevent child abuse and Heatherneglect, please join us at the Alaska Children’s Trust fundraising reception on Wednesday, September 13 from 5:30 – 7 p.m. at CIRI at 725 E. Fireweed Lane in Anchorage. Please RSVP by September 8 to vlewis@alaskachildrenstrust.org or 907.248.7374.

During the reception, we will honor Heather Harris with our 2017 Southcentral Champion for Kids award. Most recently, Heather became the executive director for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Prior to this new role, she dedicated two decades to our most vulnerable children and youth. Heather has worked with homeless youth, been an advocate for children who have experienced sexual abuse, and has promoted positive youth development through her leadership on various boards. Please join Alaska Children’s Trust on September 13 to thank Heather for her commitment to Alaska’s children and youth.

The suggested donation is $250 for individuals, and $1,000 for corporations, with a challenge grant generously provided by Wells Fargo. Please RSVP by September 8 to vlewis@alaskachildrenstrust.org or 907.248.7374. We hope to see you there!ACT 2017 Anchroage e-invite

Pregnancy, Nursing and Marijuana: What’s the Real Story?

By Trevor Storrs, Alaska Children’s Trust Executive Director

With the passing of the recreational use of marijuana in Alaska nearly two years ago, there has been a lot of conversation regarding the potential impacts, good and bad. One of the controversial topics discussed has been pregnant and nursing mothers using marijuana and its potential effects on newborns.

First, let me say that I’m neither a doctor nor a medical expert of any kind. Rather, this post is to inform you about the main arguments for and against marijuana use while pregnant and nursing. There are so many conflicting opinions on the topic that the sheer amount of information can make it difficult to determine how much merit to afford any of the research. So, rather than you looking through countless disparate articles, I’ve collected the main research that seemed to be accepted as true across the many articles reviewed.

It is important to note that all the literature published on the topic is based on research methods like surveys, self-reported data, and tertiary forms of testing (infant development and levels of THC in breastmilk) (Beckett, 2016). The most valid research would involve controlled human studies; however, this would be unethical. Marijuana is equated with heroin in regards to its potential for harm, so researchers can’t expose pregnant or nursing mothers to cannabis to test its effects. This isn’t to suggest that the research conducted thus far is invalid; it just means there are other research methods that could better control confounding variables.

Research has shown correlations between cannabis use during pregnancy and fetal harm:

  • There have been reports documenting a decrease in fetal growth (Merritt, Wilkinson, & Chervanak, 2016).
  • It’s also been found that pregnant women who use cannabis are at a 2.3 times greater risk of stillbirth (Abuse, n.d.).
  • In addition, prenatal exposure has been correlated with a two to three times increased risk of subsequent child maltreatment (Merritt, et al., 2016).

This data was collected from the states where recreational marijuana use has been legalized (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington).

There’s no safe amount of cannabis to consume during pregnancy, despite the reason for using and the method used to ingest it (Good to Know, n.d.). Some women think that since it’s legal, then cannabis must be safe, but the legality does not constitute its safety.

Additionally, people discount cannabis’ harm because it’s a naturally occurring substance (Good to Know, n.d.). The issue with that argument is that it suggests that all naturally occurring things are safe to consume. Since that’s not true, it can’t be used to support the lack of harm that cannabis poses. There are several naturally occurring substances that are harmful for you and your baby: lead, tobacco and poisonous berries are a few (Good to Know, n.d.). The bottom line is that the potential for harm from cannabis use during pregnancy is high.

If the risks of cannabis use during pregnancy do not pose enough of a threat, there have been even more negative effects found from cannabis use while breastfeeding. The reigning opinion is to avoid cannabis for the entire time you choose to breastfeed your child. Even though it’s preferred that you breastfeed for a year, doctors recommend that mothers breastfeed for a minimum of six months (Conover, 2016). In just one feeding, an infant will ingest 0.8 percent of the weight adjusted maternal intake of one joint, and the infant will excrete THC in their urine for two to three weeks after (Merritt, et al., 2016).

Research has found that infants exposed to cannabis through breastmilk exhibit decreased motor development and executive functioning, and poor sucking reflex. Meanwhile, mothers who use cannabis have a reduced milk supply. When you consider the poor sucking reflex and reduction in milk supply in conjunction, you get an infant with an increased risk of what’s officially called “failure to thrive,” which occurs when the infant is undernourished and fails to meet milestones in his or her first year of life.

This is a fairly new topic that has been assigned a lot of stigma and misconceptions, and the last thing I want is to add to that. The facts presented here are simply for educational purposes. What you do after reading them is entirely up to you. I’m not here to pass judgment or tell you how to live your life, but I do feel an obligation to advocate for Alaska’s children.

Children deserve every opportunity afforded to them, and parents sacrifice a lot to give their children those opportunities. However, when you use cannabis while pregnant or nursing, you are putting all those sacrifices at risk. Don’t take away from your child’s well-being before they’ve even taken their first breath. Make the sacrifice, and give your child every opportunity to thrive.

Sources:

Help Shape the Next Decade of Healthy People!

healthy peopleThe U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is soliciting written comments on the proposed framework for Healthy People 2030 that was developed by the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives for 2030 (Committee).

This framework includes the Healthy People 2030 vision, mission, foundational principles, plan of action, and overarching goals — and it will guide the selection and prioritization of objectives for Healthy People 2030.

Members of the public are invited to submit comments on the proposed framework from June 27 through September 29, 2017.

Learn more and submit your comments today!