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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.

 

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.

Get Out Your “Go Blue Day Best”

Go Blue Day on Friday, April 7

ACT GBD Facebook eventMark your calendar and check your closets … Friday, April 7, is Go Blue Day! Dress or decorate in blue to show your support for safe, happy kids and raise awareness of national Child Abuse Prevention Month.

You are also invited to attend a Go Blue Day rally in your community:

  • Anchorage, 9 a.m., Wells Fargo on Northern Lights
  • Mat-Su Valley, 9 a.m., Wells Fargo in the Target parking lot, 1701 E Parks Highway
  • Juneau, 12 p.m. noon, Capital steps

Then, on Go Blue Day, post photos wearing your “Go Blue Day best” and be sure to tag @AlaskaChildrensTrust!

Let’s come together and show our love for Alaska’s kids. Together we can prevent child abuse and neglect.

What is the Role of the Office of Children’s Services?

By Christy Lawton, Director, Office of Children’s Services

christylawton5The Office of Children’s Services, or OCS, is often one of the most misunderstood organizations in state government. Formerly known as the Division of Family and Youth Services, after Gov. Frank Murkowski changed the name in 2003, the agency’s purpose was further muddled by the removal of the word “family,” leaving the emphasis solely on “children.”

The reality is that the focus is on the family as a whole. The OCS serves families whose children have been determined to be unsafe or at high risk of maltreatment by their parent or caregiver.

Services to families should always be done in the least restrictive, least intrusive manner possible. Decisions regarding needed interventions with families are based on thorough information collection that guides the initial and ongoing assessment of safety and risk.

After an investigation is completed on a report of child abuse, interventions with a family may fall along a continuum, from simple referrals to services; to services offered in the home, while the children remain in the home; to the children being removed and services provided to the entire family.

Because of our statutory duty, the agency and its staff often find themselves in situations where no matter what they do, it’s viewed as wrong by the public. Because of confidentiality, it is most often not known to the public how a decision was made or why. If a child gets hurt, people think we didn’t do our job. If a child is removed short of anything less than serious injuries or near death, some may say we acted too aggressively or were too intrusive in a family’s private matters.

What does all of this mean from a day-to-day perspective? It confirms that child protection workers have very difficult and often misunderstood roles. Keeping kids safe once we know there is a problem is the easier aspect of the job. Knowing when parents have really changed enough to ensure their child can be safe in the care is the most difficult and stressful.

OCS’s primary objective is to ensure the safety of the child and to reduce any further incidents of child maltreatment. Secondary to that, but equally important, is the hardest aspect of agency’s role, which is to work in partnership with the parent(s) to help them remedy the conditions or issues that resulted in the abuse or neglect that brought the family to our attention.

OCS works under a myriad of federal and state statutes that governs 99.9 percent of what we do. These laws ensure that parents are afforded due process to ensure their rights are protected and access to the courts system for judicial review of decisions made by the agency that help to ensure the agency decisions are sound and founded in law. It also seeks to ensure children don’t languish in foster care by limiting the amount of time a parent has to make the kind of meaningful change that would allow for a safe return of their child.

Funding for OCS services comes primarily from state general funds and federal funds at a ratio of about 70/30. Contrary to some theories, neither funding stream incentivizes the removal or the adoption of children we serve. When adoption is the goal, after having proven reunification is not viable, the federal government does provide incentive dollars for states that demonstrate that adoptions are finalized in a timely fashion.

Individual child welfare professionals within the OCS are not paid with respect to the number of families served, children removed, and/or children adopted or children reunified. They are paid to assess child safety, address strengths and deficits in parents’ protective factors, and to work to keep families intact whenever possible.

The 533 dedicated and skilled professionals who make up the Office of Children’s Services are providing a public safety service focused on Alaska’s most vulnerable residents, our children. Staff receive more than 15,000 reports a year and investigate over 9,000 individual reports. In addition, they work to provide effective case management and support to over 3,000 foster children, their parents, their relatives, and foster parents. They also partner with Tribes and work with numerous providers and legal partners.

OCS staff, like law enforcement officers, EMTs and many other safety-related professionals, provide this service often at a sacrifice to themselves and their own families. Unlike these professions that are typically well regarded and publicly supported, the professionals at OCS are sometimes minimized and criticized for doing the job they are legally obligated to do.

Despite these very real and significant challenges, OCS reunites more than half of the children that enter foster care successfully every year and very few of these children reenter the system later.

So, as we look forward to continuing our efforts to ensure a safe, healthy and thriving Alaska for all, I encourage you to look at ways you can ensure children in your community are safe by reporting all suspected abuse or neglect. I also encourage you to look for ways to ensure that the professionals who protect those children are supported, respected and appreciated for the work they do every day to ensure child safety.

Celebrating 20 years of Mush for Kids

Free family event in Fairbanks on Saturday, April 1

MFK4It’s that time of year … time for Mush for Kids! The free family event takes place Saturday, April 1 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks.

This year’s Mush for Kids will be more special than ever – we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of one of Fairbanks’ most-loved events!

Join us for:

  • Free dog sled rides for kids 4 – 12
  • Kids’ activities
  • Live entertainment
  • Demonstrations and information booths

Learn more about the history of this fun Fairbanks event on our website. And a very special thank you to our premier sponsor, Pogo Mine.

 

Congratulations Monte Lynn Jordan: 2017 Interior Champion for Kids

monteFrom being a Big Sister to organizing healthy activities to inspiring others to get involved, Monte Lynn Jordan is a driving force behind preventing child abuse and neglect in Alaska. Those are just a few of many reasons that Alaska Children’s Trust is honored to announce Monte as our 2017 Interior Champion for Kids. Monte was honored at our Fairbanks fundraising reception on Friday, March 31. See event photos on Facebook.

For the past 30+ years, Monte has been working to prevent child abuse and neglect by supporting healthy kids in Alaska. Fond of the Shirley Chisholm saying, “Service is the rent you pay for your room here on earth,” Monte puts her time and energy behind those words as a tireless advocate for children and families. Whether she is working to provide services to strengthen families, organizing healthy living activities for kids, or simply lending her talents to better the community at large, when an advocate for a child is needed, Monte is there.

image013Monte believes that healthy communities begin with healthy kids. A leader in many nonprofit service organizations, Monte’s exemplary service is a motivating force behind groups that support healthy families, especially children. Specifically, she has worked with the Resource Center for Parents and Children, which helps parents with parenting skills, strengthening the family structure in order to help prevent child abuse and neglect. She is a member of the board of directors for The Carol H. Brice Family Center, which promotes healthy families through education, day care assistance, legal help, and low-cost health care. Monte has also been a Court Appointed Special Advocate for abused, neglected or abandoned children in juvenile court proceedings.

image012Another way Monte works to prevent child abuse and neglect is by helping provide healthy activities for young people. She is a founding member of Running Club North’s Equinox Kid’s Marathon and a prime assistant for cross country training. She volunteers to help with high school track and field events, and is a dedicated organizer of the Alaska Children’s Trust Mush for Kids. Monte has also been directly involved in the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization as an active and interested Big Sister to a local young person, with whom she maintained a relationship well into adulthood. Whether in groups or individually, Monte’s enthusiasm for a healthy, active lifestyle is both an inspiration and motivation for kids who may face challenging circumstances.

As important as the direct role she takes working with and for kids, is the fact that Monte uses her love of people and passion for service to recruit others to do the same. A model of lifetime service and diligence, she may be working in the background, but she is always leading by example.

Monte is quite simply a positive force in society. Her ardent activism on behalf of children, faith in the power of a healthy lifestyle, and unflagging efforts in her community mean that she can be found wherever she is needed. She has been called many things: persistent, insistent, ally, friend. One thing is sure – she is a champion for kids.

Each year the Alaska Children’s Trust Champion for Kids Award recognizes individuals like Monte 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. We present three awards each year – one in southeast Alaska, one in Interior and one in southcentral. Earlier this year, we recognized Sen. Anna MacKinnon as our 2017 Southeast Champion for Kids. A call for nominations for the 2017 Southcentral Champion for Kids will be released this summer.

$3,100 Left to Go!

donate-hands-fbCan you help us reach our Pick. Click. Give. goal?

Woo-hoo! In the past two weeks, you have helped us grow our Pick. Click. Give. donations from $1,525 to $2,900! Thank you to all of our Pick. Click. Givers.

pcg-logo-fb-profileWe still have $3,100 left until we reach our $6,000 Pick. Click. Give. goal. Could you Pick. Click. Give. just $25 to help us get there?

You can make your pledge at pfd.alaska.gov. If you’ve already completed your PFD application, it’s easy to log back in and add a Pick. Click. Give. contribution.

And remember – by making a Pick. Click. Give. donation, you have the chance to double your PFD! (And earn a PFD for the nonprofit of your choice!)

Thank you for your support – together we can prevent child abuse and neglect!

Lullaby Project Brings Mothers in Prison Closer to their Children

By Shirley M. Springer Staten

kayla-shirley-copy

Shirley Mae Springer Staten spearheaded the Hiland Mountain Lullaby Project of 2016. ACT supported the project with a $10,000 grant.

The Hiland Mountain Lullaby Project of 2016 paired incarcerated women with Alaska musicians to create beautiful and personal lullabies for their children at home. The effort began in June of 2015, beginning as the mission of a single committed Anchorage woman. Happily, she did not work alone for long.

The result? On September 24, 2016, a packed audience of 250 supporters gathered in the prison gymnasium at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center to witness a powerful testament of love and connection. Sixteen mothers and 16 musicians performed lullabies before a heart-warmed public audience. In most cases, the tender lullaby recipients, small children, stood onstage with their moms – proudly or shyly – to hear her sing directly to them. Tears flowed, both on stage and in the audience. This event was healing made visible.

mothers-mg_2654How did the Hiland Mountain Lullaby Project happen? It is a genuine story of compassion that sprang from chance circumstances.

Shirley Mae Springer Staten likes to lounge in bed on Saturday mornings, listening to public radio. Listening to “This American Life” on NPR, Staten heard a woman say, “I can do some things for my children, even from prison.” The story was about women prisoners in Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail complex for 10,000 prisoners – literally on an island in the East River. The radio story told of a project by the Carnegie Hall Music Weill Institute to bring mothers in prison closer to their children, using lullabies to strengthen their bond.

All Staten could think about was women prisoners at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center. She knows its women because she has participated in many programs delivering hope and inspiration there since 1986. She wanted this musical opportunity for Hiland’s mothers and their children.

Staten made a cold call to the Carnegie Institute to ask about the project. Manuel Bagorro, program manager for Carnegie, called back a month later. He wanted to know – who was this woman in Alaska proposing to start a Lullaby Project in Alaska? How did she think she could accomplish it? Why was she qualified to lead it? Was she all talk, or could she really pull it off?

Bagorro didn’t wonder for long. He said he could hear the energy and commitment in Staten’s voice. He soon believed she could do it, and invited her to New York City for training. Staten had the opportunity there to witness a Lullaby Project in action.

She watched as women from a homeless shelter joined with local musicians to write lullabies. She remembers the women as amazing, even as they expressed little self-worth. Invited to write lyrics, they would often say, “I don’t know how to write a song!” But at the end of a five-hour workshop, they had indeed successfully composed choruses for their individual lullabies. They danced for joy, Staten said.

Back in Anchorage and on fire to launch a local project, Staten faced big hurdles. Where would the money come from, and how would she earn institutional approval?

The first step was gaining Hiland Mountain Superintendent Gloria Johnson’s support. She and her staff emphasize empowering women and reducing recidivism. This program, aimed at bonding prison mothers with their children, seemed like a good fit. They gave an emphatic green light, and the project was on. Of 25 lullaby projects around the United States, only two – Hiland Mountain and Rikers – happen in prison.

Staten attributes the project’s success to what she calls the “Yes factor.” That’s when armies of supporters say, “Yes!” and step up to help. Together, she and her co-conspirators found a nonprofit to host the project and raise necessary funds. Alaska Children’s Trust awarded a $10,000 grant to support the project.

Her next steps were recruiting musicians, providing training through Carnegie staff and matching musicians with inmate songwriters. The mothers tackled their lyric writing using the “Carnegie Lullaby Workbook.” In it, they sketched their dreams and hopes for their children. Together, mothers and musician “coaches” worked to translate those ideas into the language of song, and musicians wrote the tunes. A “listening party,” where mothers could approve final versions, was an emotional experience. For many of the mothers, this was the first time they were able to hear their own words set to music.

Finally, the project culminated in that September public performance, with each mother receiving a CD copy of her lullaby. It was an afternoon of soulful solidarity as fellow citizens stood with these incarcerated women and shared their love and affection for their beautiful children.

“It made me want to be a mother again,” one Hiland mother said.

 

Nominations Open for Volunteer of the Year Awards

First Lady Donna Walker announced earlier this month that nominations have opened for the First Lady’s Volunteer of the Year Awards. Started by First Lady Bella Hammond in 1975, the Awards recognize Alaska volunteers who have displayed an extraordinary personal commitment to volunteer service, and have made a major impact on their community or state.

 
“Over the years, we have recognized many exceptional individuals who have done amazing things for Alaskans,” said First Lady Walker. “I am so pleased to continue this tradition, and encourage Alaskans to nominate those in their communities whose selfless efforts make Alaska an even better place to live.”

 
Nominations will be accepted beginning February 6 through close of business on March 6, 2017. They may be submitted online at volunteerawards.alaska.gov, or hard copies are available for pick up at the Governor’s Offices in Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks, and Palmer. The First Lady’s Volunteer of the Year Executive Committee will review the nominations, and recipients will be announced in late May.

 
For more information, visit the FLVA Website.