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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.

Environment:

  • 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.

Policy:

  • 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.

Research:

  • 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.

Pamela_K_Miller

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 samrys@akaction.org.

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

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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 protectourcareak.org 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 alaskachildrenstrust.org.

ACT Welcomes New Team Member

Alaska Children’s Trust (ACT) is excited to announce the addition of Andrew Cutting to our team this week as Children’s Health Program Fellow.

Andrew Cutting

Thank you to the Annie E. Casey Foundation and The David & Lucile Packard Foundation for their support of the position, which will support the work ACT is doing related to data (i.e., KIDS COUNT Alaska) and children’s health care. The role will include data analyses, report writing, assistance with outreach and coalition building efforts, and direct advocacy.

Andrew is no stranger working with communities with difficult problems, having spent eight years with The Foraker Group, where he worked with a large array of organizations and issues from all across the state.

As Foraker’s research director, Andrew oversaw all data collection and worked within Foraker and with many nonprofits to turn data into information, which could then be acted upon.

Prior to Foraker, Andrew spent eight years as the community engagement manager at REI, where he shared his love of the outdoors with individuals and groups around the state, with a heavy focus on getting kids outside.

Before joining REI, Andrew worked for a diverse range of businesses, including managing a ski shop in Wyoming, wilderness instructor for the University of Alaska Anchorage, industrial and commercial painter, and commercial fisherman.

In a world swimming in data, Andrew helps people understand what matters most, and how to use inquiry to lead you to make better decisions.

When not staring at data or sharing interesting insights, Andrew can be found riding single-track in the mountains or lost in a cloud of sawdust in his woodshop.

 

Save the Date: Birth Parent National Network Virtual Convening

BPNN virtual convention

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.

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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.

 

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.

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