By Mari Mukai, Chapter Coordinator, Alaska Children’s Alliance
Our mission at Alaska Children’s Trust is the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Achieving this requires all of us – individuals and organizations – to work together, each playing an important role in supporting the safety and well-being of Alaska’s children and families. We are honored to work with partners such as the Alaska Children’s Alliance to make progress toward this shared vision, and we are pleased to share this guest blog post, which provides more information about the Alliance and its important work.
It was 1985 in Huntsville, Alabama. Then-District Attorney Bud Cramer was frustrated by the inefficiency of child abuse investigations. Criminal justice and social service systems were both involved, but they operated in silos, resulting in processes that were fragmented, duplicative and often re-traumatizing for victims.
“I wanted a place that was child and family friendly . . . A place where we could review cases. Like a home base,” Cramer has said.
With this in mind, Cramer pioneered the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) model: a multi-disciplinary team approach that combines medical professionals, law enforcement, behavioral health providers, prosecutors, child protection workers, victim advocates, tribal workers, and forensic interviewers. At a CAC, services are coordinated together around the best interests of the child.
The CAC model has since spread throughout the country and the world. Alaska currently has 14 established CACs, with several other communities in development stages. Each CAC offers a safe and neutral place to begin an investigation, and to offer healing for child victims and their supportive caregivers. In 2019, Alaska’s CACs served over 2,500 children to address concerns of sexual abuse, serious physical abuse, commercial sexual exploitation and/or witness to violence.
Child abuse is a complex and challenging field, requiring a high level of specialized skill and expertise. It is also a field that struggles with frequent turnover, limited resources, vicarious trauma, and a lack of in-state training opportunities. In a state that consistently struggles with some of the nation’s highest per capita rates of child abuse, there is a critical need to support professionals so they are equipped to do the best job possible at holding offenders accountable and helping children to heal.
The Alaska Children’s Alliance (ACA) is Alaska’s CAC membership organization and is an accredited State Chapter of the National Children’s Alliance. ACA provides training, technical assistance, and support with national accreditation to ensure that our children receive minimal best practice services.
ACA supports CACs and multi-disciplinary partners through:
Statewide network building: ACA facilitates regular membership teleconferences and in-person meetings. These opportunities allow for sharing of best practices and resources, mentoring, and relationship building amongst Alaska’s CACs.
Alaska Conference on Child Maltreatment: ACA holds a biennial statewide conference, which is the only training opportunity of its kind for CACs and multi-disciplinary teams. In December 2020, ACA is excited to host its first virtual conference!
Medical and behavioral health consultation groups: ACA supports discipline-specific groups that promote statewide peer review, accurate diagnosis, and best practice sharing in their respective fields.
Forensic interview training: ACA collaborates with partners including the Office of Children’s Services, Department of Public Safety, Department of Law, and the Child Welfare Academy to implement ChildFirst Alaska, a nationally recognized protocol supported by current research and best practices. Forensic interviewing is conducted with children of all ages in a way that is neutral, legally defensible, and minimizes trauma.
Other trainings and technical assistance: ACA facilitates other trainings and provides technical assistance as needs arise. In 2019, ACA provided training and technical assistance in the areas of family advocacy, behavioral health, and support to communities wishing to develop a multi-disciplinary response to child abuse.
Legislative advocacy: ACA’s Legislative Advocacy committee is dedicated to addressing policy issues facing CACs statewide. The Committee is currently focused on improving the statewide system response to youth with sexual behavior problems, a population that comprises about one-third of CAC cases.
Charity Carmody is a fourth-generation Alaskan. She and her husband, Kris, have been married 26 years. They have four grown children and two grandchildren. The Carmody’s took in their first foster child when Charity was only 21 years old. Within the first six years of their marriage, they owned a large home in North Mountain view and cared for foster children and adults in need of rehabilitation. Their oldest son, Jesse, was one of their first foster children.
Caring for foster children continues to be a passion for Charity. The nonprofit Beacon Hill was founded in the Carmody’s living room in 2009 by a group of friends that wanted to give back. It started as a transitional living facility for homeless mothers and children, and then became a foster care and adoption agency five years later.
Today, Beacon Hill has a foster care prevention program called Safe Families for Children Alaska that operates in six cities. It also operates Family Support Centers in Anchorage and Wasilla that host supervised visits and mentorship for children in foster care with their biological families. Beacon Hill also manages the Heart Gallery of Alaska, which recruits adoptive homes for children in foster care that are legally free for adoption and are waiting for a forever family. In 2017, Beacon Hill opened a thrift store and café, whose profits fund Beacon Hill’s operating expenses. Charity acted as Beacon Hill’s volunteer executive director until 2018, when Kristen Bierma was hired to take the organization to its next level. Charity remains the board president.
Outside of her volunteer work, Charity has been in finance and insurance since beginning her career in 1994 at Smith Barney. She started her own company, Carmody Insurance Agency, in 2007. Her agency is now located in South Anchorage and still going strong, giving jobs and resources to the community.
Charity received her bachelor’s in business and MBA from Alaska Pacific University, where she now teaches as an adjunct business professor. She is currently finishing her doctorate in law and policy from Northeastern University in Boston. She has a dream of writing federal and state child welfare law.
Charity’s efforts to better her community has been recognized numerous times. She is a 2015 Top 40 under 40 recipient by the Alaska Journal of Commerce, a 2019 Athena Society Inductee, the recipient for Beacon Hill of World Magazine’s Hope Award for effective compassion in Washington D.C., and a member of 100+ Women Who Care.
Lisa Wade is Ahtna Dene’ of the taltsiine (water clan) and the c’etsiy tnaey (iron people clan). Lisa is a Nay’dini’aa Na’ Kayax (Chickaloon Native Village) Tribal citizen. She is a wife and mother of two amazing daughters and currently lives at Tsidak’etna’ (Grandmother’s Creek), just north of Palmer.
Lisa has served as a member of the Chickaloon Village Traditional Council since 2012, and Council secretary and Tribal Court judge since 2018. She has worked for Chickaloon Village Traditional Council since 2007, and serves as the health, education and social services division director. She also manages the Ya Ne Dah Ah School, the first school in Alaska established by a Tribal government.
Lisa is a standing board member on the Benteh/Nuutah Valley Native Primary Care Center joint operating board, the Ce’yiits Hwnax Life House Community Health Center advisory committee, the Mat-Su Health Foundation board of directors, the Alaska Family Services board of directors, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Tribal technical advisory committee. She has also participated on the steering committees of Raising Our Children with Kindness (R.O.C.K.) Mat-Su and the Alaska Resilience Initiative (ARI) since their inception.
Lisa is an advocate for the health and wellness of Alaska Native peoples and is committed to supporting healthy communities locally, statewide and nationally through community building, policy development, and indigenous advocacy. She enjoys cultural learning and creating community art projects, especially with children.
About the Award
Each year, through our Champion for Kids Awards, Alaska Children’s Trust recognizes individuals who have demonstrated dedication and commitment in working toward preventing child abuse and neglect by ensuring that children are living in safe, supportive, and nurturing communities. The purpose of the Champion for Kids Award is to recognize someone for his or her contributions to children living throughout Alaska, whether it is through their professional employment, volunteer work, community activities, or actively working with children.
Charity and Lisa join other 2020 Champions throughout the state, including Traci McGarry and Bernard Gatewood, our 2020 Northern/Interior Champions, and Kevin Ritchie and Kyle Worl, our 2020 Southeast Champions. Find full bios of our Champions on our website.
Our Challenge Campaign is an important effort to raise funds during a time when children and families are more vulnerable than ever before. A very special thank you to our generous challenge grant sponsors: Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, Wells Fargo, Doyon, Limited, the Brice-Henderson Family, Mat-Su Health Foundation, Rasmuson Foundation, and Southcentral Foundation, as well as our 45+ co-hosts and board members who are challenging our community of friends.Learn more about the campaign and see the full list of supporters on our website.
Fall is typically an exciting time of the year for families, with schools promising new beginnings, new teachers, and new friends for our children. When disaster and trauma came unannounced to our communities this spring in the form of a virus, all that was set aside. Unlike typical disasters, when a specific event occurs and those in its wake work to recover, COVID-19 has persisted for over seven months now, challenging the health and well-being of even Alaska’s strongest families.
Now it is time for our kids to head back to the classroom, some virtually and some physically, with the same anticipation and hope that they have always had. They know that they will be tasked with academic expectations, but more importantly, they hope to build memories, experiences, and friendships with adults and peers alike that will last long after the math and reading lessons. Teachers hope for the same.
We face two challenges to be able to do that while under the umbrella of trying to mitigate this virus. The first is that a majority of our students will arrive in school with more stress and potentially more ACES (adverse childhood experiences) than when they left in the spring. The pressure that our families have felt for the last seven months have been experienced by our children as well. That tension has been sustained, and for most, hasn’t let up yet. The comfort of a healthy rhythm in their lives, from a normal school schedule, summer activities, and travel, have all been disrupted – without a healthy alternative to engage their minds and bodies.
The second challenge that our teachers are faced with is the ability to be emotionally connected while still physically distant from their students. On their path towards certification, every teacher has learned that before a child can learn, there has to be a sense of safety, and basic physical needs must be met. The ability to address that through a computer screen or from a 6-foot distance is difficult at best. The loss of a simple confirming touch from a teacher or even the inadvertent bumps and touches between peers in the hallway or during lunch will make these critical social connections hard to make. The requirement for masks in our schools will restrict yet another needed means of connection.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes that our schools have always been key components in the overall health of our children. Schools provide needed social interaction, a sense of belonging in a setting beyond the family, and the opportunity to gain a feeling of accomplishment and self-esteem. Each of these build resiliency and increase the ability to deal with the stresses in life. This is even more important for our children living in poverty and with disabilities, who disproportionately face the effects and stresses of being isolated from their peers and other positive adults in their lives.
This fall, our schools will look differently than they have in the past. Their goal amidst increasing challenges hasn’t changed, though. Every teacher will be working to meet the needs of the children and young adults in their classrooms so that they can, in turn, meet their needs as students.
We all want our children to be prepared for the world when they leave our K12 school system. This fall especially, let’s not jump to the scores on a test or quiz as the measure of our children’s success or preparedness. That will come, but only after we help them navigate this time in their lives that none of us had to experience as kids and none of us could have anticipated. Activities that may seem non-academic may be some of the most critical aspects of a child’s time as they re-engage and work to rebuild those connections with their school community.
Our kids will get through this. Our schools are working hard to make that happen.
Mike Hanley has been an educator in Alaska for the last 30 years. He has been an elementary classroom teacher, a principal, a superintendent, and the commissioner of education under two governors. He has raised two children, who both spent 13 years in the public schools. He and his wife, Angela, have been blessed with two new grandbabies.
Alaska Children’s Trust’s mission is the prevention of child abuse and neglect. To achieve this mission, we must ensure all Alaskan children grow up in a family and community that provides them with all the tools and resources necessary to make their dreams come true. Creating a community that is focused on ending systemic racism is part of this important work, and we are pleased to share this guest blog post from the Alaska Black Caucus on this topic.
Children learn by the time they enter school that race matters. They learn this and then they grapple with it, with or without help. Choosing to talk to your kids about race may be uncomfortable and challenging, but it’s also a beautiful opportunity to foster vulnerability and courage between parents or other caregivers and children. And it’s an opportunity for salvation from systemic racism.
It’s unlikely that many white parents, unlike Black parents or other People of Color (POC) parents, have ever had “the race talk” with their children. Until now, many white parents may have considered “the race talk” to be optional – or even racist. So they have avoided it.
As a Black parent, I knew that speaking about race with my children was not optional. Instead it was a chance to teach my children what to expect in the world and things that might save their lives in potentially deadly encounters with police officers, over something as simple as routine traffic stops, for example. Black parents share history with their kids about how the institution of law enforcement often condones the use of deadly force by police officers, and they teach their kids to never give police the slightest excuse to use such force. Talking openly and frankly about race and its impact on the children’s safety could save their lives.
But we must now recognize – and should have long ago – that for non-POC parents, talking about race is also essential. While talking about race with children who are not POC (white children) may not involve teaching them how to stay alive in an encounter with police, it can involve letting them know that existing racism in our world puts other people in danger because of race. Additionally, talking about race with white children can give them an understanding of how they can make choices to be anti-racist – a choice that does not involve being “color blind.”
Parents who are not sure how to talk to kids about race should consider reading books on the topics by experts such as Ibram X. Kendi and others.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic caused us all to engage in social distancing, I used to have more opportunities to engage in public speaking about race in America. Often, after giving those speeches on race in America, I would be asked a question that goes something like this: “Given the passage of civil rights laws, affirmative action, and diversity initiatives, and with American society now being integrated, do I feel there is still a need for black this, black that?”
I always responded the same way: “My answer would depend on your understanding as to why such a need ever existed in America.” Invariably, a look of slight confusion comes on the questioner’s face. And before the person can recover, I start to ask them a series of questions:
“Do you know African-Americans arrived in America before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock?”
“Are you a Christian?” (Here, I ease the tension a bit by comforting the person with the fact I am also a Christian.)
“Did you know that Black churches in America came into being out of necessity, as an act of salvation in response to the acts of oppression and segregation?”
“Did you know slaves gained their freedom with the help of white abolitionists and the first civil rights organizations were formed by blacks and progressive whites who came into being during the first decade of the 20th century to help curb the wholesale lynching and massacring of law-abiding Black people?”
My audience, regardless of color, often fails this history test on the perpetual existence of systemic racism and why the need for an awareness of racism and citizen-initiated opposition to the system has existed before and after the abolishment of slavery. Too often, my audience does not realize how systems, including our government, have engaged in race-related oppression.
I haven’t given a speech since COVID-19-related restrictions began. But with protests unfolding all over America, I will thankfully need to update my message. Thanks to Black Lives Matter, modern day and highly effective civil rights groups like the Alaska Black Caucus and the NAACP, as well as progressive folks from all walks of life, our nation is now forced to have a long overdue and desperately needed reckoning on race. I am hopeful that Black parents and other POC parents will no longer be the only ones talking to their kids about race.
In the future, I will be able to close my speeches and Q&A sessions on a much more hopeful note regarding the impacts of racism and how everyone can benefit from ending racism. Of course it impacts people of color much differently than white in particular, but to end racism is to journey back towards our collective humanity.
Talking about racism with children and with adults – of any race – needs to be seen as unifying and not divisive. We can all now realize that acts of salvation are needed. We can all see that salvation from the harmful effect of racism can serve as a bridge. We can all see the need for a bridge that all Americans, all members of the Human Race, can cross over towards a future beyond harmful racism. Let’s build that bridge by talking openly and honestly about race. With ourselves, with each other, and with children.
Mission, Services, Partnership Information, and Rates
Mission: To assert the Constitutional Rights of African Americans.
(1) By actively involving the Caucus in the decision making processes in the community as a contributing partner with decision-makers and representative bodies affecting the lives and livelihoods of African Americans.
(2) By actively supporting and working in areas which help to advance the educational, cultural, political, and economic well-being of the African American community.
(3) By acting as a liaison and coordinating entity for the various minority interests within the community and State.
(4) By making available accurate and timely information on relevant issues and areas of concern to minority people and their progressive supporters.
(5) By creating awareness that the struggle to achieve total equality has not yet been achieved.
(5) By emphasizing the ever-increasing need for African Americans and minorities to make renewed attempts toward attaining these goals.
Services and potential partnership activities:
Speaking at events hosted by your organization or company.
Writing guest blog posts or other content creation.
Co-hosting programs and/or events.
Other options possible depending on availability and alignment with mission.
Please note that although we strive to provide free support to others whose work aligns with our mission, we must also stay mindful of the need to sustain our capacity to meet our mission. We therefore welcome payment for our time working in partnership with other organizations or companies whenever possible.
Why it’s important – and safe – to go to the pediatrician during the pandemic
By Lily J. Lou, MD, FAAP
Our world has been utterly transformed by COVID-19 but we are still here, trying to find a new normal and live our lives as best we can in the face of the pandemic. We’ve put a lot of things on hold for the past few months, but it’s important to get back to some essential activities that keep us healthy and safe. Keeping up with your child’s pediatrician is one of those.
Wouldn’t it be crazy to go to the doctor now, with COVID-19 going around?
Absolutely not! Pediatricians do many things to keep our kids healthy and safe. One of the things that comes immediately to mind is staying up to date on immunizations. We see what COVID-19 — an infectious disease without a vaccine or good treatments — is doing to our country; the last thing we want is an epidemic of measles, diphtheria, hepatitis, or any of the other terrible diseases for which we do have vaccines, just because we’ve fallen behind in going to the doctor to keep on schedule with routine immunizations!
During the pandemic, Alaska has seen an alarming decrease in the number of vaccines given. We’re improving a little, but we need to correct this trend or we’ll lose the herd immunity that has protected us for many years. It will also be crucial that we get our flu vaccines this fall — who knows what the combination of COVID-19 and influenza will do!
Pediatricians also screen for many conditions that are treatable if they’re picked up early. These can include physical or mental health issues. Routine screening is important in navigating the process of normal growth and development; it also picks up on children falling behind in key milestones. Children are amazingly resilient and generally respond well to treatments that are started before problems progress too far. Developmental delays can often be ameliorated with early intervention.
What are pediatricians doing to make sure it’s safe to come into the office?
Pediatricians have put a lot of thought into how they can minimize risks of exposure so children can be seen in ways that keep them safe. Some now have separate entrances for sick and well patients. Some only see well patients in the mornings and ill children in the afternoons. Some practices have designated a few doctors and staff to only take care of well visits and immunizations, while different ones care for children with symptoms. Some pediatricians will come out to your car to provide care to maintain safe physical distancing. Most offices have options for telehealth visits, but some needs (like immunizations) do require being seen in person. Tips are available to get the most out of a telehealth visit.
Call your own pediatrician to see how things have changed and to make an appointment to keep up with important health care for your children.
A few words about masks
Wearing a cloth mask has been shown to be protective — as part of a community bundle that also includes physical distancing, good hand hygiene, avoiding crowds, and a system of testing and contact tracing that allows focused isolation rather than universal stay-at-home orders. This is the way we can start to resume some of our interactions.
Masks are generally safe, except for very few exceptions. They do not decrease oxygen levels or cause your carbon dioxide levels to go up. Children under 2 years of age should not be masked. Nor should people with severe baseline breathing problems, those with developmental disabilities that make them unable to tolerate a mask or remove it in an emergency, or some with severe sensory intolerances. Most children with asthma can safely wear a mask unless their disease is severe, requiring frequent emergency treatment or hospitalization. COVID-19 and mask wearing are good reminders of the importance of getting asthma under control — another reason to visit the pediatrician.
Masks with fun designs, practicing wearing a mask properly, education about mask effectiveness and safety, and role modeling by parents and other respected adults will help children with this new habit.
Stay safe and call your pediatrician!
Please follow common sense in the precautions you and your family take to avoid getting sick in the pandemic. Know that it is safe to go to the doctor and keep up with the routine care that keeps us healthy. Make it part of your new normal to call your pediatrician!
Lily J. Lou, MD, FAAP, is a pediatrician/neonatologist in Anchorage, and past president of the Alaska Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Alaska Children’s Trust was fortunate to benefit from the skills and efforts of two talented summer interns: Aqpaluk Elizabeth G. Ahkivgak and Ethan King.
Elizabeth was born in Anchorage and raised in Barrow. She is attending Penn State University, where she is working toward degrees in accounting and energy and sustainability policy. After graduating, she will consider becoming a tax-focused CPA or applying to law school. “I want to use these kinds of technical skills to serve communities through funneling resources to marginalized people. My dream job would allow me to give back to the communities that collectively raised me through public programs. I want to be a tool for good causes,” Elizabeth says.
“Working for Alaska Children’s Trust this summer has been such a cathartic experience,” Elizabeth shares. “They and nonprofits alike are leading the way in diversity and inclusion. I was able to see how their nonprofit network cooperates to alleviate overhead administrative expenses; I found this to be resourceful. I appreciated the insight Alaska Children’s Trust illustrated on the transfer of public funds and how their grant streams truly serve children directly through community resources that combat child abuse and neglect. They connected me with other nonprofit directors for grant writing mentorship, supported my passion for volunteering, and encouraged me every day!”
In her free time, Elizabeth enjoys hiking, camping, fishing, box gardening, skiing, painting, beading, speaking Inupiaq, writing, and volunteering in the community.
Ethan was born and raised in Anchorage, and is currently a student at West High School. “I am looking forward to going to college in a couple years,” he says. “I would like to study abroad at some point, and find a profession that allows me to use my imagination as well as what I learn in school.”
“The thing I most enjoyed most during my time at Alaska Children’s Trust was working with and learning from the wonderful staff. It was truly a pleasure,” Ethan shares. “There was so much I learned over the last month. I learned a lot about operating in an office environment. I also learned how to use Excel and methods for archiving. If I had to pick one thing that really stood out to me, it would be the ways a nonprofit can really have a profound impact through targeted grants.”
Among Ethan’s interests are cross country skiing, hiking, computer games, and travel.
They join our 13 other board members, who each selflessly dedicate their time and talents to helping us work toward our mission to prevent child abuse and neglect in all corners of Alaska.
Public Member, Anchorage
Margo Bellamy is a retired educator and adjunct professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Margo was elected to the Anchorage School Board in April 2019. Her position on the Anchorage School Board is influenced by her vast experience in education ,which spans over 40 years.
Prior to retiring in July 2016, Margo served as the executive director of the Compliance/Equal Employment Opportunity Office in the Anchorage School District. Her experience and leadership in education also includes being a teacher, librarian, assistant principal, principal and central office administrator.
Providence Alaska Foundation, Anchorage
A lifelong Alaskan, Suzanne was born and raised in Palmer and joined Providence in 2001. As president of Providence Alaska Foundation, Suzanne is responsible for philanthropic and grants development and operations for Providence in Alaska. She is also the regional chief philanthropy officer for Providence Health & Services Alaska.
Prior to joining Providence, Suzanne worked in the telecommunication’s industry in various operations and marketing leadership roles. She earned her Bachelor of Business Administration and Management from Alaska Pacific University and has maintained her CFRE (Certified Fund Raising Executive) accreditation since 2007.
Suzanne has served her community through Rotary, the YWCA board of Directors and is currently on the Alaska Children’s Alliance board and The Foraker Group operations board. She is also honored to be a previous recipient of Alaska’s Top Forty Under 40.
Public Member, Anchorage
Reggie has a variety of experiences, from sitting on local Alaska Native corporations’ boards to the local school board. He served on a statewide advisory board on alcoholism and drug abuse, the Fish and Game advisory board, and several others.
Reggie, an Inupiat man from Kotzebue, Alaska, has lived a lifetime in Alaska’s Arctic.
Reggie also worked as a recruiter and counselor for a post-secondary technical vocational school in Kotzebue and served in the Alaska State Legislature for 16 consecutive years. Recently, he also served a three-year term as the mayor of the Northwest Arctic Borough. Most recently, Reggie served on the President’s State Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience; he was one of two Indigenous people across America appointed by President Obama to this role.
By Julia Martinez, VP Philanthropy & External Affairs and Casey Martinez
I’ve just noticed that July 26 is National Parents’ Day. Funny, I never really thought about the day too much, but this year is different in so many ways. It seems like the right time to share some with you about what it has meant to be a parent – your parent.
Parents’ Day promotes responsible parenting … and recognizes positive parental role models. Wow, that is a tall order! It’s a nice idea to celebrate parents and their roles, but the truth of the matter is parenting is much more than one day. It is a big and difficult job that never really goes away. I used to think it did. I used to think that once you and your siblings reached adulthood I’d be done, but I know now that is not true. Instead, it has evolved – from caring for your every need as an infant to offering support as you navigate adulthood. And I’m glad for this – being your parent has only grown in meaning and fulfillment, even with the ups and downs, as you became an adult.
Responsible parenting. Another wow. I’d hate to claim, and you’d probably agree, that I was 100% responsible as your parent. Life has its challenges and people are imperfect even when we try. Stresses in life happen and life is seldom fair. For me, I can say I tried and cared and wanted to be responsible, but then again – this is a tall order. My parenting had hardships but to a much less degree than so many in our communities and state. I admire and respect the many other parents who are parenting with difficulties like unemployment, food insecurity, substance misuse and difficult home situations. My hope is, as an adult, you can forgive me for mistakes and use them to be resilient and better able to make a difference to a child you will influence one day. I remember when I forgave my parents for mistakes and imperfections I understood only as an adult. I wish the same for you.
The special bond between parent and child.Oh, I can speak to that. Perhaps one day you will choose to be a parent, or an influencer in a child’s life, and assume this most marvelous role. I’ve learned the best things in life are those you work the hardest for – and parenting is hard. As I reflect, here are some nuggets of truth to help you and other parents out there:
Everyone is a parent for the first time; you only know what you know.
Parenting is the great experiment of life; an experiment with great joy yet great responsibility.
Parenting is as difficult as it seems; but I would not trade it for the world.
Life is not fair; not all parents have the same tools and supports they need to nurture to the extent they would like; be kind, compassionate and help others.
We make mistakes with varying consequences; we should amend, learn and ask for forgiveness.
Parents were once children, who can reflect and grow in their own understanding of their parents as people, and forgive their parents too.
I hope my sharing has been useful to you as you face the evolving role of adult/parent relationships. Happy National Parents’ Day, Casey.
I’ve just noticed that July 26 is National Parents’ Day. Funny, I never really thought about the day too much, but this year is different in so many ways. It seems like the right time to share some thoughts with you now that I am an adult – and you were my parent.
First, I just caught myself saying “were my parent.” I realize now parenting is forever, a club you join and never leave. Even though I am an adult now, you can’t help but parent me, but hopefully in a new way that allows space, acceptance and unconditional love. I make mistakes, but know they are mine to make. Though hard to admit, I was listening, learning and leaning on you to guide me. Growing up, your words of wisdom were hallowed when I was young, rejected when I was a teen, and now, as an adult, reflected upon for at least consideration as I make my own way. I’m not perfect, but it’s my responsibility to make my way.
At some point, I realized childhood can be portioned in two phases. First, the years when you were my whole world and I relied on you the most. It could be called the “honeymoon” stage, where a mother or father can do no wrong. You were perfect to me. I remember it so clearly! My brave, giving mother. I remember you cared for me, participated in my life, making things better. I was protected and felt loved. There were stresses and pressures in your life that I felt protected from, but I also know family challenges and stresses do impact everyone; no one is immune. But I was mostly unaware, though consequences can be real. I realize raising a family can be very hard, especially if there are additional challenges like lack of finances, dysfunctional relationships and more.
You were not perfect. As I grew up, the imperfect details of our family life and relationships came to light. You were a mother working full-time and raising four children, and not in an easy environment. I started to see my parents as flawed humans. It was hard to accept and forgiveness did not happen overnight. It wasn’t until my adulthood where I could look you in the eye and know you did the best you could with circumstances and the information you had. And I am one of the lucky ones. As an adult, I see the challenges that so many families face, especially here in Alaska. While our family faced stresses, we always had a steady source of food, a warm bed and lively, yet stable family life. I can see how parenting can be oh so much more difficult than what I experienced. I hope parenting will be a joy to me and a joy as it should be to every family, and that the stresses and pressures that challenge families would be no more.
Our relationship has certainly changed as I’ve become an adult; and I think for the better. I know and accept the truer version of you, a beautifully imperfect role model and mother. Happy National Parents’ Day, Mom.
No matter how the world changes, and time passes, the relationship between a parent and a child can continue to endure and evolve.
Julia and Casey participating in a Pride cycle in a safe, socially distanced way. (2020)
“My relationship with my daughter wouldn’t be the same without it”
Spring 2019 was an exciting time for Pili Queja. He and his wife, Reanne, found out last February that they were expecting their first baby. Shortly after, Pili received a job offer from Alaska Children’s Trust as the program specialist with the Alaska Afterschool Network.
Among all the preparations that go into getting ready to welcome a new baby, Pili and his wife, both of whom were working full-time jobs, had to figure out how they would balance caring for their newborn while providing for their family.
At the time Pili started his new job, ACT did not have a paid family leave policy, and since he was such a new employee, he would not have much personal time saved up before his daughter’s arrival. And with all the expenses that come with having a baby, he preferred not to take unpaid leave. At the same time, being home to support his wife and help care for and bond with his daughter was a top priority.
“It was our first baby and I didn’t know what that would look like. What would I need to do to support my wife? How do I take care of my family and be present and fulfill my job? It was a stressful situation,” Pili shared.
A conversation with ACT early in his employment quickly got the ball rolling on the development of a paid family leave policy. Several months before his daughter’s birth, the new policy was in place, offering new mothers and fathers two weeks of paid leave, plus the ability for co-workers to donate their leave time to the new parent. Under the new policy, Pili received six weeks of paid family leave, including four weeks that were generously donated by his co-workers.
“It was amazing,” he said.
The knowledge that he had the time to care for his family was a relief, especially when Pili and Reanne’s birth plan went awry, with their daughter – Shiloh’Grace “Maluhia” – arriving two weeks early via c-section.
“I didn’t understand what went into recovering from a c-section. I can’t imagine having to leave my family and go back to work right away,” Pili said.
“Emotionally having the ability to be present with my family made me feel like I was being a good dad – while I was figuring out what that meant. There was no manual. We were learning by the hour how to work with her and we were growing together as parents. We had to learn how to feed her, learn her cries, her sleep schedule, how to burp her at 3 a.m. Going back to work in that time would have been crazy,” he continued. “My being able to be home was a huge support to our family.”
Among Pili’s most precious moments with his daughter were the nighttime feedings – something he would not have been able to help with if he had returned to work shortly after her birth. “Some of our best bonding time was late at night, feeding,” he recalled.
ACT’s family-friendly approach didn’t end with the new paid family leave policy. After Pili returned to work in early December, he was able to bring his daughter to work with him for the first six months. His wife’s employer also welcomes babies in the office for six months.
“Between the two of us, we both returned to work without needing to put our daughter in child care. She’s 6 months old and has never been to child care,” Pili said. “Our work family has seen her grow up.”
In the office, Pili felt very supported by both his employer and his co-workers. They put in a changing table so he didn’t have to change his daughter’s diapers on the office floor. They gave him a pack ‘n play as a baby shower gift so Maluhia could nap in his office. Co-workers offered to watch the baby when Pili had a meeting or phone call. And Pili’s officemate didn’t mind when Pili closed the door and played boy-band lullabies to get Maluhia to sleep.
“Knowing I was supported by my workplace was huge. They are sensitive to what families are going through, and want to help, not add stress,” Pili said. “My coworkers were always happy to see her and happy to help. I never felt like my having a baby was an inconvenience.”
Combined, the time at home after Maluhia’s arrival and the time with her in the office was a game-changer for Pili.
“My relationship with my daughter wouldn’t be the same without it,” he said.
Families are likely going to be celebrating Mother’s Day a little differently this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect nearly every aspect of our lives. In recognition of Mother’s Day, we spoke with several different moms, who provided their diverse perspectives on handling the changes in work and family life brought on by COVID-19 – and shared their advice and encouragement for other families.
Anna: “You don’t need to be super mom”
Like everyone, life has changed a lot since the pandemic for Anna McGovern, her husband, Mike, and their 19-month-old son, Nolan.
Anna, a program specialist with the Alaska Afterschool Network, has been working at home since late March. As their day care has been closed due to COVID-19, Nolan is his mom’s new co-worker. “It’s impossible working with a toddler,” she laughs. “He gets into everything and loves to touch my computer.”
As a juvenile probation officer, Anna’s husband, Mike, has continued going into work for the most part, with some remote work from home. This means Anna works around Nolan’s naptime, as well as in the evenings when her husband is home.
“It’s hard to spend all day with the baby, then work until 9 or 10 at night. I’m fortunate that my work is flexible, but it is tiring,” Anna says.
With no day care, library or play dates, Anna and Nolan fill their days with car rides, going outside, FaceTime with friends and family – and lots of walks. “The dog is getting pretty tired of walks. She’s thinking, ‘You’ve never walked me so much!’” Anna says.
Keeping a schedule is one way the family strives to maintain normalcy. Two things Anna makes sure are on the daily schedule: eating dinner together and working out.
“We try to make a point to sit down for dinner all together. We make it a priority and meals together is one thing we’ve really stuck to,” Anna says. “I also try to work out every day, even when I don’t want to. The easiest way to lower stress is to break a sweat for 20 minutes.”
Writing a list of daily goals and jotting down things she is grateful for are other self-care techniques that are helping Anna navigate these strange days.
“There is something about crossing things off a list, even if it’s ‘drink 100 ounces of water a day.’ It’s something I can control in a time when I can’t control anything. That’s really helped,” Anna explains. “Also writing down what I’m grateful for, any little thing that is good. When I get in a mood, I can go back and read it and remind myself that there are still a lot of positive things even though a lot of craziness is going on.”
One thing Anna is grateful for is the extra time she is getting to spend with her son. “At this age especially, they change so fast and learn so quick. It’s fun to experience. Also, I don’t have to choose between being a stay-at-home mom or working. I’m doing both; there is no pressure to be one or the other.”
Anna’s advice for other mothers juggling work, family and the anxiety of these uncertain times? “You don’t need to be super mom,” she says. “It’s a weird time right now. It’s OK to just be an OK parent.”
Diane: “Everyone else is in the same boat”
Before COVID-19 made its entrance in Alaska, Diane Heaney-Mead spent her days working at her architecture office in downtown Anchorage, while her wife, Colleen, ran a home day care for children including their own: Imogen, 1, and Alistair, 3.
Fast-forward several weeks and Diane has been shuffling her work between her daughter’s bedroom to the dining table and back between naps. Meanwhile, Colleen chose to discontinue her business due to social distancing requirements and to protect their son, who is easily affected by respiratory illnesses.
“I often end up working late both because spring is a busy time of year and because I find myself trying to help out with kids during the day,” Diane says. “And our kids have a hard time understanding why we can’t hang out with friends, go out to restaurants or places like the museum.”
Even with all the changes, the family has been adjusting fairly well, which Diane credits to keeping a schedule and setting work/family-time boundaries. “We are trying to keep a pretty similar routine, no hanging out in PJs or watching TV. The kids go for a walk in the morning about the same time each day, and my wife is still providing circle time for our kids,” she says.
“I give everyone a hug and a kiss before I ‘go to work’ in the bedroom and try to be clear about when it is work time and when it is not. I also try to be flexible based on their needs each day,” she adds.
While things are going pretty smoothly, there have been some tough days. “The first week we stayed home, there was a string of gun violence,” Diane explains, recalling a car chase with someone shooting an assault-style weapon out the window, and a separate incident with someone walking down the street shooting a handgun. “It was completely bizarre and not typical for our street.”
The silver lining was that it brought the neighbors together. A Facebook group was established so neighbors could connect and share information. Several people created neighborhood walks with themes like Halloween and space. And Diane and Colleen lent sleds to a nearby mom so she could tire out her active kids. “I don’t know that we would have connected as well unless we had all been home like this,” Diane says.
Spending more time as a family is another upside. “I get to spend more time with the children,” Diane says. “And last weekend we had the opportunity to look after a friend’s son for the weekend while she was giving birth. It was our children’s first time having a friend sleep over and made for a nice break from the isolation.”
When it comes to encouragement for other families, Diane says, “Hang in there. When kids run up during a web conference, I just remind myself that everyone else is in the same boat.”
Andrea: “We don’t always have to be doing something”
Life hasn’t really changed that much since the pandemic for Andrea Conter, her 21-year-old adopted son, and her two high-school-age foster boys. Unless you count the fact that Andrea isn’t working, her oldest son is now just working part-time, and the younger boys are schooling from home.
This is a family used to living with change, which is perhaps the reason they are taking the current situation in stride. Growing up in foster homes, the three boys are certainly familiar with frequent change – in homes, caregivers, schools, schedules. And Andrea, who became a mother just three years ago at the age of 52, has adapted to quite a bit of change in her life recently as well.
More change came a couple months later when Andrea got a call asking if she would foster two brothers on a temporary basis. Almost a year later, the two boys are still part of the family.
“Prior to COVID, we just did normal stuff – school, work, homework, gaming, friends,” says Andrea, who is a store manager at Burlington.
When COVID hit Alaska, that all changed. Instead of working full-time managing 80 employees, Andrea now completes several hours of virtual training each week and tries to keep her employees engaged over social media. Mitch’s work schedule was reduced to part-time, and he and Andrea share the grocery shopping responsibility. And the younger boys have transitioned to doing school from home.
“The biggest change is now we are all home all day. Things have been OK except for battling to get them to do homework,” Andrea notes.
All the ZOOM meetings and school emails are somewhat overwhelming, but Andrea says she likes to see the assignments and due dates and grades. She’s also been thrilled to see the change in her oldest foster son, who left a more stressful environment at one of the high schools geared for teens with behavioral issues. “He’s become much more engaged, and his stress and anxiety has dropped. I’ve watched him bloom,” Andrea says. “That’s been a win.”
A key to their success, Andrea feels, is being flexible with the family schedule. “I’m not too strict about schedules, but there are non-negotiables. Homework can be done at 2 a.m. but it has to be done. Same thing with chores. We have some structure in place, but there’s flexibility. Right now, it’s OK if there are a few things you let go.”
That flexibility, she has found, has opened the door to some important conversations with the boys that might not have happened otherwise. “If you’re too focused on structure and planning ‘family time,’ it can end up feeling forced. The biggest takeaway for me is we don’t always have to be doing something. We can just chill and allow conversations to naturally progress,” Andrea says.
While Andrea is missing the in-person interaction with her friends, employees and her volunteer work, she’s enjoying the time she has with her boys and their simpler lifestyle. “We were living in a go-go-go world,” she says. “I miss the engagement but realize that I don’t need it as much. I’m not going to require as much materially and socially after this is over.”
She hopes that will be true for others as well. “I’m seeing families together outside that I’ve never seen together before,” she says. “I hope that of all the things we take away from this, we keep that connection of family.”
Alaska Children’s Trust was established in 1988 with the goal of preventing child abuse and neglect throughout Alaska. As a registered 501C3 nonprofit organization, we accept charitable gifts to support our mission to strengthen families so all Alaskan children have the tools and resources necessary to make their dreams come true.