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Program Offers Safety Net to Families in Crisis

By Charity Carmody, Board President, Beacon Hill

By ensuring parents retain full legal and parental rights, this program allows families to reach out for help without fear.

beacon-hill-pic-stone-familyWe believe a large percentage of child abuse is preventable. There is something we can do. According to both national and state statistics, reports of neglect are far more prevalent than physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Neglect makes up 60 percent or more of all reports of harm. Neglect often occurs when parents are in crisis due to homelessness, unemployment, addiction, and most prevalent – social isolation.

By and large, social isolation is the primary cause of child maltreatment. Most of us have someone to call if we need help or are at a breaking point. Unfortunately, many families do not have that support and will resort to placing their children with people they do not know well, leaving them alone, or simply not tending to their needs the way they should. At Beacon Hill, we propose to prevent child abuse by creating a safety net for families in crisis before abuse begins.

Beacon Hill, a current recipient of an Alaska Children’s Trust community-based child abuse and neglect prevention grant, launched this safety net in the form of Safe Families for Children Alaska in Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley. Nationally, Safe Families for Children operates in over 75 locations and is in many other countries. Our first volunteers began hosting children in crisis in January of 2016. Since then, Safe Families for Children Alaska has hosted 13 children. These children did not have to go into foster care as a result of being placed with Safe Families.

Safe Families for Children is community-based and volunteer driven. Upon a parent’s call to our helpline the family goes through an intake process to determine if Safe Families is right for their situation. If Safe Families is an appropriate service, the family is matched with a fully trained and certified “host family” in their community.

Prior to being approved to serve, host families undergo all of the state-mandated background checks, training, and receive a home assessment. The decision to place is entirely voluntary on the part of the child’s family.

A trademark of Safe Families is that the parents retain full legal and parental rights throughout the entire placement process. This voluntary nature is key for the success of Safe Families for Children. It first and foremost decreases the likelihood of perpetuated abuse, often seen in the foster care system. Also, by eliminating the parents’ fear of losing their children, it gives the parents a chance to build a trust relationship with the host family, which often grows into a lasting friendship.

As opposed to foster care, Safe Families is intended to prevent abuse or neglect. By dividing a family in crisis, more harm than help can often result. The families supported by the Safe Families program have no current involvement with the Office of Children’s Services (OCS), nor have their problems risen to the level that would require OCS involvement.

Since these families retain full legal parental rights at all times, Safe Families cannot be viewed through the same lens as foster care. At its most basic level, Safe Families creates the type of relationships that naturally exist in families and communities. Safe Families provides these same relationships for individuals and families who lack the strong, stable communities most of us take for granted.

Finally there is a way for families to ask for help and not feel shame. Finally we can give a family a safety net created by their neighbors and not the government. Finally Alaska has a way to prevent child abuse by helping the parents as well as the children. charity-blue-standing

It’s time to change the way we structure our communities and keep our children safe. To get involved, go to

Charity Carmody is the president of Beacon Hill. A local business owner, she first became a foster parent in 1997.

Halloween Tips and Tricks

Halloween is the highlight of October for many of Alaska’s kids and families. And trick or treating is one of the most popular ways for children to celebrate the holiday. Alaska Children’s Trust (ACT) wants to help make sure Halloween is both fun and safe for your kids with these tips and tricks:

  • Plan out a route in advance and check it during the daylight for obstacles such as broken sidewalks, or no sidewalks, and other things that could trip up trick or treaters. If you’re welcoming trick or treaters to your home, be sure access to your door is safe as well.
  • Remind your trick or treaters to walk, not run, and to use sidewalks rather than cutting across lawns or driveways.
  • Only trick or treat at houses that are lit.
  • Keep track of time and don’t trick or treat after 9 p.m.
  • Cross the street at corners, using traffic signals and crosswalks.
  • Feed your kids a healthy meal prior to going trick or treating. Your child will be happier, and it will help reduce the temptation of kids wanting to devour candy from the first trick or treat stop.
  • Children of any age should be accompanied by a parent. If your young teen resists this notion, be sure to set firm rules and require a child to carry a cell phone that can be used in the event of an emergency. Older kids should know where they can go, what etiquette they must follow, safety rules, carry a flashlight or a lit device, and have an absolute deadline for returning home.
  • Never allow children to eat candy before it is inspected.
  • Teach children to make eye contact with drivers before crossing in front of them.
  • Watch for cars that are turning or backing up. Teach children to never dart out into the street or cross between parked cars.

With these tips and tricks in mind, this spooktacular night will be one that children continue looking forward to year-round. 

Before your family ventures out for Halloween fun this year, be sure to like the ACT Facebook page and share a photo of your little ghosts and goblins!

ACT Becomes Home of KIDS COUNT Alaska

ACTlogo2012colorOne of the greatest barriers to achieving our mission of preventing child abuse and neglect is the complexity of the issue. There is no one cause nor any one solution. A key tool to overcome this barrier is data. Data assists in understanding the story behind the issue. It helps eliminate assumptions, stereotypes and removes the societal filters that can prevent us from getting to the root cause of an issue.

Earlier this year, Alaska Children’s Trust (ACT) became the home of KIDS COUNT Alaska. KIDS COUNT maintains the best available data and statistics on the educational, social, economic and physical well-being of children. Through this partnership, ACT will have one more tool to support the statewide efforts to ensure all children grow up in safe, stable and nurturing environments.

To ensure this program meets the needs of our state, ACT hired Denali Daniels & Associates, Inc. (DDA) to conduct a review of what is being done in other states, what has been done in Alaska to date, and to identify what opportunities exist for expanding the positive impact of the program. This process included three components:

  • Phase 1: Best Practices Research
  • Phase 2: Stakeholder Advisory Committee Convening
  • Phase 3: Stakeholder Survey

This process identified three core areas for development to ensure KIDS COUNT Alaska continues to be a strong resource to Alaskans:

  1. Establish a statewide advisory committee that will be responsible to clearly define KIDS COUNT Alaska’s priorities, which provide the framework for a manageable set of indicators.
  2. Establish a process that makes Alaska data more easily accessible, specifically utilizing technology.
  3. Build organizational infrastructure to support the work of the program.

Over the next year, it is the goal of ACT to grow our advocacy efforts and KIDS COUNT is just the beginning.

Learn more – read the full report.


Child Advocacy Centers Offer Safe, Healing Place to Investigate Abuse

By Pam Karalunas, Chapter Coordinator, Alaska Children’s Alliance

barbara-lavallee-jpegWhat is a Child Advocacy Center (CAC)? It is a child-friendly, culturally responsive and neutral environment to begin an investigation. This is used when there are reports of child sexual abuse, serious physical abuse, commercial sexual exploitation of a child or when a child has witnessed a homicide or other traumatic crime.

A Child Advocacy Center brings together the different professionals involved in reports of child abuse. This allows them to share important information and arrive at the best and most accurate outcomes for the case. Professionals involved usually include forensic interviewers, law enforcement, advocates, medical and mental health providers, Office of Children’s Services, prosecution and, where applicable, Tribes. Together they make up the multidisciplinary team of a Child Advocacy Center.

The team members receive specialized training in investigating, responding to and prosecuting cases. They receive training in interviewing children of all ages in a way that is neutral, non-leading and keeps in mind child development and the impact of trauma on a child’s growth and development. The medical providers are trained to provide non-invasive, head-to-toe medical exams that children find reassuring. The mental health providers are trained in evidence-based, trauma-focused services designed to meet the unique needs of each child and their supportive caregivers.

When caregivers and children describe their experience at Child Advocacy Centers they use words such as “calming,” “understanding,” “compassion,” “comfort,” “respect,” “appreciated” and “reassuring.” It is a place to seek the truth of what may or may not be happening in a child’s life. It is a safe place for children and their caregivers to gain information, ideas and an understanding of the impact that adults can have on the life of a child. It is a place to find support and build resiliency. It is a place to be heard. It is a place where child victims and their supportive caregivers can begin healing.

Alaska has five Child Advocacy Centers that have been accredited by the National Children’s Alliance:

Other Child Advocacy Centers are:

Both Barrow and St. Paul Island are developing a CAC response to child abuse. Each Child Advocacy Center is designed to meet the specific needs of their community while focusing on research-supported best practices and improving outcomes for children.

conference-jpegChild Advocacy Centers also serve as a child abuse resource for community members and organizations. Many of them provide or coordinate training and support or lead prevention efforts. Our CACs include stand-alone nonprofits and others under umbrella nonprofit organizations.

In a state that continues to have some of the highest rates of child sexual abuse in the nation, a coordinated, non-duplicative and effective response is critical! Of the 2,026 children seen at Alaska CACs in FY15, 40 percent were 6 years old and younger and 35 percent were boys.

The research supports what CAC staff already intuitively know: that Child Advocacy Centers save money, help child victims heal, increase caregiver satisfaction with the investigation and hold child molesters accountable.

Pam Karalunas, Chapter Coordinator, Alaska Children's AlliancePam Karalunas is the chapter coordinator of the Alaska Children’s Alliance. The Alaska Children’s Alliance is the nonprofit state chapter of the National Children’s Alliance, whose mission is to promote a culturally appropriate response to child maltreatment throughout Alaska. State chapters support the CACs in their state as well as communities interested in developing a multidisciplinary response to child maltreatment. Projects of the Alaska Children’s Alliance include TeleCAM child abuse medical consultation and peer review, coordination of the Outcome Measurement System and a biennial multidisciplinary conference on child maltreatment. This year’s conference, Growing Safe & Healthy Children, will be held November 14 to 16 at the Hilton Anchorage. The Alliance has worked with Alaska Children’s Trust on several projects, including its conference and the Alaska Safe Children’s Act.