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Local Nonprofits Grant $82,000 to Support Suicide Prevention in Alaska

The Alaska Community Foundation (ACF) and Alaska Children’s Trust (ACT) are proud to announce the 2017 recipients of grants to support youth suicide prevention in Alaska.

In April, the Teen Suicide Prevention Grant Program awarded 17 grants totaling $81,928 across the state. Applicants were encouraged to align projects with strategies from the Alaska State Suicide Prevention Plan.

This grant program, now in its sixth year, is supported by many funders both within Alaska and outside. In addition to support from ACF and the State of Alaska, the program also receives critical funding from Rasmuson Foundation, Wells Fargo, and, for the first time this past year, WalMart Foundation. The program also received a grant from the Caroline Christen Torgerson Memorial Fund, an unrestricted fund at ACF.

Katie St. John, director of programs and grants at ACF, says, “We were thrilled to be able to award such a large number of grants this year to so many worthy organizations across the state, many of them rural communities providing critical services to their residents. From Metlakatla to Paimiut to Kiana and Hooper Bay, organizations throughout Alaska are working closely with their communities to provide help, hope, and healing to those suffering from the effects of suicide or struggling with it themselves.”

See a complete list of grant awards on the ACT website. For more information about suicide prevention efforts and resources in Alaska, please visit StopSuicideAlaska.org.

 

 

Empowering Moms for Breastfeeding Success

By Jennifer Willeford

ACT.PCG.FB.coverimageNew life begins in the middle of the night and in the early hours of the morning. Mothers are created when a child enters the life of a woman. Birth is a humbling and empowering experience. All the worries and preparation subside during labor and delivery and complete calm arrives when the beautiful gift is placed into a mother’s arms. There is nothing more life affirming than holding a newborn. Nothing else matters anymore and a new journey begins.

Breastfeeding is driven by the bonding relationship of the mother and baby. It’s in the first hours, days, and weeks that a breastfeeding dyad is born. Practice makes progress and is necessary for success. Those sweet moments are fleeting and the connection needs to be guarded and protected. Mothers need to be prepared to set ground rules and the support systems need to be able to offer help that contributes to the mother’s goals. All the focus should be placed on the mother and infant. Family and friends begin to pour in and the spotlight quickly shifts to the baby. It’s hard not to be swept up in the joy and love with a sweet, soft bundle that is irresistible to hold. It is very easy to forget about mom and her needs could get lost in the shuffle.

Everyone wants to help a new mom and feeding the baby has become the coveted position. Moms are overjoyed and excited to share this beautiful gift and can have a hard time declining offers. They don’t want to deprive people the opportunity to share the experience. Breastfeeding is a chance for an infant to be at the breast and provides the opportunity to practice and learn the skills they need. Milk supply is dependent on the frequent emptying and stimulation that nursing offers. Every feeding missed at the breast can contribute to decreased supply. Every intervention creates a roadblock and potential hazard especially during the first few weeks. Mothers deserve to be stingy and set boundaries. No bottle rules can help reinforce mom’s wishes.

Having jobs and chores lined up and ready for eager helpers can prevent conflict. Emphasize that feeding is reserved for mom. People feel that “helping” after baby is born means taking care of baby but true assistance comes in the form of “supporting” the family as a new bond is formed. Mom needs to find her voice and feel confident even though she is scared and exhausted. Remind her that it’s ok that all the dishes aren’t done and the laundry is not folded. Visit her with a cup of tea or coffee in hand and offer a non-judgmental ear. In vulnerable moments mom needs guidance, a calm presence, empathy and a gentle reminder that she is doing an amazing job.

If you are visiting and unsure what to do with spare time, prepare freezer meals for the months ahead. Folding laundry and doing dishes may not seem like great jobs but they are beyond helpful. Make mom a lunch. Fill a cooler so when she sits down to breastfeed she can stay well hydrated and nourished. Bring mom a bag of healthy snacks or play a game with an older sibling. Start a meal train for the family or bring paper plates to reduce chores. Ideal opportunities to hold baby is when mom is taking a shower or sneaking a much-needed nap.

Alaska is wonderful place to raise a family. It is true that it takes a village to raise a child. It’s the responsibility of the community to give emotional support, loving guidance and create a space where families can thrive. Breastfeeding success relies heavily on empowering mothers. The most important tool a woman can have when entering the breastfeeding journey is to know there are resources, tools and people who can help. Most moms will experience a few hiccups along the way. Breastfeeding is a learning experience for both mom and baby. Finding knowledgeable professionals who can aid through the challenges and find solutions to the momentary dilemmas can make all the difference.

Every woman deserves support. Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) and designated breastfeeding helpers can be found in many local organizations and agencies including the WIC office at the Resource Center for Parents and Children, The Women’s Center at the Hospital and Regional Public Health Offices. Help and support is always just a phone call or visit away. Encourage, inspire and uplift the new mothers and lend a hand so they can reach their breastfeeding goals.

headshot articleJennifer Willeford is an IBCLC and works for the Resource Center for Parents and Children. She is also a trained Doula. This spring she will graduate with Bachelors of Science in Crisis Counseling, Healthcare Administration and Health Sciences. Jennifer is the mother of two little boys and is familiar with the challenges of breastfeeding after she breastfeed both boys for a total of five years. Jennifer grew up in Fairbanks and completed her A.A.S in Certified Medical Assisting and Medical Coding at UAF and is active in the community with many local groups including Fairbanks Breastfeeding Coalition, 4H and Fairbanks Youth Soccer Association.

“Alaska Native culture keeps Alaska Native children safe.”

By Mary Johnson and Natalie Norberg

“Alaska Native culture keeps Alaska Native children safe.”

This is the vision statement for a five-year strategic plan created to address the disparities that Alaska Native children experience in the child welfare system. Today over 3,000 children are in the Alaska foster care system. More than half of these children are Alaska Native. This disparity is unacceptable.

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Recognizing that no one government agency or Tribal entity can solve this problem alone, the “Transforming Child Welfare Outcomes for Alaska Native Children Strategic Plan 2016-2020” was created as the result of a passionate and collaborative process which included numerous Tribal, state and community partners over many months. Participants talked openly and frankly about how to solve problems, reduce barriers and promote children being served closest to home within the context of their Tribe and culture whenever possible.

A personal account from a non-native foster parent:

With her little hand in mine, the two of us slowly walk down the ferry ramp into the bowels of the Le Conte, one of the oldest and smallest vessels that make up the fleet of inter-island ferries of Southeast Alaska’s Marine Highway. We are blasted by that familiar smell of salt water, marine diesel and car exhaust that permeates the parking level of the ferry before we ascend the several flights of stairs to the passenger level of the ferry. I feel weighted down as I struggle to carry the squirming child along with the numerous other packs and totes I am lugging that contain snacks and toys to keep an active toddler occupied for the four hour ferry trip. For Susie this is simply another day of her short life, where every day brings some kind of wonderment. When you are 2 years old, nothing is mundane; an ordinary walk to the park is a delight. For me, however, this day, this trip, feels far from joyful. In fact my mood feels like the dense heavy, gray clouds that press down on the forested islands we pass, layers and layers of suffocating gray.

Susie is 2.3 years old, a beautiful Alaska Native child with healthy rosy cheeks that are just beginning to shed their baby fat. She has soft, long, jet black shiny hair. Susie has been in state foster care since she was 11 months old. I am her 3rd foster home. Susie and I bonded quickly. I couldn’t wait for my work day to end and to pick her up from preschool. Although I did not ever encourage her to call me mommy, she quickly learned from her peers, to reach up her arms for me and call me mama. Susie loves to be read to, loves “Dora the Explorer”, and bubble baths. She is smart, perceptive and talkative. Susie could easily be that little girl I have always wanted as my own. But she doesn’t belong to me or my white culture. She comes from her own rich heritage, of which she must do her part to revitalize and pass-on.

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was passed 40 years ago by congress as a measure to attempt to stem the tide of a disproportionate number of American Indian/Alaskan Native children entering state foster care systems and being adopted by white families; these children would forever be lost to their families, Tribes, communities, and culture. Today, both nationally and in Alaska, racial disproportionality continues to exist at alarmingly high rates. In 2016, while comprising less than 20% of the population, Alaskan Native children comprise over 55% of the children in foster care in Alaska.

While it is easy to place blame on the child welfare system for the years it has taken to implement ICWA as it was intended; data shows widespread disparities of Alaska Native/American Indian people involved in all service sectors of society.  In order to follow the vision Alaska Native culture keeps Alaska Native children safe, there remains a need to balance both a recognition of the impact of historical trauma as well as the strengths of families we serve. Many professionals who have the responsibility to help vulnerable families may have unconscious bias about Alaska Native culture. These professionals are in positions to make life changing decisions for the family. Yet, without thoughtful and continuous self-evaluation, it is human nature to fall into systemic racism and follow the practice of favoring white, non-relatives over Alaskan Native relatives.

The ferry takes us to her island village, to her mother’s family, where she will be permanently placed with her maternal uncle and his family; a home, where she fits and belongs. Her hair and skin color matches theirs. She will be cuddled, loved and called “baby.” Their home is different than mine. It smells different, and is smaller, more crowded. Instead of having her own bedroom, as she did at my house, Susie will share a room with her brother who sometimes lives in the house and her teen-aged cousin. There is a chest freezer in the living room. Susie is terrified. She clings to me and won’t let go.  

Not too long ago, I feel confident that the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) would have let me keep Susie forever. The caseworker and I could have come up with many different “reasons” for why Susie should be adopted by me; and the white judge, white attorneys and white guardian ad litems, who make such decisions, would have nodded and agreed. Times have changed. And this is a good thing. Having been a social worker first, and a foster parent second, my head has known this long before my heart; but my heart is getting there. The spirit and intent of ICWA maybe, just maybe, are beginning to be embraced.

The privilege of working in the field of child welfare is having the honor of being a part of a family’s path to healing. In the example above Susie is in a home where she is learning how to live in her Alaska Native culture and it will be one less battle she will have as she grows up, a child from a traumatic beginning, as she pieces together her identity.

A year later I go back to her village and visit Susie. She is happy and thriving. She is now three years old and doesn’t remember me at all. Somewhere deep in her mind, seeing me may trigger a vague sense of familiarity – a sense of knowing she was well cared for, nurtured on her journey to get back to her family’s people. And that is truly what matters – that I was a vehicle to help her return, intact, healthy and able to rejoin her people. My heart truly believes this.  

Find the full “Transforming Child Welfare Outcomes for Alaska Native Children Strategic Plan 2016-2020” report on the OCS website at http://dhss.alaska.gov/ocs/Documents/Publications/pdf/AK-Transforming-Child-Welfare-Outcomes_StrategicPlan.pdf.

About the authors:

Mary Johnson is the Child Protection Program Manager with the Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks.

Natalie Norberg is currently employed by the State of Alaska, Department of Health and Social Services; she is a former OCS case worker and foster parent.

You’re Invited: May 9 Evidence-based Policy & Practice Lecture

lectureAs a precursor to the National Citizen Review Panel conference being held in Anchorage this month, Debra Schilling Wolfe will be speaking about Evidence-based Policy and Practice: Role of Research in Child Protection Enterprise. The presentation will be held Tuesday, May 9 at 7 p.m. in Rasmuson Hall on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus.

Schilling Wolfe is the executive director of The Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice and Research at the University of Pennsylvania.

More information can be found in the Debra Schilling Wolfe Public Lecture Announcement flyer and on the Alaska Citizen Review Panel website.

 

Vaccinating on Time Protects Against Serious Diseases

By Rosalyn Singleton, MD MPH

Parents agree that feeding and sleep schedules are important to help keep their children healthy. The same goes for childhood immunizations. Vaccinating children on time is the best way to protect them against 14 serious and potentially deadly diseases before their second birthday.topskillscna

Vaccines have transformed medicine. Before vaccines, polio would paralyze 10,000 children each year, and rubella (German measles) would cause birth defects and mental disability in 20,000 newborns. Measles would infect 4 million people per year, and diphtheria would be one of the most common causes of death in school-aged children. Haemophilus influenzae (Hib) meningitis would affect 15,000, leaving one-third with brain damage or deafness. Whooping cough would kill thousands of infants.

Before vaccines, there was a lot of fear in communities about outbreaks of diseases like polio, measles or Spanish Flu. Many parents kept their children away from community pools in the summer for fear of polio. The last U.S. polio case was in 1979. Now that routine vaccination has led to disappearance of some of these diseases, some parents question the necessity of vaccines.

Vaccines have had a tremendous impact on health of Alaskans. Before vaccines, there were up to 80 cases of Hib meningitis and sepsis every year – now cases are rare. Alaska had massive outbreaks of Hepatitis A (infectious hepatitis) – now the only hepatitis A cases are brought in by travelers. Measles outbreaks contributed to high infant death rates in parts of the state – after vaccine, there were no measles cases between 2000 and 2014. Before vaccines, Alaska Native children had one of the highest rates of meningitis (brain infection) caused by the Hib bacteria – now Hib infections are rare.

Public health experts and physicians base their vaccine recommendations on many factors. They study information about diseases and vaccines very carefully to decide which vaccines kids should get and when they should get them for best protection.

People often ask pediatricians about getting their shots late or spreading them out for their children, but there is no scientific evidence that really supports doing that. Pediatricians agree that getting shots late puts children at risk for getting the disease the shot protects against. It hasn’t been shown to be beneficial for the kids to get the shots spread out.

Although the number of vaccines a child needs in the first two years may seem like a lot, the number of proteins in today’s vaccines are fewer than in the past. A healthy baby’s immune system can handle getting all vaccines when they are recommended. Pediatricians caution against parents delaying vaccination. Most of the time, doing the shots in multiple clinic visits is actually more stressful than doing them all at once.

When parents choose not to vaccinate or to follow a delayed schedule, children are left unprotected against diseases that still circulate in this country, like measles and whooping cough. Measles was eliminated in the United States in 2000; however, pockets of unvaccinated people still lead to measles outbreaks. In 2014, the U.S. experienced the largest number of cases since measles was eliminated. Alaska was free of measles from 2000 to 2014, but in 2015 there was a case of measles in a traveler to Alaska. Staying on track with the immunization schedule ensures that children have the best protection against diseases like these.

Parents can work with their child’s healthcare provider to keep their children protected against these harmful diseases. Immunization is a shared responsibility. Families, healthcare professionals, public health officials and the media can all work together to help protect the entire community.

Naturally, we all want to protect our children. We don’t want them to have the illnesses that they can be exposed to without vaccines. While it’s true that vaccines are not without risk, most vaccine side effects are mild, and the risk of disease far outweighs the risk of vaccine.

If you have questions about the childhood immunization schedule, talk with your child’s healthcare provider or nurse. For more information about vaccines, go to roswww.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents or http://www.chop.edu/centers-programs/vaccine-education-center.

Rosalyn Singleton, MD MPH, is a pediatrician and research physician with the Alaska Native Health Tribal Consortium.