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Alaska, Our Children Need Us

5 Ways Your Support Can Help Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect

umbrella infographicAlaska, our children need us.

Our state continues to have one of the highest rates, per capita, of child abuse and neglect in the nation.

If you’re like most of us, you’re probably asking, “What in the world can I do to prevent child abuse and neglect? How can I possibly make a difference?”

There are many factors that contribute to child abuse and neglect – lack of resources, substance abuse, inadequate healthcare, lack of affordable housing, shortage of care during out-of-school time, trauma that the parent themselves experienced …

All of these things can cause stress in the family and set the stage for child abuse and neglect to occur.

That’s why we have to take a comprehensive look at all of these factors, and address them holistically to ensure our children grow up in safe, stable and nurturing environments.

Of course, we – as individuals and as an organization – can’t do that alone.

That is why Alaska Children’s Trust has formed partnerships with many individuals, businesses and organizations across Alaska. We support their local nonprofits efforts through our community investment grant-making program. We collect and share research and data to help build a road map to prevention. We act as the backbone for collective efforts like Alaska Resilience Initiative, which is striving to minimize toxic stress and build resiliency. Through the Alaska Afterschool Network, we work to strengthen afterschool programs and build protective factors in our youth. We join our voices together to educate Alaskans and help influence public policy through efforts like Voices for Alaska’s Children and Protect Our Care Alaska.

We work together toward a shared goal: To strengthen families. To safeguard children. To support the people and organizations already working to support kids. And ultimately, to prevent child abuse and neglect.

This isn’t an issue that can be solved alone. We all have a role to play. There are ways you can make a difference. And Alaska’s children need you to.

One very easy way to make a difference is to make a gift to Alaska Children’s Trust, and there are two easy ways to do that:

  1. Pick. Click. Give. to Alaska Children’s Trust when you apply for your PFD this year. Remember, the application period opens this coming Monday, January 1.
  2. Make a direct contribution to Alaska Children’s Trust on our website.

Your gift will help forward the work we and our partners are doing on many different fronts to address the issue. For example, when you make a gift to Alaska Children’s Trust, you’ll be helping to:

  1. Bring families closer together. 
  2. Give kids a safe place to be after school. 
  3. Teach teachers how to help kids who have experienced trauma. 
  4. Ensure Alaska’s kids don’t lose their health care.
  5. Provide a safety net for families in crisis. 

By joining together, you can help prevent child abuse and neglect.

Make a difference. Make a gift and help prevent child abuse and neglect. Give to Alaska Children’s Trust when you fill out your PFD application this year, or make a direct donation at alaskachildrenstrust.org.

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.