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Posts from the ‘Guest Blog’ Category

Subsistence Living Can Help Raise Strong Children

Highlighting the strength, pride, and familial resilience that subsistence activities offer

By Kayla Gilbert

Growing up, I was introduced to subsistence living from infancy in rural Alaska, as a child of the Copper River Valley. Fast forward 30 years and here I am raising my family of 8 in the same way in Tazlina, Alaska.

Subsistence can have many different meanings to people, but in our family, subsistence is the act of maintaining, producing, and supporting our household self-sufficiently and taking from the Earth at a sustainable levelWhether that’s hunting, fishing, trapping, gardening, or preserving, anything that resources very little to nothing from manufacturers or at a mass production level is subsistence to us.

I see so much value in teaching my children to pursue subsistence living. I feel that pursuing a subsistence lifestyle creates unity in our family dynamic and brings us closer together, building trust and confidence, which can be lost arts in our society. 

Hard work. Self sufficiency. Independence. Learning. Teaching. Growing. All these play a huge part in our happiness and are also necessary for survival. I like to teach my children that we work hard and play hard. We turn normal everyday chores and survival needs into entertainment and fun. For example, when we are picking vegetables and berries, I will make a game of it by giving my children a weight and whoever gets the most in weight gets to help bake a dessert or choose the dessert we bake. I know that by working hard and constantly learning how to ‘figure it out’ my kids will also feel more satisfaction and success in the long run.

Show your children that the experiences you create together, learning, growing and doing with a subsistence living mindset is what can help build your healthy family bond. Instead of hushing a child with a smartphone and trying to get their excitement under control with technology, try to get outside together! You’ll be astounded by how spending time in the great outdoors can calm (and exhaust) children and how much pride they will feel when harvesting… and of course, getting to eat some sourdough Alaskan blueberry pancakes that they know they contributed to. The delicious eating part always helps!

Plus, a subsistence lifestyle allows you the time to get to know your children in a deep and meaningful way. Families nowadays can become distant and know more about buttons on a controller than they do about the individuals they live with. I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen families gathered for a meal that don’t know how to have good old fashioned dinner table talk! The time you spend outside with your kids helps them open up like a tundra flower, giving them space to be loud, be free, and get the attention and love they deserve and need.

One subsistence story that always stands out in my mind is a time when we were moose hunting and every attempt was a fail. I had just hours before I had to be out of the woods. We made the decision to make one more hopeful attempt….it seemed promising, yet so did every other time. There is a lot that is factored into the pursuit of wild game, especially when it is your food for the next year. With just a few minutes of daylight to spare before needing to head back on the trail, we were successful! I was so proud of the success because I had the opportunity to show my children that despite the failures and seemingly unending road blocks, success is founded in perseverance, a good attitude, and focus. These traits transfer over to all areas of life, not solely subsistence living, and my children had the opportunity to learn how important it is to take pride in what you put your mind and heart into and love the life you lead.  

Subsistence living is so ingrained in me that I don’t really know how to live any other way. While my husband went to college, we were newlyweds living in a tiny apartment in Eugene, OR and I had literally everything ‘easy’, manufactured products were right at my fingertips. Yet, I couldn’t help myself but to go back to my roots. I thrive when I am creating, making, and figuring out how to DIY (Do It Yourself). I would grow my plants in tiny planter pots, preserve, use everything, and make things go as far as I could. Picking wild berries was a favorite of mine because it seemed like such a shame to go buy some from the market when nature was providing an endless bounty right out my backyard AND I got a good dose of Vitamin D while doing it!

Of course, your level of subsistence use can vary greatly, I’m not saying you need to completely isolate yourself from consumerism and kill and grow only the foods in your backyard, but rather that you take opportunities to harvest from the world around you, use your resources, and involve your family by learning together how to do things for yourself and feel successful without spending a dime or worrying if you’ll have WiFi.

My favorite season in Alaska is fall, it is a special time here and, for rural Alaskans, extremely important for preparation. There is something special about gathering your harvest. About going out and storing up for the cold dark winter. Harvest season in Alaska is abundant and can overfill your freezer several times over if pursued correctly. Just think, eating meat that you sought out, worked hard to shoot, field dress, and prepare for the coming days. Think about the endless berries and herbs that you know have been nurtured and grown free of chemical sprays, dollar signs and quantity limits- goods not shipped up from the lower 48 or countries far away. Goods that go right from nature to your dinner plate or your canner to prepare for later in the year. In winter, you’ll have the security of knowing all is well AND I bet you and your children won’t take for granted what now stuffs your freezers because your sweat was poured out for it, your diligence persevered it and your goals were successfully met. Think of the powerful effect it will have not only on you but on your children and their children. The act of feeding your family from the land connects you not only with the land itself, but also with each other. You’re able to step back and see (and eat!) your handiwork and have memories to bond over with your children for years to come.

I grew up knowing many other kids with a similar lifestyle to me and I have not met a single person that doesn’t talk about their experiences without at least a little pride and satisfaction. It’s amazing what we can accomplish and succeed in when we use the resources that nature provides. The memories I have growing up in a subsistence living family provided me with the stamina to pursue life with a perspective that I can do anything I put my heart and mind to, and I know the same is the case for my own children. It has also helped create a beautiful harmony of living life together as a strong and confident family.


*** Alaska Children’s Trust acknowledges the critical role subsistence activities take in Alaska Native culture as a means of gathering food as well as a deep and powerful tie to the land and to family and ancestors. We are always encouraging new voices in our blog, and encourage you to contact us at kidsfirst@alaskachildrenstrust.org if you have a blog topic you’d like to write about or a topic request you’d love to read about. You can also comment below!


Kayla Gilbert was born and raised in rural Alaska. When she turned 20, she began to travel to see what there was beyond the tundra life. It wasn’t long before the deep love for the Alaska lifestyle brought her back to her roots where she now lives. She is a full time Traveling Photographer and business owner of ZAG Photography. When she is not traveling to capture weddings, couples and new places she is a full time mom to her 6 crazy cool kids. Kayla and her husband, Justin, have been married for 10 years; they love adventure, nature and raising their family to appreciate what life has to offer. They have one son in heaven, Zimeon Arrow Gilbert. While he isn’t with them physically his legacy lives on through his family by being their drive to live every day to the fullest with gratitude for all those around them and to treasure the close-knit family unit. Kayla’s heart in life is to be inspired by others while also inspiring others to have incredible joy for everything in this crazy journey called life. It’s not always an easy path but it is so much fuller when we choose to have joy and positivity as we embrace each new and crazy situation. She loves meeting new people and connecting with them!  Feel free to follow her journey as a photographer-mom on her social media platforms: Website: www.zagphotography.com  Facebook: ZAG Photography Instagram: @zagphotographer 

Choosing the Right Babysitter in a COVID-19 World

By Ethan King, Summer Intern at Alaska Children’s Trust

These days, more and more families are having to seek alternative methods for childcare. With COVID-19 limiting childcare and afterschool programs, and amid concerns of children being exposed to the virus, more families are relying on individuals within their safety bubble to babysit.  

If you are considering hiring a babysitter, here are some basic items to consider to ensure the safety of your children:

  • How old is your child/children? The younger the child, the older and more experienced the babysitter should be.
  • How many children do you have? It is important to consider the number of children an individual will need to supervise. Again, the more children the babysitter needs to care for, the older and more experienced they should be.
  • Does your child have any special needs like medical care or behavioral challenges?
  • What additional duties do you want the babysitter to accomplish, such as preparing meals or helping with schoolwork?
  • What schedule do you want the babysitter to follow while watching your child?
  • What training do you want the babysitter to have, such as CPR/first aid training or Red Cross babysitting course?

The presence of COVID-19 in our communities requires families to consider additional factors to reduce exposure to the virus. For example:

  • Start by exploring options within your existing safety bubble (people who you are already in your social circle).
  • If no one is available in your safety bubble, extend that circle to circles of your friends. They may have connections outside of your safety bubble that could be potential sitters. 
  • When interviewing a potential sitter, it is important to communicate your expectations related to exposure levels and ask about their expectations. Develop an agreed-upon plan for your family and your babysitter with regards to COVID precautions so that everyone is on the same page. Outline expectations related to mask wearing for them and the child, hand washing, and social contact. This will help both your family and your babysitter feel more comfortable sharing space.
  • If the sitter or anyone in your family becomes sick, have a well-established communication plan. Let the sitter know they should not come to work until they receive a negative COVID test result or complete a 14-day quarantine.
  • Prior to the babysitter entering your home, you are encouraged to clean, with a focus on high-touch surfaces like counters, door handles, light switches, etc.  

Families who do not feel comfortable having a babysitter in their home can consider other options for temporary childcare. For example, Zoom is not just for work anymore! It is also being utilized for “electronic babysitting.” Electronic babysitting is usually short term (15 to 30 minutes) and for children of at least preschool age (3+).

During an electronic babysitting session, the child uses Zoom or another video conferencing app to call and interact (i.e. play Simon says or talk about their day) with a babysitter. This is a simple option when you need to make a quick call or need some time to focus on a project without being disturbed. During an electronic babysitting session, it is important that you remain somewhere in the house, in case of emergency. It is also important to consider how your child would handle a 15- to 30-minute video call because only you can determine if they would enjoy or be able act responsibly.

Another option is for your child to go to the sitter’s home. In this case, questions to consider are:

  • Does your babysitter live by themselves or with other people?
  • How comfortable is your babysitter with taking your child into their house?
  • How much will transportation cost?
  • Does the babysitter want to be paid more for having your child at their house?
  • How long would your child spend at the babysitter’s house?
  • Is your babysitter’s home adequately childproofed?
  • What games and activities do they have to entertain your child?

With so many people working from home due to COVID-19, there is an increased need to find balance between work productivity, family time, time for self-care, and time together with your partner. Babysitting can be a safe solution in this era of COVID-19 by asking the right questions, developing solid plans, following health precautions and being open in your communication with your babysitter.

Need more information on babysitting and coronavirus? Continue your research with these additional articles:  

Do you have suggestions of your own for navigating this difficult topic? We’d love to read your ideas and stories. Feel free to comment them below.

Ethan King, author of this blog and summer intern at Alaska Children’s Trust

MAP Program Ensures Parents of Children with Disabilities Don’t Walk the Road Alone

By Anna Zierfuss, Stone Soup Group, Regional Parent Navigator / MAP Coordinator, Statewide

When the news comes that a child has a special need or disability, a parent can experience many overwhelming emotions. Two of the biggest are isolation and confusion. This is a common experience and can be a period of struggle and grief as families find their way down an unfamiliar road with multiple, confusing signposts and no conductor for the ride. Peer-to-peer support can be a valuable gem in the toolbox of a parent who is walking this road of having a child with different abilities. The Mentor, Advocate, Partner (MAP) Program at Stone Soup Group is an Alaska parent mentoring program that trains experienced, “seasoned” parents of children with special needs and matches them with parents who are new to the road of disabilities or are experiencing a bump in the road. The program started as a grassroots effort more than 40 years ago and has grown to a state and national level. It gives parents someone to talk to and lean on emotionally during challenging times and possibly builds long-term friendships between parents with similar experiences.

The training teaches Mentor Parents how to use person-first language, how to effectively tell their stories, how to utilize active listening skills and provides educational resources for navigating the cyclical nature of grief. At the national level, P2P USA has done research to discover best practices for this support and to act as an aid and booster of the state and local programs.

As a parent of a child that was born premature and was diagnosed with several learning disabilities, I remember the feeling of being alone. There was no one in my network of family or friends to talk with and I was propelled into a world with a new vocabulary full of acronyms, doctor visits, tutoring appointments and school meetings with regulations and laws that were new to me. This experience is one of the reasons I am so passionate about developing the program and helping it to grow.

Because it is a relatively new program, we are constantly recruiting seasoned parents to act as Parent Mentors. We are working hard to get the word out throughout Alaska that this resource has arrived and to provide the assurance that matches can be made in a timely manner so that no parent has to walk this road alone.

To learn more, to get involved or to reach out for support, visit the Stone Soup Group website.

Through the Community-Based Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Grant Program, Alaska Children’s Trust is pleased to support efforts like Stone Soup Group’s Mentor, Advocate, Partner (MAP) Program. Stone Soup Group received a 2019 – 2020 grant, which helped expand the program to families in rural Alaska. Learn more about Alaska Children’s Trust’s grant program at alaskachildrenstrust.org.

Anna Zierfuss, Stone Soup Group, Regional Parent Navigator / MAP Coordinator, Statewide

Child-Parent Psychotherapy: What it is and why it’s essential for Alaska’s children

By Chris Gunderson, LPC-S, NCC, President/CEO, Denali Family Services

In response to a growing need for early childhood mental health services in Alaska, a multi-agency partnership, including the Alaska Children’s Trust and Denali Family Services, is working to disseminate Child-Parent Psychotherapy (CPP) training across Alaska with the goal of training clinicians from around the state in this nationally recognized, evidence-based practice. In this post, I will discuss the need for this training and the reasons why CPP is an essential addition to Alaska’s continuum of care.

In calendar year 2019, the Alaska Office of Children’s services received more than 23,000 protective services reports, nearly half of which were screened-in for further investigation. Federal statistics indicate that younger children, ages 0 to 3, experience rates of maltreatment two to three times that of adolescents. In Alaska, nearly half of all child abuse victims experience their first incident of abuse before the age of 5. Taken together, these numbers tell us that very young children in Alaska are at elevated risk for abuse and neglect. What these numbers do not express is the profound, and disproportionate, impact that maltreatment early in life will have on a child’s development.

All child maltreatment is tragic; however, maltreatment in early childhood has a particularly profound effect on the course of a child’s development. The earliest years in a child’s life are characterized by sensitive and critical periods of development.

· Sensitive periods are times in which essential abilities—including emotional regulation and language usage—are rapidly developing and the child is especially predisposed to learning specific use-dependent skills.

· Critical periods are times in which aspects of physical and cognitive development are especially susceptible to damage.

In other words, young children are optimized to learn and develop from positive, nurturing experiences at specific times in their early life; however, this flexibility also makes them extremely vulnerable to negative, harmful experiences. If young children are not exposed to the interactions necessary for healthy development, or if this development is interrupted by traumatic experiences, they will have an increasingly difficult time learning and mastering these skills as they age.

Another unique aspect of child maltreatment in early childhood is that it typically occurs in the context of the caregiving relationship, which is often referred to as relational trauma. Relational trauma in early childhood is unique from other types of trauma, in that the child loses her sense of safety in the most critical relationships of her early life, those with her primary caregivers. If the child learns that the world around her is not safe, and that those closest to her cannot keep her safe, she is left with the belief that there is no safe place and there are no safe people. This can have a significant impact on a child’s ability to learn, engage with the world, form relationships, and build a healthy self-identity.

Ultimately, young children need safe and nurturing adults to protect them during the critical and sensitive periods of their young lives, helping them achieve the cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development necessary for future growth and maturation. Sometimes caring adults lack the skills, knowledge, or emotional resources to keep their children safe or to help them recover from traumatic events. The purpose of Child-Parent Psychotherapy (CPP) is to help caregivers overcome these obstacles so they can form or repair the caregiving relationship their child needs to thrive.

CPP is an intervention model designed primarily for children aged 0-5 who have experienced at least one traumatic event and are experiencing attachment or behavioral problems as a result. The treatment is based in attachment theory but also integrates a range of clinical and developmental theories appropriate to the unique needs of young children.

CPP is among a growing number of approaches that include the child and parent or primary caregiver in the therapeutic sessions. The primary goal of CPP is to support and strengthen the relationship between a child and her caregiver and to use that relationship to rebuild a child’s sense of safety, which will allow the child to move back toward healthy growth and development.

In September, the first cohort of CPP clinical trainees in Alaska completed an 18-month program of training, supervision, and case consultation that will lead to national recognition as a CPP clinician. Having completed the didactic portion of the training, trainees will receive another three months of supportive consultation to help them implement CPP in their practice. The cohort includes 26 clinicians from 11 communities across Alaska, stretching from Sitka to Kotzebue. The clinicians work in a variety of settings, including community mental health, private practice, primary care, tribal health, and emergency shelter services.

Our hope is that these clinicians will build the foundation for a robust early childhood workforce that can intervene earlier in the lives of young Alaskans exposed to abuse and neglect. Their efforts will lead to better early intervention across our state, which will save time, money, and lives further down the road.

Learn more about CPP and its availability in Alaska on the Denali Family Services website.

Alaska Children’s Trust was pleased to support the CPP training project with a 2019 – 2020 community-based child abuse and neglect prevention grant. Learn more about our grants, grant recipients and application process on our website.

Chris Gunderson, LPC-S, NCC, is President/CEO, Denali Family Services

Halloween is Not Cancelled: How to Celebrate Safely During COVID-19

Halloween is less than a month away and we know what’s on your mind: “How will my child have a safe and fun holiday this year?” Don’t despair; Halloween is not cancelled. With a little planning, this Halloween could be your family’s best one yet!

First off, let’s go over basic safety. You’ve heard it a million times: wear a mask. That still applies on Halloween. Truly, Halloween is the perfect holiday for masks – many kids wear masks on Halloween every year! This year, we just need to be a little extra creative with them.

Regular Halloween masks are not recommended for COVID protection. While they may be cute, they just don’t hold up for preventing the spread of illnesses.

Instead, try revamping your usual face mask! Buy a face mask that goes with the theme of your costumes or decorate the face masks you have at home. Your little vampire can have vampire teeth on their mask, your kitten can have whiskers, and your princess can have princess lips!

This year, you may need to pull a few tricks to give out some treats. While the usual doorstep-style trick-or-treating is not recommended, there are many other fun options to choose from.

Bring out your true Alaskan fisherman by tying bags of candy to the end of your fishing line. Most fishing rods are over six feet. Bonus – you can wear your waders as a fisherman costume!

Or you could try making a candy slide out of wrapping paper tubes or PVC piping. Decorate your tube however you like and slide your candy to your trick-or-treaters from a safe six feet away!

For an easy night of candy-giving, leave colorful bags of candy spaced out on your porch or lawn. Trick-or-treaters can grab their candy from a safe six feet, and you can say hi from your porch or from the warmth of your home.

No matter what option you choose, there are a few important rules to follow:

  1. Only use pre-packaged candy – no homemade treats this year.
  2. Wash your hands before handling the candy and wear a mask while handling.
  3. Stay six feet away from others.
  4. Wear a mask while distributing candy.

Of course, if you don’t want trick-or-treaters coming by, that’s fine too! Just turn off your porch lights, arrange some pumpkins in between your door and the sidewalk, or make a sign.

For trick-or-treaters, it’s important to remember to wear a mask, sanitize your hands often, and wash your hands when you return home. You may also consider sanitizing the packaging of your child’s treats. While the CDC holiday guidelines state that there’s no evidence that handling food or eating is linked with spreading COVID-19, it’s still possible that people can get COVID-19 by touching an object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or eyes. You can sanitize by using a disinfecting or rubbing alcohol wipe on the packaging. Just remember not to let these cleaning chemicals come into direct contact with anything you or your child will eat.

The CDC says the safest way to celebrate Halloween this year is to celebrate at home with only the people in your household. We know, this sounds dull. But staying at home doesn’t have to be boring! There are dozens of at-home ways to make Halloween pop.

Food lover? Try hosting a creepy feast! Make your favorite creepy Halloween recipes for a family dinner that is sure to fright. Our favorites are these Bloodshot Deviled Eyeballs, Snakes and Soup, and the No-Bake Strawberry Cheesecake Brain.

For those who aren’t a chef, you could instead try doing a candy taste-test. With all the limited-edition candies that come out around Halloween, this is sure to be a hit.

What about a Halloween Easter egg hunt? You can easily transform the Easter eggs you already have at home into monsters and goblins. All you need is some permanent markers, or some art supplies if you want to get ✨crafty ✨.

Not into crafting? Turn your regular Easter eggs into glowing Easter eggs by stuffing them with mini glow sticks. Wait until the sun sets and you can have a ghoulish Easter egg hunt at home!

If these just don’t seem big enough, you can turn your home into an all-out Halloween party! Start saving your toilet paper rolls now to make mini Halloween mummy piñatas. Get your kids and teens excited over this easy and grossly fun Eyeball Dig game. Use toilet paper or white streamers to have a mummified gunny-sack race. Or try any of these other 40 Halloween party games.

Many kids are excited to spend the Halloween holiday with their friends. However, we need to be as careful this Halloween as we are every other day during the pandemic. COVID-19 does not take the holiday off.

Instead of participating in gatherings, encourage your kids to do socially distanced Halloween activities. To show off their costume, they can get dressed up and ride bikes in costume by their friends’ houses. Or they can do a virtual costume contest. Up the ante by having each kid or family chip in $1 and then vote on their favorite costume. The winner gets the money!

Instead of visiting grandma’s house to show off costumes, give her a FaceTime or Zoom call. Or better yet – take some photos and send them as postcards!

Movies are also still a great option. Arrange a virtual movie night with friends. Use Zoom to watch a movie together or take advantage of the Netflix Party extension.

What better way to make this Halloween amazing than to make it last all week?! Lead up to Halloween by picking seven movies from this list and watching one each night on the week of Halloween with your kids or teens. Make it extra special by making an easy Halloween treat or drink each night to accompany your movies.

If you’re trying to avoid all that candy and TV, then get your kids excited with crafts! Once or twice a week, make one of these easy Halloween crafts. You can slowly decorate your house more and more as a lead up to Halloween. Then, when the holiday finally comes, your kids will be absolutely pumped!

You could also stay in costume all week! Put those old Halloween costumes to good use by getting dressed up for a walk, a grocery run, or for Zoom class during the week leading up to Halloween. Your fellow grocery shoppers will love it.

We hope these ideas, tips, and tricks helped you to feel good about Halloween 2020. We know the idea of celebrating Halloween during a pandemic is daunting. Many kids are distraught over the idea of not having their usual Halloween activities. But you can still create amazing Halloween memories without the usual social activities – all it takes is a little planning and creativity.

And remember, COVID-19 is temporary. This will not be your child’s last opportunity to celebrate Halloween.

Creating Safe Spaces to Start Healing from Child Abuse

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.

To learn more about ACA, visit alaskachildrensalliance.org.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African proverb

Representatives from the Alaska Children’s Alliance and CAC managers from Bethel, Kodiak, Anchorage, Nome, Juneau, Dillingham, Copper River Basin, Kenai Peninsula, Sitka and Fairbanks. Photo taken at Alaska CARES in Anchorage.

The New Look of a New School Year: How COVID is Changing Back to School

By Mike Hanley, Educator and Alaska Children’s Trust board member

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.

Acts of Salvation Needed to Cope With Systemic Racism Then and Now

By Celeste Hodge Growden, President/CEO, Alaska Black Caucus

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.

Celeste Hodge Growden, President/CEO, Alaska Black Caucus

About the Alaska Black Caucus

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.

Rates:

  • Please contact The Alaska Black Caucus to discuss rates for services and/or donation opportunities.
  • 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.

The doctor is in!

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.

A letter to my child; a letter to my mom

Julia and Casey prior to Kenai River rafting trip, 2019.

Reflecting on National Parent’s Day

By Julia Martinez, VP Philanthropy & External Affairs and Casey Martinez

Dear 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 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.

Love,

Mom


Casey Martinez on Halloween in elementary school.

Dear Mom,

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.

Love,

Casey

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)