“My relationship with my daughter wouldn’t be the same without it”
Spring 2019 was an exciting time for Pili Queja. He and his wife, Reanne, found out last February that they were expecting their first baby. Shortly after, Pili received a job offer from Alaska Children’s Trust as the program specialist with the Alaska Afterschool Network.
Among all the preparations that go into getting ready to welcome a new baby, Pili and his wife, both of whom were working full-time jobs, had to figure out how they would balance caring for their newborn while providing for their family.
At the time Pili started his new job, ACT did not have a paid family leave policy, and since he was such a new employee, he would not have much personal time saved up before his daughter’s arrival. And with all the expenses that come with having a baby, he preferred not to take unpaid leave. At the same time, being home to support his wife and help care for and bond with his daughter was a top priority.
“It was our first baby and I didn’t know what that would look like. What would I need to do to support my wife? How do I take care of my family and be present and fulfill my job? It was a stressful situation,” Pili shared.
A conversation with ACT early in his employment quickly got the ball rolling on the development of a paid family leave policy. Several months before his daughter’s birth, the new policy was in place, offering new mothers and fathers two weeks of paid leave, plus the ability for co-workers to donate their leave time to the new parent. Under the new policy, Pili received six weeks of paid family leave, including four weeks that were generously donated by his co-workers.
“It was amazing,” he said.
The knowledge that he had the time to care for his family was a relief, especially when Pili and Reanne’s birth plan went awry, with their daughter – Shiloh’Grace “Maluhia” – arriving two weeks early via c-section.
“I didn’t understand what went into recovering from a c-section. I can’t imagine having to leave my family and go back to work right away,” Pili said.
“Emotionally having the ability to be present with my family made me feel like I was being a good dad – while I was figuring out what that meant. There was no manual. We were learning by the hour how to work with her and we were growing together as parents. We had to learn how to feed her, learn her cries, her sleep schedule, how to burp her at 3 a.m. Going back to work in that time would have been crazy,” he continued. “My being able to be home was a huge support to our family.”
Among Pili’s most precious moments with his daughter were the nighttime feedings – something he would not have been able to help with if he had returned to work shortly after her birth. “Some of our best bonding time was late at night, feeding,” he recalled.
ACT’s family-friendly approach didn’t end with the new paid family leave policy. After Pili returned to work in early December, he was able to bring his daughter to work with him for the first six months. His wife’s employer also welcomes babies in the office for six months.
“Between the two of us, we both returned to work without needing to put our daughter in child care. She’s 6 months old and has never been to child care,” Pili said. “Our work family has seen her grow up.”
In the office, Pili felt very supported by both his employer and his co-workers. They put in a changing table so he didn’t have to change his daughter’s diapers on the office floor. They gave him a pack ‘n play as a baby shower gift so Maluhia could nap in his office. Co-workers offered to watch the baby when Pili had a meeting or phone call. And Pili’s officemate didn’t mind when Pili closed the door and played boy-band lullabies to get Maluhia to sleep.
“Knowing I was supported by my workplace was huge. They are sensitive to what families are going through, and want to help, not add stress,” Pili said. “My coworkers were always happy to see her and happy to help. I never felt like my having a baby was an inconvenience.”
Combined, the time at home after Maluhia’s arrival and the time with her in the office was a game-changer for Pili.
“My relationship with my daughter wouldn’t be the same without it,” he said.
Families are likely going to be celebrating Mother’s Day a little differently this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect nearly every aspect of our lives. In recognition of Mother’s Day, we spoke with several different moms, who provided their diverse perspectives on handling the changes in work and family life brought on by COVID-19 – and shared their advice and encouragement for other families.
Anna: “You don’t need to be super mom”
Like everyone, life has changed a lot since the pandemic for Anna McGovern, her husband, Mike, and their 19-month-old son, Nolan.
Anna, a program specialist with the Alaska Afterschool Network, has been working at home since late March. As their day care has been closed due to COVID-19, Nolan is his mom’s new co-worker. “It’s impossible working with a toddler,” she laughs. “He gets into everything and loves to touch my computer.”
As a juvenile probation officer, Anna’s husband, Mike, has continued going into work for the most part, with some remote work from home. This means Anna works around Nolan’s naptime, as well as in the evenings when her husband is home.
“It’s hard to spend all day with the baby, then work until 9 or 10 at night. I’m fortunate that my work is flexible, but it is tiring,” Anna says.
With no day care, library or play dates, Anna and Nolan fill their days with car rides, going outside, FaceTime with friends and family – and lots of walks. “The dog is getting pretty tired of walks. She’s thinking, ‘You’ve never walked me so much!’” Anna says.
Keeping a schedule is one way the family strives to maintain normalcy. Two things Anna makes sure are on the daily schedule: eating dinner together and working out.
“We try to make a point to sit down for dinner all together. We make it a priority and meals together is one thing we’ve really stuck to,” Anna says. “I also try to work out every day, even when I don’t want to. The easiest way to lower stress is to break a sweat for 20 minutes.”
Writing a list of daily goals and jotting down things she is grateful for are other self-care techniques that are helping Anna navigate these strange days.
“There is something about crossing things off a list, even if it’s ‘drink 100 ounces of water a day.’ It’s something I can control in a time when I can’t control anything. That’s really helped,” Anna explains. “Also writing down what I’m grateful for, any little thing that is good. When I get in a mood, I can go back and read it and remind myself that there are still a lot of positive things even though a lot of craziness is going on.”
One thing Anna is grateful for is the extra time she is getting to spend with her son. “At this age especially, they change so fast and learn so quick. It’s fun to experience. Also, I don’t have to choose between being a stay-at-home mom or working. I’m doing both; there is no pressure to be one or the other.”
Anna’s advice for other mothers juggling work, family and the anxiety of these uncertain times? “You don’t need to be super mom,” she says. “It’s a weird time right now. It’s OK to just be an OK parent.”
Diane: “Everyone else is in the same boat”
Before COVID-19 made its entrance in Alaska, Diane Heaney-Mead spent her days working at her architecture office in downtown Anchorage, while her wife, Colleen, ran a home day care for children including their own: Imogen, 1, and Alistair, 3.
Fast-forward several weeks and Diane has been shuffling her work between her daughter’s bedroom to the dining table and back between naps. Meanwhile, Colleen chose to discontinue her business due to social distancing requirements and to protect their son, who is easily affected by respiratory illnesses.
“I often end up working late both because spring is a busy time of year and because I find myself trying to help out with kids during the day,” Diane says. “And our kids have a hard time understanding why we can’t hang out with friends, go out to restaurants or places like the museum.”
Even with all the changes, the family has been adjusting fairly well, which Diane credits to keeping a schedule and setting work/family-time boundaries. “We are trying to keep a pretty similar routine, no hanging out in PJs or watching TV. The kids go for a walk in the morning about the same time each day, and my wife is still providing circle time for our kids,” she says.
“I give everyone a hug and a kiss before I ‘go to work’ in the bedroom and try to be clear about when it is work time and when it is not. I also try to be flexible based on their needs each day,” she adds.
While things are going pretty smoothly, there have been some tough days. “The first week we stayed home, there was a string of gun violence,” Diane explains, recalling a car chase with someone shooting an assault-style weapon out the window, and a separate incident with someone walking down the street shooting a handgun. “It was completely bizarre and not typical for our street.”
The silver lining was that it brought the neighbors together. A Facebook group was established so neighbors could connect and share information. Several people created neighborhood walks with themes like Halloween and space. And Diane and Colleen lent sleds to a nearby mom so she could tire out her active kids. “I don’t know that we would have connected as well unless we had all been home like this,” Diane says.
Spending more time as a family is another upside. “I get to spend more time with the children,” Diane says. “And last weekend we had the opportunity to look after a friend’s son for the weekend while she was giving birth. It was our children’s first time having a friend sleep over and made for a nice break from the isolation.”
When it comes to encouragement for other families, Diane says, “Hang in there. When kids run up during a web conference, I just remind myself that everyone else is in the same boat.”
Andrea: “We don’t always have to be doing something”
Life hasn’t really changed that much since the pandemic for Andrea Conter, her 21-year-old adopted son, and her two high-school-age foster boys. Unless you count the fact that Andrea isn’t working, her oldest son is now just working part-time, and the younger boys are schooling from home.
This is a family used to living with change, which is perhaps the reason they are taking the current situation in stride. Growing up in foster homes, the three boys are certainly familiar with frequent change – in homes, caregivers, schools, schedules. And Andrea, who became a mother just three years ago at the age of 52, has adapted to quite a bit of change in her life recently as well.
More change came a couple months later when Andrea got a call asking if she would foster two brothers on a temporary basis. Almost a year later, the two boys are still part of the family.
“Prior to COVID, we just did normal stuff – school, work, homework, gaming, friends,” says Andrea, who is a store manager at Burlington.
When COVID hit Alaska, that all changed. Instead of working full-time managing 80 employees, Andrea now completes several hours of virtual training each week and tries to keep her employees engaged over social media. Mitch’s work schedule was reduced to part-time, and he and Andrea share the grocery shopping responsibility. And the younger boys have transitioned to doing school from home.
“The biggest change is now we are all home all day. Things have been OK except for battling to get them to do homework,” Andrea notes.
All the ZOOM meetings and school emails are somewhat overwhelming, but Andrea says she likes to see the assignments and due dates and grades. She’s also been thrilled to see the change in her oldest foster son, who left a more stressful environment at one of the high schools geared for teens with behavioral issues. “He’s become much more engaged, and his stress and anxiety has dropped. I’ve watched him bloom,” Andrea says. “That’s been a win.”
A key to their success, Andrea feels, is being flexible with the family schedule. “I’m not too strict about schedules, but there are non-negotiables. Homework can be done at 2 a.m. but it has to be done. Same thing with chores. We have some structure in place, but there’s flexibility. Right now, it’s OK if there are a few things you let go.”
That flexibility, she has found, has opened the door to some important conversations with the boys that might not have happened otherwise. “If you’re too focused on structure and planning ‘family time,’ it can end up feeling forced. The biggest takeaway for me is we don’t always have to be doing something. We can just chill and allow conversations to naturally progress,” Andrea says.
While Andrea is missing the in-person interaction with her friends, employees and her volunteer work, she’s enjoying the time she has with her boys and their simpler lifestyle. “We were living in a go-go-go world,” she says. “I miss the engagement but realize that I don’t need it as much. I’m not going to require as much materially and socially after this is over.”
She hopes that will be true for others as well. “I’m seeing families together outside that I’ve never seen together before,” she says. “I hope that of all the things we take away from this, we keep that connection of family.”
In this time of COVID-19, with school closures and families isolating from others, building awareness of child abuse and neglect is more important than ever. This is an incredibly challenging time for all of us, underscoring the need and opportunity to build resilience in our children and in ourselves. We at Alaska Children’s Trust are here, dedicated to supporting Alaska’s children and families. Along with our partners, we are working to provide the resources, knowledge, skills and support Alaska’s families need to thrive, despite the circumstances.
April 1 marked the first day of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. And just as we are all pulling together to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we each must play a role in raising widespread awareness of child abuse and neglect, and what we can do to build resilience and make a positive difference in the lives of children and families around us.
For far too long, Alaska has had one of the highest rates, per capita, of child abuse and neglect. But there are many, many committed individuals and organizations working to change that – and we will succeed. Check out this inspiring map to see the partners across Alaska who are participating with us in Child Abuse Awareness Month.
The first step in any real change is awareness, and Child Abuse Awareness Month is our opportunity to be part of a coordinated, nationwide movement to do just that. Here’s how you can get involved:
Download and post our prevention month poster in your home, school, workplace or online to raise additional awareness. It’s available both as a jpeg and as a PDF.
Get involved in our virtual statewide Go Blue Day Rally on Friday, April 3! No matter where you live, please join us. Wear blue, make a sign, take a photo and post it using the hashtags #GoBlue4Kids #DareToBeTheOne. Make sure your post is public so Alaska Children’s Trust can share it too! It’s one small, positive and proactive way to show you care.
Explore our parent resources. We have compiled resources that can help with building relationships with your child, organizations that can help keep a child safe, and information we trust to support children’s healthy development.
While the important work of preventing child abuse and neglect and building resilience is ongoing, this dedicated month allows us to shine a spotlight on the issue, and educate and inspire others to join with us in our efforts.
We invite you to join us in raising the volume on this issue throughout April – and beyond. Alaska Children’s Trust is actively addressing this complex issue in a variety of ways, and we need and ask for your involvement as we work together for healthier children and families across Alaska. Together we can prevent child abuse and neglect.
By Tlisa Northcutt Alaska Children’s Trust, Board Chair
As I thought about writing this post, I realized: I have spent the majority ofmy adult life advocating for children to be children – growing up in safe, nurturing environments, enjoying happy, healthy childhoods, free from the trauma of child abuse and neglect.
I became involved with Alaska Children’s Trust right out of college, as an account coordinator for a local advertising agency. A couple of years later, I was asked to join the board of Friends of Alaska Children’s Trust (FACT), the fundraising arm of the trust at the time. Twenty years later, I am deeply honored to serve as the chair of the Alaska Children’s Trust board.
To give you some perspective: I have been involved with this organization since before my career was established. Before I was married. Before I had my two beautiful daughters. You could say my family has grown up right along with Alaska Children’s Trust.
I have been asked why I have dedicated so much of my life to this organization and this cause. It’s simple: My heart breaks every time I think of children growing up without the love, without the support, without the opportunities, that I had. I know there is a solution. It might not be an easy one, and it might not be a quick one, but there is a solution.
I am fortunate to have found an organization and an issue I feel so passionate about early in my life. And when you feel so strongly about something, it’s only natural to want to be involved, and to give your time and treasure to make a difference, to move it forward.
Along with our network of partners and supporters, we have become a resounding, collective voice for Alaska’s children and families. A statewide leader in the conversation about child abuse and neglect – both the root causes and the possible solutions. A catalyst that has everyone, from individual Alaskans to influential policymakers considering the impact of their decisions on our state’s children. Last year’s legislation directing a portion of Alaska’s marijuana sales tax to support afterschool programs is a prime example of the prioritization of Alaska’s children by our state.
I have also been asked how I continue to have hope about an issue that seems so hopeless. What gives me the most hope is that people are starting to understand and talk about the issue. Child abuse and neglect is coming out of the shadows, and becoming part of the mainstream conversation. Words and concepts like resiliency,trauma-informed care, and adverse childhood experiences (ACES) are no longer limited to the professionals involved in this important work. We as a community are beginning to understand that what happens early in a child’s life has lifelong implications. We’re grasping that adverse childhood experiencesaren’t just physical abuse – it is also not having enough to eat, not having somewhere safe to go afterschool, or not having a trusted adult to talk to and count on.
We’re also starting to understand the power of resilience and the importance of trauma-informed care. We know now that a child who has endured trauma is likely acting out because of their experiences, and with the right support, they can develop the skills they need to overcome their trauma and come out stronger on the other side. There is a growing awareness that while kids might start out with the cards stacked against them, if we can help them break the pattern at some point, they can still come out with a winning hand.
Finally, what gives me hope is that we are beginning to comprehend that we can all play a role in the health, safety and success of the children in our communities. You don’t have to be a teacher, a doctor or a judge to make a difference in the life of a child. As a parent, I know that I can only do so much to keep my children safe. At some point, they are going to venture beyond the protection I can offer, and it takes each of us, as a community, working together, to create a society where children are valued and protected.
Because, at the end of the day, it’s in all of our best interests. It’s been said many times before because it’s true: Today’s children are our future. We must protect them, care for them, value them and give them opportunities to ensure a strong, healthy future for us all.
I am deeply grateful that the founders of Alaska Children’s Trust understood this and had the foresight more than three decades ago to create this organization. I am proud that other children’s trusts across the country are looking to us as an example for operations, advocacy and partnership. And I am truly thankful to have the opportunity to be part of this organization over the past 20+ years.
My dream is that every child has the opportunity to grow up in a safe, nurturing environment, where they can dream about their futures as they grow up happy, healthy and thriving. As one of the many voices that makes up Alaska Children’s Trust and our network of partners and supporters, I know I am not alone in this dream. And I know that together we can – we will – prevent child abuse and neglect.
Tlisa Northcutt is the senior director of donor relations at the University of Alaska Foundation. She has served on the Alaska Children’s Trust board for the past 20 years, and currently serves as board chair. She was raised in Alaska and is proud to be raising her own family here.
Holidays mean different things to different people. I remember a time, as a child, it was about inconsequential things like a day to sleep in, the food and presents. As the years progressed, holidays became all about relationships – strengthening those that have been built over years, mending the ones that were damaged, and creating new ones. It is through these relationships I find the strength to grow as an individual, the perseverance to face challenges, and the comfort to be true to myself.
This fall, 33 communities across Alaska are seeing new or expanded afterschool programs for local children, thanks to $1.25 million in funding from the new Positive Youth Development Afterschool Grant Program
By Sue Brogan, Chief Operating Officer, United Way of Anchorage
Sue Brogan, United Way
The Alaska 2-1-1 Help Line helps families quickly find and connect with important services to meet their needs. The phone and online service run by United Way of Anchorage has no equal in the state. Since 2007, specialists have answered calls from more than 244,000 Alaskans, made 330,000 referrals to more than 1,000 health and human service agencies, and logged more than 517,000 online database searches.
But as of fall 2018, the Alaska 2-1-1 website hadn’t had an overhaul in 10 years. Ten years equals multiple generations online, so 2-1-1 was long overdue for an upgrade.
Thanks in part to a $10,000 grant from the Alaska Children’s Trust, that work got underway during fall 2018. In early spring 2019, Alaska 2-1-1 launched a modernized site that looks better, uses familiar icons to guide searchers to help, and provides a comprehensive complement to the call specialists who staff the 2-1-1 phone line five days a week.
By phone, 2-1-1 staffers provide a human touch. They listen, then respond with care and professional expertise. And while there’s no substitute for a sympathetic ear and a friendly voice, the Alaska 2-1-1 website aims for a warm online presence in trying to make the site more appealing and easier to navigate. We know that people looking for help don’t need hurdles.
Even though all calls are confidential, some Alaskans prefer to search for help online. The revised website meets them where they are 24/7. The first question on the main page is “What can we help you find?”. The second question is “Unsure of what you’re looking for? Let us help.”
Beginning on a page of descriptive icons, with a few keystrokes, searchers can define and narrow the field to find the help they need, by location and agency. The Alaska 2-1-1 database runs wide and deep; more than 9,300 services are included, and many entries feature detailed descriptions about what they offer, from child care to family counseling to housing assistance – as well as how to utilize those resources.
We redesigned the website with detailed provider information to streamline the search for help. Even so, we understand that the array of choices can still be confusing – which services, for example, will best meet my particular needs? That’s why the online search is sometimes the best prep for a call to 2-1-1, where specialists can guide callers to the provider who can best assist with the caller’s circumstances or use their knowledge to help brainstorm solutions if answers are not obvious. The website can be a helpful start, introducing people to the options available before contact with a specialist.
The importance of the partnership between Alaska Children’s Trust and Alaska 2-1-1 is clear. So many of the service providers in the 2-1-1 network involve the welfare of families and children – day care, health care, housing and nutrition. The mission of Alaska Children’s Trust is to prevent child abuse and neglect, and to ensure all Alaska children grow up in a family and community that provides them with the means to make their dreams come true. The right help at the right time is vital to that mission, and that’s the connection that Alaska 2-1-1 offers every day, by click or call.
We are grateful to the Alaska Children’s Trust for their support and partnership, and we are glad to contribute to their mission.
Alaska Children’s Trust awards grants to organizations in Alaska that work toward the prevention of child abuse and neglect. With the generous support of its donors, Alaska Children’s Trust has invested more than $5 million in Alaska children and families to date. To learn more about available grants and eligibility, or to view current recipients and their projects, visit https://www.alaskachildrenstrust.org/grants-overview.
A project of the Old Harbor Alliance, supported by Alaska Children’s Trust
By Amy Peterson, Program Manager
The Old Harbor Alliance was established by community leaders of Old Harbor, Alaska, to seek funding for educational programs and projects that will bring our people together to build a healthy community with strong leaders for all generations.
Over the past year, Old Harbor Alliance, with grant support from Alaska Children’s Trust, hosted a series of events for families through a program called Families Laying Down New Tracks. These events provided culturally relevant family and community gatherings that incorporated positive parenting and highlighted the negative impacts of child maltreatment.
The first event, “Who Makes the Rules?”, took place last fall. The purpose of the activity was to create commonly accepted boundaries for when we are together in a gathering-type setting.
“Who Makes the Rules?” This question was asked to our participants, whose answers ranged from: parents, teachers, ourselves, grandparents, the police, The Father (Three Saints Orthodox Church), and the President of the United States. The group discussed that if someone tells you they have a rule that makes you uncomfortable, you should follow your instincts, leave, and talk with a trusted adult about the situation.
Once the group finished talking about the rule makers, we discussed making rules and expectations that fit everyone. To facilitate the discussion, we introduced six categories and then invited the students to come up with rules or expectations for each category that would work for a group of people of all ages. Participants had a great time running up with their sticky notes or shouting out their ideas.
Ideas are never right or wrong; they are a beginning. Rules or expectations for this category included listening, participating, respecting opinions and thoughts, trying new things that aren’t your idea, encouraging others to speak up, and never saying someone’s idea is stupid.
Humor. Rules or expectations for this category ranged from laughing, smiling, having fun and being friendly, to saying “no” to bullying and never making fun of someone.
One person speaks at a time. In this category, participants said to ask questions, pay attention, not to interrupt, take turns, talk to someone new, and include everyone.
Respect: give it to get it. Students had a lot to say about this category, offering rules like telling the truth, saying please and thank you, sharing, and being kind, grateful, positive, safe and responsible. Things to avoid included fighting, stealing, hitting, shouting, and laughing at others.
Working together. Sharing, listening, teamwork, being helpful, and picking up after yourself were popular rules in this category. Participants also offered suggestions like “everyone is important,” “if you disagree, work it out,” “encourage and compliment each other,” “acknowledge each other’s feelings,” “use positive words and a positive tone,” and “check on your elders to see if they need anything.”
Listening. This category also inspired many ideas, like “give your full attention,” “be still while someone is talking,” “be quiet so everyone can hear,” “wait for a good time to ask a question,” “encourage others politely to be quiet and still,” “respect your elders” and remember that “everyone’s time is important.”
When the group was finished sharing their thoughts and ideas, the participants had snacks and made posters to be shared around the village. Since this first event, participants have been seen sharing these ideas with others during gatherings.
This was a great beginning to our program, Families Laying Down New Tracks. We thank Alaska Children’s Trust for their support of healthy and positive gatherings! Quyanaa!
It’s summer vacation! While summertime schedules can pose challenges, summer also provides lots of wonderful opportunities for families to focus on building stronger connections.
Strengthening Alaska’s families is what Alaska Children’s Trust is all about, so we’re pleased to share these national and local resources that can help your family not just survive, but thrive, this summer!
Keep learning. Did you know that children can lose up to two months of essential math and reading skills during the summer months? Fortunately, there are lots of ways you can support learning during summer vacation. Mark your calendar for National Summer Learning Week, July 8 – 13. This week is all about keeping kids learning, safe and healthy during the summer, ensuring they return to school in the fall ready to succeed. Check out the family toolkit for tips and resources, like:
Eat healthy. According to The Children’s Lunchbox, a program of Bean’s Café, there are approximately 21,000 children in the Anchorage area who don’t have enough healthy food to eat. This problem becomes even more severe in the summer for children who rely on school lunch programs. Families who need help can connect with numerous programs that offer free meals to children during the summer, including:
Find quality child care. thread is Alaska’s Child Care Resource and Referral Network, offering services to families, early childhood educators, early childhood education programs, and communities statewide. If you need help finding or choosing quality child care, or are looking for child care financial assistance, thread is a great place to start.
Alaska Children’s Trust was established in 1988 with the goal of preventing child abuse and neglect throughout Alaska. As a registered 501C3 nonprofit organization, we accept charitable gifts to support our mission to strengthen families so all Alaskan children have the tools and resources necessary to make their dreams come true.