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Posts from the ‘Guest Blog’ Category

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)

First Father’s Day: New dad reflects on importance of family-friendly workplaces

“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.

Mother’s Day in the Midst of a Pandemic

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”

Anna and Mike with their son, Nolan

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”

Diane, Colleen and their two young children, Imogen and Alistair

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”

Andrea’s adopted son, Mitch

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.

As a single, career-focused woman, Andrea never thought she could foster children because her lifestyle didn’t allow her to care for young children. However, three summers ago, when she saw a Facebook post seeking a foster family for a college-age boy, she realized that older children needed homes as well. Soon after, she welcomed Mitch into her home. And last spring, at an adoption ceremony in Anchorage, Andrea and Mitch officially became mother and son.

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.”