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Posts from the ‘Guest Blog’ Category

Data that Drives Change

A 2018 impACT story

Every morning, children arrive at schools across Alaska with empty bellies. Some haven’t had enough breakfast – or any at all. Others haven’t eaten since they left school the previous day.

These kids aren’t hungry to learn – they’re just hungry.

The 2018 KIDS COUNT Alaska Economic Well-Being Report tells us that 20 percent of Alaska’s kids live in households where there is not enough food.

While data like this doesn’t put food on the table, it does provide the information decision-makers need to implement efforts to address the problem.

Data plays a huge role at schools like Anchorage’s Willow Crest Elementary, which offers a free breakfast and lunch program to 100 percent of its students.

“Schools receive the free meals through their having a high number of students who qualify for free/reduced lunch,” explains Kristina Peterson, who served as Willow Crest principal for eight years. “Students qualify based on the income level of the family. When a school has a high level of students qualifying, the entire student population can be provided the free meals.”

The importance of data is why Voices for Alaska’s Children, a program of Alaska Children’s Trust, became the Alaska KIDS COUNT partner in 2016. KIDS COUNT, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is the premier source for data on child and family well-being in Alaska and throughout the United States. The mission of KIDS COUNT is to ensure child advocates, policymakers and the public have access to high-quality, unbiased data about child well-being.

Information for the Alaska reports is provided by state and federal sources, then compiled and presented by Voices for Alaska’s Children.  As the KIDS COUNT Alaska partner, Voices looks at the data through an Alaska lens, putting out quarterly reports that give a view of what’s going on in Alaska compared to the rest of the country. The data is available to anyone, from parents to program managers to policymakers.

“Just 20 years ago, there was no centralized place to get information on kids and families,” says Andrew Cutting, who oversees KIDS COUNT Alaska. “It’s a big deal. Not a lot of data sets are nationally focused on kids and families, or as easily accessible.”

One of the noteworthy aspects of KIDS COUNT is that it uses the same measurements to compare Alaska to other state and national data in areas including economic well-being, education, health, family and community, and overall child well-being.

For example, the 2018 KIDS COUNT Alaska Economic Well-Being Report shows that 36 percent of Alaska’s children are living in poverty – significantly above the national average of 19 percent. Overall, Alaska ranked 41 out of 50 in a state-to-state comparison of economic well-being in 2018.

“It compares apples to apples,” Andrew says. “It makes shocking numbers even more shocking.”

By demonstrating Alaska’s disproportionately high numbers, the data underscores the need for a shift in strategy. “If you keep going the same path, you are going to get the same results,” Andrew says. “When you change your outlook and try new things, you’ll start to get better outcomes.”

Back at Willow Crest and other schools across the state, data continues to drive decisions to benefit students and their families.

“It’s already difficult for many families to provide their kids with what they need, so we’re taking a burden off those families by providing a couple meals a day for their children,” Kristina says. “When you know your child is safe and being cared for, it opens the doors for you to do the things you need to do to help support your family.”

Learn more about Voices for Alaska’s Children and access KIDS COUNT data at voicesakchildren.org.

Partnering to Support Parents

A 2018 impACT story

We aren’t born with parenting knowledge, and as any parent will tell you, the job doesn’t come with an instruction manual. But even the most basic knowledge can make an enormous difference in raising happy, healthy children and reducing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), which research has shown can lead to many future lifelong problems, including poorer mental health, physical health, and socioeconomic status in adulthood.

O’Maly – a mother of four – and other young moms gained a wealth of parenting knowledge through Covenant House Alaska’s Parent Resiliency Project over the past year. The project, which Alaska Children’s Trust helped fund with a $10,000 grant, delivered a series of parenting workshops to current and former residents of Passage House, which is Covenant House’s transitional living program for young women who are pregnant or parenting.

The workshops explored in-depth parenting skills in a group setting, with a goal to increase parental awareness, examine the effects of one’s own trauma and ACEs on their children, and build a strong support network of peers.

“My biggest hope is that we are preventing ACEs in children through this process of creating parents who are aware of trauma and prevent it whenever possible,” says Gena Graves, Passage House program coordinator. “In 20 years, my hope is we have young adults without ACEs because their parents were knowledgeable and had the skills.”

One of the first challenges that the project worked to overcome is the negative stigma associated with “parenting classes.”

“Going to a class doesn’t mean you are a bad parent – it just means you can learn to be a better parent. We want people to embrace the thought of parenting as lifelong education. We want to normalize it and change the climate,” Gena says, adding that she was encouraged by the participating mothers’ attitudes toward the workshop.

“Everyone can learn more. Even the best parent can learn more because everyone is different,” shares O’Maly, who connected with Passage House a little over five years ago, when she was pregnant with her first child.

O’Maly and the other mothers were so engaged that they requested additional sessions, including one that invited their family members, significant others and anyone else associated with their children’s care. “That session allowed everyone involved in the child’s care to hear the same information and be able to speak the same language. The moms wanted that,” Gena says.

One of the unique aspects of the project was that it blended many different styles and strategies. “Our curriculum approaches subjects and teaches skills in different ways. It’s not just based on one resource, way or book. So, if something didn’t resonate with a mom in one way, it was often approached in a different way later that they could connect with. There was something for everyone,” Gena says.

O’Maly agrees, saying that she has tried different parenting classes in the past, but found this one to be the most interesting and valuable. “I paid attention this time. I wanted to participate. I had to participate, not just listen,” she shares.

Perhaps the most positive outcomes Gena witnessed over the year were the connections the mothers made with each other, and the knowledge and confidence they gained. “The project focused on delivering the information over a period of time, giving the moms time to meld, and build on past material,” she says. “It brought the same group of women together over and over and created an atmosphere of learning and support amongst the participants.”

“Over the year, we saw them become more engaged in parenting. They gained a lot of confidence and felt more knowledgeable,” Gena continues. In a post-project survey, the mothers indicated that 93 percent had greater resilience as a parent, 97 percent had more positive parenting attitudes, 97 percent increased their knowledge of ACEs and resilience, and 100 percent built connections.

“The different topics and information on different stages definitely helped me become a better parent,” O’Maly shares. “I can understand my kids better and know how to parent my kids at different levels and in good ways.”

Funding from Alaska Children’s Trust allowed Covenant House to provide workshop materials and tools for the moms to take home. “It allowed us to put the tools in the moms’ hands so they can continue to refer to it, go back to it and learn more. They could also share with others in the home who were helping care for the child. That wouldn’t have been possible without the funding from ACT,” Gena says.

Covenant House plans to continue the workshop series this year, inviting continued participation from the previous participants and welcoming new moms.

“I think it is super important to have this kind of education for young moms especially,” O’Maly said. “I recommend it 100 percent.”

For more information on Alaska Children’s Trust’s community investment grants, visit alaskachildrenstrust.org.

Building Resilience through History and Hope

A 2018 impACT story

Alaska is a beautiful and unique state, with places and people like nowhere else. Unfortunately, it is also a state with problems like nowhere else. From child abuse to substance abuse and low graduation rates to high suicide rates, Alaska is at or near the top of every list.

Driven by the belief that understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and resilience will begin to turn the tide, the Alaska Resilience Initiative (ARI), an initiative of Alaska Children’s Trust, led the effort to develop an Alaska-specific curriculum to educate Alaskans on these topics.

After more than a year of intense work involving a diverse and passionate statewide group, the new curriculum, History and Hope, was piloted this spring. The curriculum is designed to “train the trainers” to go out and educate audiences on what ACEs are, why they are so significant, why resilience is so critical, and how to build it.

Training programs on ACEs and resilience are not unique – in fact, ARI began using a different curriculum to train trainers in 2014. However, it soon became apparent that the program – developed in the lower 48 – was missing some critical pieces for the Alaska audience. “We found it did not meet the needs of Alaska, and it became clear that we needed an Alaska-specific curriculum,” says Laura Norton-Cruz, ARI director.

Big picture, the two things that the new curriculum incorporates are context – specifically addressing the significance of historical and ongoing systemic trauma, as well as the strength and healing power of Alaska Native culture – and hope, providing real-life examples and tangible tools so audience members leave feeling like they can begin to make a difference in a complex problem that Alaska has grappled with for decades.

“In Alaska, we have our own culture and pride about being Alaskan. The land, the people who have been here for thousands of years. There is strong culture and knowledge to learn from,” says Anna Meredith, one of new History and Hope facilitators.

Two versions of the curriculum have been developed to date – one specifically for those in the health care field, and a second focused on K – 12 educators. The goal is to create additional versions for other audiences, including early childhood educators, legal professionals, policymakers and parents.

“We chose school and health care first because they are essential places where trauma shows up, and it is important for those audiences to be trauma-informed. Anyone in education – from teachers to front desk staff to noon duties – can help create a safe space. Same in health care – from the receptionist to the doctor – it’s really important that everyone have access to this,” Laura says.

ARI began piloting History and Hope this spring, with presentations in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Homer and Juneau. One of the first presentations took place at the R.E.C. Room at Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic in Homer, where board members, clinicians and staff from accounting, administration, youth education and outreach participated.

“The training reinvigorated previous brainstorming,” says Anna, the R.E.C. Room’s youth program manager. For example, the clinic’s trauma-informed care team is now building off of Homer’s ACEs brochure to include specific local resources, as well as developing acupressure point cards that provide clients with an effective calming technique.

Another pilot presentation was offered in Fairbanks at the Alaska Native Education program, which serves Alaska Native and American Indian students in grades K-12 by providing a wide variety of services, including academic, social and cultural support.

“It was the first time many staff had heard about ACEs,” says Yatibaey Evans, program director. “Having their eyes opened to the (ACEs) study and how trauma affects kids is helpful to understanding and building compassion and empathy. It increased their open arms, made them wider.”

LaVerne Demientieff, clinical associate professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, was closely involved in the development of History and Hope and is also one of the curriculum facilitators.

“My hope for the curriculum is that we build compassion, connection, ceremony and curiosity,” she shares. “Part of the understanding of the impacts of trauma is being more compassionate. You’re less likely to place blame and more likely to understand that something happened to this person.”

At the Alaska Native Education program, Yatibaey’s ultimate goal is higher graduation rates. “The curriculum helps adults learn how to help children heal and feel supported at school,” she says. “When students feel supported, they are more likely to engage in work and graduate.”

Anna is also optimistic about the potential for the curriculum to impact youth. “The end goal for me is that the next generation of young people get this,” she says. “My hope is that it’ll be a step in a cultural shift and empower people through the science of resilience, give them understanding and compassion of where people are and why.”

Laura shares a similar perspective. “I hope people walk out thinking differently about their students and patients, feeling more compassionate and curious, wondering what’s going on and how can they help,” she says. “We want to give people more tools and an understanding to support compassionate practices. The idea is that when institutions are more trauma-informed, and take a more culturally responsive approach, they’re more effective – there are better outcomes.”

Learn more about ARI and History and Hope at akresilience.org.

New Funding, New Hope for Afterschool Programs

A 2018 impACT story

The school bell has just rung, signaling the end of the day. Two children walk out the front doors of the school. One begins his walk home – alone – to a dark, empty house, and spends several hours on his own before someone gets home from work. The other child heads to an afterschool program, where counselors greet him, ask about his day, give him a snack, check his homework, and provide engaging activities to do with friends.

Out of these two children, which one would you say has a lower risk of getting involved in unhealthy behaviors, like substance abuse? If you said the child in the afterschool program, you would be right.

University of Alaska Anchorage researchers found that students who participate in an afterschool program at least two days a week are 18 percent less likely to use alcohol and 39 percent less likely to use marijuana. Many other studies and evaluations have come to similar conclusions – that afterschool programs can reduce risk factors and build protective factors, minimizing the likelihood that youth will engage in unhealthy behavior while enhancing healthy development.

But here’s the challenge: In Alaska, there are currently 25,000 children enrolled in afterschool care, and another 45,000 children who want to be in a program, but can’t because the programs are full, cost-prohibitive – or simply don’t exist in their community.

These statistics were unacceptable to the Alaska Afterschool Network (a program of Alaska Children’s Trust), as well as Boys & Girls Clubs Alaska, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, and a group of Alaska legislators, who joined forces to champion a bill establishing the Marijuana Education and Treatment Fund.

The bill, which successfully passed both the House and Senate earlier this year, will direct 25 percent of Alaska’s new marijuana sales tax revenue to the fund. Half of that revenue will go to the Department of Health and Social Services for marijuana education, monitoring and treatment efforts. The remaining half will directly benefit Alaska’s youth by increasing access to afterschool programs statewide through the newly established Alaska marijuana use prevention youth services grant program.

“Alaska is the first state to invest funds from marijuana sales directly into afterschool prevention programs. Other states are looking to us as an example,” says Thomas Azzarella, director of the Alaska Afterschool Network. “It went from a topic that no one was talking about to one that everyone is talking about.”

Boys & Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula is just one program that can speak to the critical need for funding. They closed their Homer Club in 2013 due to funding shortages and lack of program space; funding for their Soldotna Teen Center has dried up, creating an uncertain future for a much-needed program; and their Soldotna Club has a waiting list of 85 kids.

“It is a hard situation because we want to serve all kids, especially those who need us most. However, funding and program space have been our biggest barriers, preventing us from expanding our existing programs,” shares Heather Schloeman, executive director.

“We teach youth how to make positive decisions and give them the tools needed to avoid risky behaviors and peer pressure,” Heather explains. “Our programs serve youth when they are most at risk: after school and during the summer months, times when they would most likely be without adult supervision if afterschool programs were not available.”

Jennifer Yeoman can share firsthand about how important afterschool programs are to Alaska families. In addition to her six children, ranging in age from 7 to 18, Jennifer has cared for many foster children over the years.

“Having a large family, I truly believe in the thought it takes a village to raise a child. Boys & Girls Club has been there as our children have grown up and provided a structured program for them where I did not have to worry,” Jennifer says. “They have been beyond helpful for all our foster children we have had over the years. We could not have provided the care as a foster family without the help from Boys & Girls Club.”

“If these programs were not there, we would have to have our own children be home alone after school, or not be able to work full time, which would impact our family, as well as not be able to continue being foster parents for most of the children we have helped,” Jennifer adds.

With the new fund and grant program in place, Thomas says they can begin to work toward the goal to get more kids in afterschool programs, where they can build protective factors and reduce the risk of substance abuse. The fund will also provide professional development for afterschool providers to improve program quality.

“Afterschool programs with highly trained staff and volunteers produce greater positive outcomes for youth. Trained afterschool professionals are more likely to build relationships that make a positive difference throughout a youth’s life,” he says. “Quality of care matters.”

Jennifer agrees. “Having a safe place for your children to go for a few hours after school helps more than I can speak to,” she says.

And now, with support from the new grant program, more Alaska kids will have just that.

Visit akafterschool.org to learn more about the Alaska Afterschool Network and how afterschool keeps kids safe, inspires learning, and supports working families.

Thank you, Donna!

One of my favorite traditions at Thanksgiving is when people share what they are thankful for that year. Although Thanksgiving is a few days away, I would like to dedicate this month’s issue of ACT’s community impACT e-newsletter to one of our most favorite partners – Alaska’s First Lady Donna Walker.

I remember the first time I met Donna nearly four years ago. She came to our offices alone – a very rare occurrence to meet her without staff in tow. What I remember the most is her smile. She has one of those smiles that is infectious. As I shared the history of the Children’s Trust and the relationship we have with the First Lady, her smile grew tenfold.

For 20 years, it has been a tradition for Alaska’s First Lady to be ACT’s honorary chair. Donna’s affinity for the mission of ACT provided the opportunity to serve as a champion for the safety and well-being of Alaska’s children.

Donna has had a lifelong commitment to children. As a mother and grandmother, she knows firsthand how important it is to ensure children grow up in safe, stable and nurturing environments. She even took a year away from her law career to be a caseworker for the Office of Children Services. To have the opportunity to partner with a statewide organization with a mission to prevent child abuse and neglect made that infectious smile grow.

For the past four years, Donna has been a beacon of hope for us all. Her passion and her voice to raise awareness and commitment to ensuring Alaska children and families thrive was present in everything she did.

When it comes to children, Donna never said no. She volunteered hundreds of hours with programs striving to support children and families. She has slept out in freezing temperatures to raise awareness and funding for homeless youth. She has written numerous op-eds asking Alaskans to join her in protecting and investing in Alaska’s most precious resource. She has taken time to sit with children and read stories. Each year, she joins Operation Santa ensuring children and families in rural Alaska have an amazing holiday. And the list goes on and on.

As a partner of ACT, Donna was always willing to lend a hand in helping us work towards achieving our mission of preventing child abuse and neglect. Annually, Donna hosted a gathering at the Governor’s house on behalf of ACT. She helped us raise resources that support our various programs. She kicked off our annual National Child Abuse Prevention Month rally. She visited ACT grant recipients across the state to learn how communities are working to protect children and what barriers they face day-to-day.

Although her time as Alaska’s First Lady is coming to a close, we know this is not the end of her work to help build safe, stable and nurturing environments for Alaska’s children. On behalf of all the children and families in Alaska, thank you to First Lady Donna Walker for being a champion for kids.

Trevor Storrs, President and CEO, Alaska Children’s Trust

Heart Gallery Features Foster Kids Seeking Forever Homes

By Dawn Paulson, Family Coach Supervisor

Who do you call when making a major life decision? Who do you spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with? Who do you call to celebrate milestones in life with? For most people it is family. For children in foster care who are waiting for an adoptive family, it is no one.

In the state of Alaska there are over 150 children in foster care whose parental rights have been terminated and they are waiting for an adoptive family to choose them. Without an adoptive family, these children will age out of the system and be on their own.

The statistics for aged out foster youth are staggering: only 50 percent will graduate high school, 40 percent will experience homelessness, 30 percent will be incarcerated and 25 percent will report substance use and abuse. The Heart Gallery of Alaska is the only recruiting of its kind in the state of Alaska for these youth.

The Heart Gallery of Alaska utilizes the power of media to capture the individuality of children waiting in foster care in order to advocate for their adoption. Each child listed on the Heart Gallery of Alaska has chosen to be featured and is legally available for adoption.

This gallery does not show every child awaiting a home, but serves as a compelling representation of the many Alaskan children who are looking for forever families. Through the Heart Gallery of Alaska, a loving family can inquire and learn more about children awaiting adoption, and children featured on the gallery are encouraged to express what they are looking for in a forever family.

Beacon Hill operates the Heart Gallery of Alaska and is a privately funded nonprofit based in Anchorage and operating across the state. They work with professional volunteer media teams to showcase Alaska’s beautiful children. Because of this, many of these children have and will find permanent, loving homes.

In 2017, the first full year of Heart Gallery of Alaska, 30 children had chosen to be on the gallery, six were adopted, one found a legal guardian, 14 were matched with potential pre-adoptive families, and two aged out of foster care.

So far in 2018, there are 39 children listed on the gallery with 24 of them matched with potential pre-adoptive families and five finalized adoptions! An exciting victory is a sibling set of five who were listed on the Heart Gallery in December 2017 and were matched with a family March 2018 and continue to do well! Heart Gallery of Alaska works at finding children forever families!

Beacon Hill’s Heart Gallery of Alaska was selected from 2,000 nonprofits from across the country as one of the top 200 finalists in the State Farm Neighborhood Assist. A 10-day voting period in August brought a fierce competition with supporters from across Alaska and the country participating by voting daily. The top 40 winners of $25,000 will be announced September 25.

Dawn Paulson Family Coach Supervisor

Dawn Paulson, Family Coach Supervisor

The CrossFit community is rallying around the Heart Gallery of Alaska by holding an upcoming event: The Reliance Games. CrossFit Grizzly at the MTA Sports Center is hosting a CrossFit competition event to raise funds for the Heart Gallery of Alaska during Adoption Awareness Month. The event will be held November 11 at the MTA Sports Center and they have an exciting goal of raising $50,000. Check out the Facebook event, or register as a volunteer or competitor.

View the children on the Heart Gallery at www.heartgalleryak.com.

“There are no unwanted children, just unfound families.”

– National Adoption Center

Anchorage needs a youth fire-setting prevention and intervention program

By Dein Bruce, Firefighter, Anchorage Fire Department

If you have been reading the local news, or browsing social media, you may have heard about one or two playground fires. With all the issues Anchorage is facing it might seem like a small blip on the radar, but I am here to tell you it isn’t. The consequences of youth fire setting can be tragic and costly. Nationally, in a typical year, fires set by children and youth claim the lives of approximately 300 people and destroy more than $300 million worth of property. Tragically, children are the predominant victims of these fires, accounting for 85 of every 100 lives lost.

Currently, Anchorage has no intervention and prevention program.

Without intervention, there is an 80 percent chance that a child who has started one fire will start another within the year. Most children are fascinated with fire, but those children who misuse matches and lighters are putting themselves and those around them in great danger. Some children experiment with fire out of curiosity and have easy access to ignition materials. Unfortunately, children do not understand the devastating consequences of fire. Adolescents may experiment with fire and or pressure-building devices demonstrating thrill-seeking behavior. Unfortunately, there is a wealth of information on the internet that will teach them how to build devices and set complex fires. But those same videos do not show many of the tragic consequences that come after.

There are also children and youth who experiment with fire because they are experiencing a crisis in their life. The crisis could be a result of various types of childhood traumas such as moving, a loved ones’ death, divorce or bullying. Unable to express their emotions, these children may turn to the misuse of fire. These children can benefit from learning how to deal with their emotions in a more constructive and positive manner, one that does not include fire setting. Regardless of the motivation behind fire-setting behavior, most children and youth are ideal candidates for a youth fire-setting intervention program.

The news isn’t all bleak. Members of the Anchorage School District, Anchorage Police Department, State of Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice, Alaska State Fire Marshal’s Office, various members of Alaska’s mental health community, and my organization, the Anchorage Fire Department, are in the process of creating a program here in Anchorage. The program will cover a multi-jurisdictional work group that will start to educate and redirect youth that are involved in the misuse of fire.

A child can be referred to the program in several ways: a parent/guardian, teacher, the fire department, police department, or the court system. A private assessment followed by classes on the safe and proper use of fire are offered to the child and parent free of charge. An intervention specialist will work with the child to determine the motivation of their misuse of fire. If a recommendation to a mental health clinician is needed, for issues beyond curiosity, the interventionist will work with the guardian to find the appropriate resources. A follow-up evaluation after the educational program will allow the interventionist to provide continued support to the family.

Here are five things parents, guardians and caregivers need to know about fire setting right now:

  1. Fire fascination and misuse is common among children.
  2. It is usually the result of curiosity and modeled behavior.
  3. Children lack the understanding of the risks and consequences of fire.
  4. Fires set by children can be very serious, even when there is no intent to do harm.
  5. Early intervention, by trained professionals, is key to stopping this dangerous behavior.
Dien Bruce

Dein Bruce is a firefighter with the Anchorage Fire Department. 

As most home fires set by children are started with lighters or matches, it is critical to keep fire tools and liquid accelerants out of reach of their reach. Two out of five home fires set by children begin in the bedroom. The leading items first ignited by home fire-misuse were mattresses and bedding, which accounted for 24 percent of child-set home structure fires. Monitor a child’s play time to make certain that fire misuse is not part of the day’s events. Set rules that youth are not to possess or use matches or lighters without direct adult supervision. Lastly, make certain the smoke detectors in your home are in good working order and have fresh batteries every six months.

We are all in this together. Help us keep our children, youth, community and pocketbook safe from the devastating loss of fire.

 

Let’s Give Child Hunger a Summer Vacation

By Dr. Theresa Dulski and Cara Durr

Girl with appleWhen the academic year ends, more than 18 million children across the country, including more than 58,000 children here in Alaska, lose access to free and reduced-price school meals they depend on for nourishment. Many kids can’t wait for summer vacation, but for some, summer can be a time of hunger and worry.

Buying and accessing healthy food can be difficult for many families. A recent study from Feeding America found that food insecurity rates among households with children are substantially higher than those found in the general population. With already overextended budgets, many low-income families must choose between paying for food and paying for other needs such as medical care and housing.

Adequate nutrition is a vital component to the health and well-being of children, but approximately 20 percent of Alaskan children live in food-insecure households.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children who face food insecurity are likely to be sick more often, recover from illness more slowly, and be hospitalized more frequently. Without access to adequate meals, children in low-income families often turn to cheap, calorie-dense foods with little nutritious value. As a result, many of these children struggle with obesity. Access to proper nutrition for children not only helps improve their current health, but also sets the stage for healthy eating habits as adults.

Food insecurity can impact more than physical health. A lack of adequate nourishment can also affect a child’s development, behavior and school performance. Children with increased food insecurity over the summer may also experience a loss of learning opportunities. Research from Dr. Karl Alexander and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University showed that this can lead to the “summer slide,” with children from lower income families returning to school further behind in academics.

A critical resource for many families is the US Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program, which provides meals and snacks to children at approved community sites while school is out of session. Free summer meals can help families save money and stretch their summer food budgets, while giving their kids a chance to eat a nutritious meal in a safe and engaging environment.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, is another critical resource during the summer, serving about 38,000 children in Alaska last year. SNAP doesn’t just make sure that thousands of children in Alaska and across the country have enough to eat year-round; the program has lifelong benefits. Children who have access to SNAP in their early years are less likely to be obese or develop conditions like heart disease later in life.

Summer meal programs and SNAP help Alaskan children and families fill the summer meal gap when school is out.

Hunger and food insecurity affect a large number of children in Alaska, particularly during the summer months. Assuring access to healthy nutrition year-round is one important way to help promote the health and well-being of children in our community. Together we can create a future where no child is hungry – whether they are in school or out – by ensuring they have access to programs like SNAP and the Summer Food Service Program to fill their bellies during the summer.

Need help this summer?

  • Parents can find summer meal programs in their community by calling 1-866-3-HUNGRY, by dialing 2-1-1, by texting ‘FOOD’ to 877-877, or by visiting fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks.
  • Food Bank of Alaska’s Outreach team can help families apply for SNAP. Visit alaskasnap.com for more information, or call 1-844-222-3119 or email snap@foodbankofalaska.orgfor application assistance.
  • For a current Anchorage food pantry and meal program calendar, visit Food Bank of Alaska’s website. The calendar is updated monthly, and can always be found at foodbankofalaska.org  →  Find Help → Find a Pantry. To find a food pantry or meal program in other areas of the state, call 2-1-1.

 

Dr. Theresa Dulski is a pediatrician, and a member of American Academy of Pediatrics. Cara Durr is the director of public engagement for Food Bank of Alaska. A version of this blog post was originally printed in the Alaska Dispatch News’ opinion section.

Straight Shooter: Talking to Kids About Gun Safety

Mother and son

By an Alaska mom

I grew up in a house without guns. My family didn’t own guns, we didn’t shoot guns, we didn’t even really talk about guns. Ironically, when I got married, I joined a family of subsistence hunters, sport shooters and gun collectors.

While I am still not entirely comfortable around guns, I respect the fact that we live in a state where guns are tightly interwoven in the lifestyles, cultures and traditions of many Alaskans.

While I don’t eat meat, I respect the fact that, like many families in Alaska, my in-laws fill their freezer each year with moose they have brought home from successful hunting trips.

And while it makes me nervous, I respect the fact that my son wants to learn to shoot safely – and that my husband and father-in-law want to pass their knowledge down to him.

So while we each have differing experiences, attitudes and opinions about guns, one thing we can all agree on is the importance of gun safety. And that starts with talking to our kids.

Even if there is not a gun in your household, your children are likely to come into contact with one at some point, so it is important to talk to them about guns and gun safety.

Depending on the age of your child, questions you may want to discuss together include:

  • How should a gun be treated?
  • Do any of your friends have access to a gun at home?
  • Have any of your friends talked about using a gun?
  • Have you ever had a friend show you – or try to show you – a gun?
  • What would you do if you saw a gun at school or at a friend’s house?
  • When you see guns being used in TV shows and movies, do you think it’s realistic? Do you think there were other ways the characters could have handled the situation?

This is a conversation that needs to continue and evolve as your kids get older, make new friends and experience different situations.

Now that my son is of an age where he is spending time with friends and family without my supervision, I know I can’t control every person and situation he comes in contact with. I believe the best way I can protect him is to prepare him with the information he needs to make good decisions.

So what does my son need to know? Here are some kid-focused tips, based on information from KidsHealth.org, that parents can share with their children. (Please know that these tips are just focused on basic gun safety – the topic of gun violence, how to address that and how to talk to our kids about it is a huge and important issue worthy of its own article.)

If your family has a gun at home:

  • All guns should be stored in a secure gun safe. You are not allowed access to the safe until you are an adult and know how to handle a gun.
  • When you have friends over, don’t show them where the gun or gun safe is kept.
  • Never get the gun out or handle a gun unless a parent or another responsible adult is with you and says it’s OK.

When you’re at a friend’s house:

  • If you see a gun somewhere, stop what you’re doing. Do not touch the gun, even if it looks like a toy. Leave the area where the gun is. Tell an adult right away.
  • If a friend wants to show you a gun, say “no” and leave or call your parent for a ride. Tell your parent right away what happened. Don’t worry about getting your friend into trouble — you will be helping to keep him or her safe.

If someone is carrying a gun:

  • If someone tells you they have a gun or shows you a gun, get away from the person quickly and quietly. Tell an adult you trust immediately. If you can’t find a teacher, parent, coach or other adult, call 911. Don’t feel that you’re being a tattletale if you tell an adult that someone has a gun. Remember, you may save a life!

If you’re using a gun for hunting or target practice:

  • Never get the gun out when you are alone. Only use the gun with a parent or a responsible adult there and only if you have their permission.
  • Always assume a gun is loaded.
  • Neverpoint a gun at someone, even if you think it is unloaded. Always point a gun toward the ground until ready to use.

Of course, there are also things we as adults need to do to keep our kids safe. For example:

  • If you have a gun at home, store it unloaded and locked up in a gun safe. Lock up bullets separately from the gun. Only responsible adults should know how to unlock the gun safe.
  • Before your child goes over to a friend or family member’s house for the first time, you may want to consider asking if there are guns in the house and if they are locked up and stored out of reach. Although the question may be uncomfortable, it could end up saving your child’s life.
  • If your child is going to be using a gun for hunting or target practice, make sure they have been taught by a responsible adult how a gun works and how to use it safely. Taking a gun safety class is a great family activity.

So whether you are a sharpshooter or don’t know a single thing about guns, here are three common steps we can all take to keep our kids safe:

  • Talk with our kids.
  • Prepare them with information to help them make good decisions.
  • Take appropriate safety precautions.

Find more information at https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/gun-safety.html.

Why Teaching Our Kids “Stranger Danger” is Not Enough

By Trevor Storrs, Executive Director, Alaska Children’s Trust

Blank Danger And Hazard Triangle Warning Sign Isolated MacroKeeping children safe is a common thread that binds us all together, no matter our differences. April, being Child Abuse Prevention Month, is a good time to remind ourselves of this bond.

Over the past year, our headlines have been filled with national and local events that challenged this common thread. Whether it was the thousands of stories of the #MeToo movement, the trial of the U.S. Olympic team doctor Dr. Larry Nassar, the family in California that held their 13 children captive, the inaccurate information about Prop 1 in Anchorage, or any one of the many stories of Alaska children being harmed by a trusted adult.

Each of these stories spurred conversations about child abuse and neglect online, in the paper, or at the watercooler. And each of those conversations usually ended with a similar question, “How do we protect our children?” 

For many, our quick answer is to teach the old adage, “Stranger Danger.” But when we look at who is hurting our children, the data gives a very different answer. Nationally, approximately 90 percent of sexually abused children knew their perpetrator.[1]

That number is even higher in Alaska. According to the 2016 Crime in Alaska Supplemental Report: Felony Level Sex Offenses, 96 percent of the victims in Alaska between the ages of 11 – 17 years old knew the suspect.[2] The report further shows that 74 percent of sex offenses occurred in a residence. That means these abusers are trusted friends, family, teachers, coaches and religious leaders.

We need to ensure we provide the right information and tools so our children know what to do not only when a stranger approaches them inappropriately – but when a trusted adult does as well. Parents are encouraged to:

Engage in direct dialogue with your children.

  • Ensure that your young children know the proper words for their body parts and understand that there are certain parts of their body that are private.
  • Answer questions your children have about their bodies honestly, and make sure they know that they can talk to you about anything that is bothering them.
  • When your children are older, have conversations about healthy sexuality and what respectful romantic relationships look like.

Teach children about secrets.

  • Make sure your children understand what a secret is, and what kinds of secrets are OK to keep, like birthday presents, and what kinds are not.
  • Ensure children know that no adult should ever tell them to keep a secret from you.

Talk about their rights.

  • Talk about when is it okay for a child to say no to an adult, even if that adult is a relative or trusted friend.
  • Let them know that they don’t have to hug someone if they don’t feel comfortable. It is OK to give a handshake, a high five, or a fist bump.

Learn about and advocate for institutional policies.

  • Inquire about the policies for background checks with the care providers you use, such as babysitters and childcare or afterschool program staff.

It’s important to know that you don’t have to be a parent to help tackle this issue. By knowing and recognizing the warning signs of child sexual abuse, you can help protect children in your community. Warning signs of child sexual abuse include:

  • Inappropriate knowledge of sexual behavior for their age level
  • Sexually explicit drawings
  • Highly sexualized play (e.g., simulated intercourse with toys, pets or other children)
  • A child being fearful of a specific person or place
  • A decrease in academic performance

If you suspect abuse, it is critical that you make a report to the authorities by calling the Alaska report line at 800-478-4444.

Most importantly, when a child shares a story about an inappropriate encounter, believe them. Many victims recount the time they tried to share their story with an adult, and the adult made an excuse for the perpetrator or ignored it completely. It is important to validate the child and notify the appropriate authorities to ensure the validity of the information is investigated appropriately.

All of these stories, media reports and discussions have brought more light to an issue that has plagued our communities for way too long. Due to the nature of the topic, it can be very difficult for a victim to step forward and share their story, just as it is difficult for a community member to intervene. But the more we all acknowledge and accept these responsibilities, the greater chance we have to change the current trend. As the old proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Together we can prevent child abuse and neglect.

[1]Finkelhor, D., Ormrod, R., Turner, H., & Hamby, S. L. (2005). The victimization of children and youth: A comprehensive, national survey. Child Maltreatment, 10, 5-25

[2]2016 Crime in Alaska Supplemental Report: Felony Level Sex Offenses, prepared by Christen L Spears and Kathryn Monfreda.