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Posts from the ‘Parenting’ Category

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.

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.

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.

Endocrine Disruption and Health: The State of the Science and the Need for Primary Prevention

By Pamela Miller, Executive Director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics

Pamela_K_Miller

Over the past 25 years, scientists have made astonishing progress in elucidating how endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in the environment affect humans – especially pregnant and nursing women, babies, infants, and children. Scientific understanding has far surpassed public policy, leaving us with chemical policies that are not protective of public health.

Confronted with this growing body of new research, the highly respected Endocrine Society set an important precedent for scientific and medical organizations in 2009 by taking a public stance on endocrine-disrupting chemicals and again in 2015 by issuing a comprehensive scientific statement. The Endocrine Society is the largest international membership organization representing scientists and health care professionals in the field of endocrinology. The Endocrine Society statements:

  • “Defined an EDC as a compound that, through environmental or developmental exposure, alters how an organism communicates and responds to the environment;
  • Asserted that there is no endocrine system that is immune to EDCs and that the effects may be transmitted to future generations (e., transgenerational);
  • Declared that the evidence for adverse reproductive outcomes is strong and mounting for effects in areas such as neuroendocrine, sexual development, obesity, metabolism, thyroid systems, and insulin resistance;
  • Highlighted the “precautionary principle” for informing decisions about exposure and risk: Chemicals must be tested before being introduced into the environment;
  • Encouraged scientific societies to partner with organizations with scientific and medical expertise to evaluate the effects of EDCs and communicate to other researchers, clinicians, community advocates, and politicians.”

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are exogenous chemicals that can act in various ways to disrupt the delicate chemical messaging system of the body, including mimicking or blocking our normal hormone functions. They are found in our home, school, and work environments in such products as electronics, furniture foam and carpet padding treated with certain flame retardants, personal care and cleaning products, pesticides, food packaging, medical equipment, and toys. We are exposed to EDCs in our air, water, food, and through household dust. In a commentary in Environmental Health News,[i] Dr. Laura Vandenberg of the University of Massachusetts states:

“We also know that Americans today have hundreds of chemicals circulating in their bodies. Our babies are being born ‘pre-polluted’ with chemicals detectable in their blood, in the placenta, and in amniotic fluid because of exposure to EDCs and other contaminants during pregnancy and throughout the mother’s life. We now recognize that EDCs can act at low doses . . . It is also clear that the traditional adage ‘the dose makes the poison,’ used by toxicologists for decades, is outdated and too simplistic when it comes to understanding the health effects associated with EDCs; studying high doses often does not tell the full story about a chemical’s effects. And there are periods in our life when we are more sensitive to these chemicals; exposures during vulnerable periods of development can produce effects that might not manifest until adulthood.”

EDCs are implicated through laboratory and epidemiological studies in adverse health outcomes including infertility, thyroid impairment, neurodevelopmental harm, obesity, and certain cancers including testicular, breast, prostate, and ovarian.[ii] Pregnant and nursing women, babies, infants, children, and adolescents are particularly vulnerable. Several studies have highlighted the harmful exposures of premature babies in neonatal intensive care units who are exposed to certain endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in medical devices, such as phthalates and bisphenol A. Phthalates are chemical substances used as plasticizers in plastics such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and found in medical devices including blood storage bags, IVs, breathing tubes, feeding tubes, and catheters.

What Can You Do?

Some simple ways to prevent or reduce exposures include:

  • Wash hands frequently
  • Dust with a damp cloth and using a vacuum with a HEPA filter
  • Avoid personal care products with the word “fragrance” on the label
  • Use glass and stainless steel instead of plastic or Teflon for food storage and cooking
  • Choose fresh, frozen, or dried foods (such as beans) rather than canned foods
  • Choose organic foods as much as possible

But it’s clear we can’t “shop our way out of this problem.” Public policies that are based on our current scientific understanding of EDCs and prioritize protection of public health are vital to the health of current and future generations of Alaska’s children. Expecting our Alaskan hospitals and medical clinics to develop a plan for acquiring and using alternative medical devices, materials, and products that do not contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals is a great place to start.

Resources:

  • The Endocrine Society’s Second Scientific Consensus Statement on Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals, 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4702494/
  • Introduction to Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals: A Guide for Public Interest Organizations and Policy Makers, 2014. A Publication of the Endocrine Society and the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN): http://ipen.org/documents/introduction-endocrine-disrupting-chemicals-edcs.
  • Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments: Promoting healthy people and healthy environments by educating and leading the nursing profession, advancing research, incorporating evidence-based practice, and influencing policy. http://envirn.org/
  • Health Care Without Harm – an excellent resource for health care providers interested in environmentally responsible health care: https://noharm-europe.org/issues/europe/edcs-infographic
  • The Endocrine Disruption Exchange – a helpful source of information on the latest science concerning endocrine disruption: https://endocrinedisruption.org/.
  • Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) – an information source about community-based research, science and health in Alaska. ACAT hosts free monthly teleconference seminars with leading science and policy experts on environmental health topics: akaction.org
  • Safer Chemicals Healthy Families – a national coalition of health professionals, parents, advocates for people with learning and developmental disabilities, reproductive health advocates, environmentalists and businesses: http://saferchemicals.org/

[i] Vandenberg, L. 2016. Commentary: 25 years of endocrine disruptor research – great strides, but still a long way to go. Environmental Health News: http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2016/sept/commentary-25-years-of-endocrine-disruptor-research-2013-great-strides-but-still-a-long-way-to-go

[ii] The Endocrine Disruption Exchange Fact Sheet on Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals: https://endocrinedisruption.org/assets/media/documents/EDC%20Fact%20Sheet%2020170705.pdf

What is Help Me Grow?

Rachel author headshotBy Rachel Boudreau, intern with Help Me Grow Alaska & the All Alaska Pediatric Partnership

Alaska is a large state with a small population. While we are fortunate to have many services to support families and children, sometimes the services a family needs are not available or, if they are, access to them can often be challenging. This can be an extremely frustrating and exasperating barrier for families trying to do their best raising happy, healthy kids.

For the last three years, a diverse group of professionals from the field of early childhood and pediatrics have worked together to find a solution, a “glue” if you will, that connects providers, community-based services, and families to ensure easier access and to help guide what new services still need to be created or expanded. That glue is a system called Help Me Grow, and we are excited to finally bring it to families here in Alaska.Help_Me_Grow_logo_update

What is Help Me Grow Alaska?

Help Me Grow Alaska (HMG-AK) is a resource and referral system that provides care coordination services and links families with services and supports throughout the state. HMG-AK is based on a national model developed in Connecticut in 2005 out of a need for a better way to connect families with community-based resources. HMG-AK is not an agency designed to offer more services, but it is intended to connect families with the resources that are already in place in communities across the state, and to help identify where more services are needed. Help Me Grow’s mission is to identify children who are at risk for developmental delays and/or behavioral problems, and then to link these children and their families to community-based and statewide resources.

Why do families need to be connected to developmental screenings?

As part of its mission, the Help Me Grow system promotes and provides a standardized tool to screen children ages 0-5 for developmental delays or disabilities. Periodical developmental screening monitors a child’s developmental milestones, such as walking, using words, expressing emotions, playing with peers, etc. Answers to the screening questions show what the child’s strengths are and will identify any areas where the child may need support or extra practice.

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The screening tool is easy to complete and can offer fun ideas for interacting with children in an age-appropriate way. HMG-AK provides families with free access to this developmental screening tool on paper or online, and the care coordinators work with the family to connect them to further evaluation, should there be any concerns of a developmental delay. When reviewing the screening results together with the parent, the care coordinator will also provide additional activities to do at home to help support the child’s healthy development while enjoying fun, free and high quality time with the child.

A child does not need to have a delay or disability to receive services or activity ideas from a Help Me Grow coordinator. The service is available and free to all families with children.

Why would a family contact the Help Me Grow call center?

HMG-AK is designed to assist families with young children looking for a broad range of support. This could be anything from questions or concerns about their child’s development or behavior to helping a family who recently moved to a community find a medical provider and social supports and community activities such as parenting groups or organized play time for kids. The care coordination model is set up to help families navigate complex situations through follow up and continued support to ensure the family feels comfortable and confident in the next steps for their child and themselves.

How do I access HMG-AK?

HMG-AK is available to anyone raising a child as well as medical providers, childcare providers and community members. All it takes is one call to the HMG-AK call center to speak with a trained care coordinator. HMG-AK’s care coordinator will answer questions a family might have and then link the family with the needed resources or find alternative supports to assist the family until the appropriate services are available. The care coordinators will follow up with the family to ensure a connection was made to the recommended resources and to discuss any additional concerns the family might have.

As Alaska’s Help Me Grow system develops, families can expect to see local Help Me Grow family-friendly events in their communities and useful educational materials to help parents understand more about their child’s development, how to manage stress (both for the parent and the child), managing difficult behaviors and more.

When will HMG-AK be available in my community?

We are currently in the very beginning phase of launching Help Me Grow in Alaska and still have a lot of work ahead of us. The first phase is focused on three regions: Norton Sound, Kodiak and Mat-Su. We are working hard and putting a lot of effort and thought into the planning, and hope to expand the program statewide, shortly after. Stay tuned through the Help Me Grow mailing list for updates!

Getting a Head Start on Success

By Mark Lackey, CCS Early Learning, Executive Director, and Anji Gallanos, Department of Education and Early Development, Early Learning Administrator

 

Head Start and Early Head Start in Alaska are a crucial component in helping children and families across our state be more prepared for success in school and in life. However, many people don’t have a solid understanding of what services these programs provide or how they operate. Let’s take a quick look…

Broadly speaking, Head Start (ages 3-5) and Early Head Start (expectant mothers – age 3) are federally funded and federally regulated programs. Over $40 million in federal funding is delivered directly to local grantees in Alaska – it does not come through the state government. However, each local grantee must provide a 20 percent non-federal match (cash or in-kind) against their federal grant to demonstrate that states and local communities have “skin in the game” and remain confident in the grantee providing the services. The State of Alaska contributes $6.8 million towards this match and grantees gather the remainder of the required match in a variety of ways. Some examples include contributions from Native corporations, United Way and other local grants, facilities or community services provided at reduced rates, parent volunteer hours, and donations received from individuals and corporate donors.

While the federal government provides the law (The Head Start Act) and the regulations (Head Start Program Performance Standards) about how these programs must be operated, they allow much flexibility in allowing local grantees to deliver services in a way that meets the needs of their local community. Programs must do a community assessment that provides a careful examination of what the needs within their community are. Local oversight is provided by two governance bodies: a governing board (board of directors or elected officials) and a policy council (comprised of parents of enrolled children). These two groups are tasked with making sure the grantee offers services that best meet the specific needs of the children and families that have been identified in the assessment.

In Alaska, there are currently 17 different grantees providing Head Start and Early Head Start services in over 100 communities all around the state. In the 2016-2017 school year, Alaska grantees served 3,558 families and 3,879 children. Of these children, 762 were enrolled in an Early Head Start program and 3,117 were enrolled in a Head Start program. Approximately 60 percent of enrolled children were from families who had income below 100 percent of poverty (as an example, a family of four would need to have income of less than $30,750). Approximately 8 percent of enrolled children were homeless, and another 6 percent of enrolled children were in foster care.

So what services were actually provided and what impact does Head Start or Early Head Start have? As mentioned above, these programs serve both the child and the family. We know and understand that parents are the first and most important teachers for their children and will have the greatest opportunity for having a positive impact on their children. The top five services that were provided to families in Alaska during the last school year were:

  1. Parenting Education (1,318)
  2. Health Education (885)
  3. Emergency/Crisis Intervention, such as meeting immediate needs for food, clothing or shelter (573)
  4. Housing Assistance, such as subsidies, utilities, repairs, etc. (356)
  5. Mental Health Services (251)

Other examples of family services that were provided include adult education, and asset-building services such as financial education, job training, and English as a second language. Generally speaking, services to families are determined by what each individual family identifies as a need or a goal that they would like assistance in working towards. Our job is to help these parents be outstanding advocates for their child and to equip them with the parenting and self-sufficiency tools that they will need moving forward. We provide these family services directly when we can, and/or connect them to other community resources that might be available.

The services provided to children are individualized as well. Each child comes into our programs at a different place and on their own developmental path. We work very closely with parents to determine where each child is developmentally and to determine what child goals we should reach for together. Our staff use ongoing assessment tools to observe and measure where children are in a host of areas at the beginning, middle and end of each school year, helping and encouraging each child to progress all along the way. Teaching Strategies GOLD® is the assessment tool that Head Start programs in Alaska utilize. The charts below give a few examples of the growth that 4-year-old children in Alaska Head Start programs made last year, as measured by observations and assessments documented in Teaching Strategies GOLD®.

Based on 2016/2017 data. N=1299 

To demonstrate growth in these areas, we would see the percentages of “meets” and “exceeds” (orange and gray) to be getting larger in the spring after a school year in our program, while the percentage of children who are “below” (blue) should be decreasing.

In addition to the academic areas above, we also assist children to be more prepared for school readiness by helping them develop their social-emotional skills. We teach and assess growth in dimensions like following limits and expectations, and balancing the needs and rights of self and others – both of which are also very important as children move into their school years.

Finally, there is ongoing research into the long-term outcomes for families and children who participate in Head Start and Early Head Start. A very recent study released by Michigan State University found that, “Kids up to age 5 in the federal government’s preschool program were 93 percent less likely to end up in foster care than kids in the child welfare system who had no type of early care and education.” Another study described in the Wall Street Journal in September suggests that the impacts of participation carry over to the next generation as demonstrated by this quote: “Societal investments in early childhood programs can disrupt intergenerational
transmission of the effects of poverty.”

For more information about Head Start or Early Head Start in Alaska, visit the Alaska Head Start Association website at www.akheadstart.org. You also can connect to the local grantee in your community to find more information about enrolling your child, the specific services that are provided, and/or supporting and partnering with them in the important work that is being done!

Mark Lackey

Mark Lackey is the executive director of CCS Early Learning. Formerly known as Chugiak Children’s Services, CCS Early Learning is a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides early childhood services in the Mat-Su Borough and in Chugiak and Eagle River.