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Posts from the ‘Parenting’ Category

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

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

Fall is typically an exciting time of the year for families, with schools promising new beginnings, new teachers, and new friends for our children. When disaster and trauma came unannounced to our communities this spring in the form of a virus, all that was set aside. Unlike typical disasters, when a specific event occurs and those in its wake work to recover, COVID-19 has persisted for over seven months now, challenging the health and well-being of even Alaska’s strongest families.

Now it is time for our kids to head back to the classroom, some virtually and some physically, with the same anticipation and hope that they have always had. They know that they will be tasked with academic expectations, but more importantly, they hope to build memories, experiences, and friendships with adults and peers alike that will last long after the math and reading lessons. Teachers hope for the same.

We face two challenges to be able to do that while under the umbrella of trying to mitigate this virus. The first is that a majority of our students will arrive in school with more stress and potentially more ACES (adverse childhood experiences) than when they left in the spring. The pressure that our families have felt for the last seven months have been experienced by our children as well. That tension has been sustained, and for most, hasn’t let up yet. The comfort of a healthy rhythm in their lives, from a normal school schedule, summer activities, and travel, have all been disrupted – without a healthy alternative to engage their minds and bodies.

The second challenge that our teachers are faced with is the ability to be emotionally connected while still physically distant from their students. On their path towards certification, every teacher has learned that before a child can learn, there has to be a sense of safety, and basic physical needs must be met. The ability to address that through a computer screen or from a 6-foot distance is difficult at best. The loss of a simple confirming touch from a teacher or even the inadvertent bumps and touches between peers in the hallway or during lunch will make these critical social connections hard to make. The requirement for masks in our schools will restrict yet another needed means of connection.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes that our schools have always been key components in the overall health of our children. Schools provide needed social interaction, a sense of belonging in a setting beyond the family, and the opportunity to gain a feeling of accomplishment and self-esteem. Each of these build resiliency and increase the ability to deal with the stresses in life. This is even more important for our children living in poverty and with disabilities, who disproportionately face the effects and stresses of being isolated from their peers and other positive adults in their lives.

This fall, our schools will look differently than they have in the past. Their goal amidst increasing challenges hasn’t changed, though. Every teacher will be working to meet the needs of the children and young adults in their classrooms so that they can, in turn, meet their needs as students.

We all want our children to be prepared for the world when they leave our K12 school system. This fall especially, let’s not jump to the scores on a test or quiz as the measure of our children’s success or preparedness. That will come, but only after we help them navigate this time in their lives that none of us had to experience as kids and none of us could have anticipated. Activities that may seem non-academic may be some of the most critical aspects of a child’s time as they re-engage and work to rebuild those connections with their school community.

Our kids will get through this. Our schools are working hard to make that happen.

Mike Hanley has been an educator in Alaska for the last 30 years. He has been an elementary classroom teacher, a principal, a superintendent, and the commissioner of education under two governors. He has raised two children, who both spent 13 years in the public schools. He and his wife, Angela, have been blessed with two new grandbabies.

The doctor is in!

Why it’s important – and safe – to go to the pediatrician during the pandemic

By Lily J. Lou, MD, FAAP

Our world has been utterly transformed by COVID-19 but we are still here, trying to find a new normal and live our lives as best we can in the face of the pandemic. We’ve put a lot of things on hold for the past few months, but it’s important to get back to some essential activities that keep us healthy and safe. Keeping up with your child’s pediatrician is one of those.

Wouldn’t it be crazy to go to the doctor now, with COVID-19 going around?

Absolutely not! Pediatricians do many things to keep our kids healthy and safe. One of the things that comes immediately to mind is staying up to date on immunizations. We see what COVID-19 — an infectious disease without a vaccine or good treatments — is doing to our country; the last thing we want is an epidemic of measles, diphtheria, hepatitis, or any of the other terrible diseases for which we do have vaccines, just because we’ve fallen behind in going to the doctor to keep on schedule with routine immunizations!

During the pandemic, Alaska has seen an alarming decrease in the number of vaccines given. We’re improving a little, but we need to correct this trend or we’ll lose the herd immunity that has protected us for many years. It will also be crucial that we get our flu vaccines this fall — who knows what the combination of COVID-19 and influenza will do!

Pediatricians also screen for many conditions that are treatable if they’re picked up early. These can include physical or mental health issues. Routine screening is important in navigating the process of normal growth and development; it also picks up on children falling behind in key milestones. Children are amazingly resilient and generally respond well to treatments that are started before problems progress too far. Developmental delays can often be ameliorated with early intervention.

What are pediatricians doing to make sure it’s safe to come into the office?

Pediatricians have put a lot of thought into how they can minimize risks of exposure so children can be seen in ways that keep them safe. Some now have separate entrances for sick and well patients. Some only see well patients in the mornings and ill children in the afternoons. Some practices have designated a few doctors and staff to only take care of well visits and immunizations, while different ones care for children with symptoms. Some pediatricians will come out to your car to provide care to maintain safe physical distancing. Most offices have options for telehealth visits, but some needs (like immunizations) do require being seen in person. Tips are available to get the most out of a telehealth visit.

Call your own pediatrician to see how things have changed and to make an appointment to keep up with important health care for your children.

A few words about masks

Wearing a cloth mask has been shown to be protective — as part of a community bundle that also includes physical distancing, good hand hygiene, avoiding crowds, and a system of testing and contact tracing that allows focused isolation rather than universal stay-at-home orders. This is the way we can start to resume some of our interactions.

Masks are generally safe, except for very few exceptions. They do not decrease oxygen levels or cause your carbon dioxide levels to go up. Children under 2 years of age should not be masked. Nor should people with severe baseline breathing problems, those with developmental disabilities that make them unable to tolerate a mask or remove it in an emergency, or some with severe sensory intolerances. Most children with asthma can safely wear a mask unless their disease is severe, requiring frequent emergency treatment or hospitalization. COVID-19 and mask wearing are good reminders of the importance of getting asthma under control — another reason to visit the pediatrician.

Masks with fun designs, practicing wearing a mask properly, education about mask effectiveness and safety, and role modeling by parents and other respected adults will help children with this new habit.

Stay safe and call your pediatrician!

Please follow common sense in the precautions you and your family take to avoid getting sick in the pandemic. Know that it is safe to go to the doctor and keep up with the routine care that keeps us healthy. Make it part of your new normal to call your pediatrician!

Lily J. Lou, MD, FAAP, is a pediatrician/neonatologist in Anchorage, and past president of the Alaska Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

A letter to my child; a letter to my mom

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

Reflecting on National Parent’s Day

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

Dear Casey,

I’ve just noticed that July 26 is National Parents’ Day. Funny, I never really thought about the day too much, but this year is different in so many ways. It seems like the right time to share some with you about what it has meant to be a parent – your parent.

Parents’ Day promotes responsible parenting … and recognizes positive parental role models. Wow, that is a tall order! It’s a nice idea to celebrate parents and their roles, but the truth of the matter is parenting is much more than one day. It is a big and difficult job that never really goes away. I used to think it did. I used to think that once you and your siblings reached adulthood I’d be done, but I know now that is not true. Instead, it has evolved – from caring for your every need as an infant to offering support as you navigate adulthood. And I’m glad for this – being your parent has only grown in meaning and fulfillment, even with the ups and downs, as you became an adult.

Responsible parenting. Another wow. I’d hate to claim, and you’d probably agree, that I was 100% responsible as your parent. Life has its challenges and people are imperfect even when we try. Stresses in life happen and life is seldom fair. For me, I can say I tried and cared and wanted to be responsible, but then again – this is a tall order. My parenting had hardships but to a much less degree than so many in our communities and state. I admire and respect the many other parents who are parenting with difficulties like unemployment, food insecurity, substance misuse and difficult home situations. My hope is, as an adult, you can forgive me for mistakes and use them to be resilient and better able to make a difference to a child you will influence one day. I remember when I forgave my parents for mistakes and imperfections I understood only as an adult. I wish the same for you.

The special bond between parent and child.Oh, I can speak to that. Perhaps one day you will choose to be a parent, or an influencer in a child’s life, and assume this most marvelous role. I’ve learned the best things in life are those you work the hardest for – and parenting is hard. As I reflect, here are some nuggets of truth to help you and other parents out there:

  • Everyone is a parent for the first time; you only know what you know.
  • Parenting is the great experiment of life; an experiment with great joy yet great responsibility.
  • Parenting is as difficult as it seems; but I would not trade it for the world.
  • Life is not fair; not all parents have the same tools and supports they need to nurture to the extent they would like; be kind, compassionate and help others.
  • We make mistakes with varying consequences; we should amend, learn and ask for forgiveness.
  • Parents were once children, who can reflect and grow in their own understanding of their parents as people, and forgive their parents too.

I hope my sharing has been useful to you as you face the evolving role of adult/parent relationships. Happy National Parents’ Day, Casey.

Love,

Mom


Casey Martinez on Halloween in elementary school.

Dear Mom,

I’ve just noticed that July 26 is National Parents’ Day. Funny, I never really thought about the day too much, but this year is different in so many ways. It seems like the right time to share some thoughts with you now that I am an adult – and you were my parent. 

First, I just caught myself saying “were my parent.” I realize now parenting is forever, a club you join and never leave. Even though I am an adult now, you can’t help but parent me, but hopefully in a new way that allows space, acceptance and unconditional love. I make mistakes, but know they are mine to make. Though hard to admit, I was listening, learning and leaning on you to guide me. Growing up, your words of wisdom were hallowed when I was young, rejected when I was a teen, and now, as an adult, reflected upon for at least consideration as I make my own way. I’m not perfect, but it’s my responsibility to make my way.

At some point, I realized childhood can be portioned in two phases. First, the years when you were my whole world and I relied on you the most. It could be called the “honeymoon” stage, where a mother or father can do no wrong. You were perfect to me. I remember it so clearly! My brave, giving mother. I remember you cared for me, participated in my life, making things better. I was protected and felt loved. There were stresses and pressures in your life that I felt protected from, but I also know family challenges and stresses do impact everyone; no one is immune. But I was mostly unaware, though consequences can be real. I realize raising a family can be very hard, especially if there are additional challenges like lack of finances, dysfunctional relationships and more.

You were not perfect. As I grew up, the imperfect details of our family life and relationships came to light. You were a mother working full-time and raising four children, and not in an easy environment. I started to see my parents as flawed humans. It was hard to accept and forgiveness did not happen overnight. It wasn’t until my adulthood where I could look you in the eye and know you did the best you could with circumstances and the information you had. And I am one of the lucky ones. As an adult, I see the challenges that so many families face, especially here in Alaska. While our family faced stresses, we always had a steady source of food, a warm bed and lively, yet stable family life. I can see how parenting can be oh so much more difficult than what I experienced. I hope parenting will be a joy to me and a joy as it should be to every family, and that the stresses and pressures that challenge families would be no more.

Our relationship has certainly changed as I’ve become an adult; and I think for the better. I know and accept the truer version of you, a beautifully imperfect role model and mother. Happy National Parents’ Day, Mom.

Love,

Casey

No matter how the world changes, and time passes, the relationship between a parent and a child can continue to endure and evolve.

Julia and Casey participating in a Pride cycle in a safe, socially distanced way. (2020)

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

“My relationship with my daughter wouldn’t be the same without it”

Spring 2019 was an exciting time for Pili Queja. He and his wife, Reanne, found out last February that they were expecting their first baby. Shortly after, Pili received a job offer from Alaska Children’s Trust as the program specialist with the Alaska Afterschool Network.

Among all the preparations that go into getting ready to welcome a new baby, Pili and his wife, both of whom were working full-time jobs, had to figure out how they would balance caring for their newborn while providing for their family.

At the time Pili started his new job, ACT did not have a paid family leave policy, and since he was such a new employee, he would not have much personal time saved up before his daughter’s arrival. And with all the expenses that come with having a baby, he preferred not to take unpaid leave. At the same time, being home to support his wife and help care for and bond with his daughter was a top priority.

“It was our first baby and I didn’t know what that would look like. What would I need to do to support my wife? How do I take care of my family and be present and fulfill my job? It was a stressful situation,” Pili shared.

A conversation with ACT early in his employment quickly got the ball rolling on the development of a paid family leave policy. Several months before his daughter’s birth, the new policy was in place, offering new mothers and fathers two weeks of paid leave, plus the ability for co-workers to donate their leave time to the new parent. Under the new policy, Pili received six weeks of paid family leave, including four weeks that were generously donated by his co-workers.

“It was amazing,” he said.

The knowledge that he had the time to care for his family was a relief, especially when Pili and Reanne’s birth plan went awry, with their daughter – Shiloh’Grace “Maluhia” – arriving two weeks early via c-section.

“I didn’t understand what went into recovering from a c-section. I can’t imagine having to leave my family and go back to work right away,” Pili said.

“Emotionally having the ability to be present with my family made me feel like I was being a good dad – while I was figuring out what that meant. There was no manual. We were learning by the hour how to work with her and we were growing together as parents. We had to learn how to feed her, learn her cries, her sleep schedule, how to burp her at 3 a.m. Going back to work in that time would have been crazy,” he continued. “My being able to be home was a huge support to our family.”

Among Pili’s most precious moments with his daughter were the nighttime feedings – something he would not have been able to help with if he had returned to work shortly after her birth. “Some of our best bonding time was late at night, feeding,” he recalled.

ACT’s family-friendly approach didn’t end with the new paid family leave policy. After Pili returned to work in early December, he was able to bring his daughter to work with him for the first six months. His wife’s employer also welcomes babies in the office for six months.

“Between the two of us, we both returned to work without needing to put our daughter in child care. She’s 6 months old and has never been to child care,” Pili said. “Our work family has seen her grow up.”

In the office, Pili felt very supported by both his employer and his co-workers. They put in a changing table so he didn’t have to change his daughter’s diapers on the office floor. They gave him a pack ‘n play as a baby shower gift so Maluhia could nap in his office. Co-workers offered to watch the baby when Pili had a meeting or phone call. And Pili’s officemate didn’t mind when Pili closed the door and played boy-band lullabies to get Maluhia to sleep.

“Knowing I was supported by my workplace was huge. They are sensitive to what families are going through, and want to help, not add stress,” Pili said. “My coworkers were always happy to see her and happy to help. I never felt like my having a baby was an inconvenience.”

Combined, the time at home after Maluhia’s arrival and the time with her in the office was a game-changer for Pili.

“My relationship with my daughter wouldn’t be the same without it,” he said.

Mother’s Day in the Midst of a Pandemic

Families are likely going to be celebrating Mother’s Day a little differently this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect nearly every aspect of our lives. In recognition of Mother’s Day, we spoke with several different moms, who provided their diverse perspectives on handling the changes in work and family life brought on by COVID-19 – and shared their advice and encouragement for other families.

Anna: “You don’t need to be super mom”

Anna and Mike with their son, Nolan

Like everyone, life has changed a lot since the pandemic for Anna McGovern, her husband, Mike, and their 19-month-old son, Nolan.

Anna, a program specialist with the Alaska Afterschool Network, has been working at home since late March. As their day care has been closed due to COVID-19, Nolan is his mom’s new co-worker. “It’s impossible working with a toddler,” she laughs. “He gets into everything and loves to touch my computer.”

As a juvenile probation officer, Anna’s husband, Mike, has continued going into work for the most part, with some remote work from home. This means Anna works around Nolan’s naptime, as well as in the evenings when her husband is home.

“It’s hard to spend all day with the baby, then work until 9 or 10 at night. I’m fortunate that my work is flexible, but it is tiring,” Anna says.

With no day care, library or play dates, Anna and Nolan fill their days with car rides, going outside, FaceTime with friends and family – and lots of walks. “The dog is getting pretty tired of walks. She’s thinking, ‘You’ve never walked me so much!’” Anna says.

Keeping a schedule is one way the family strives to maintain normalcy. Two things Anna makes sure are on the daily schedule: eating dinner together and working out.

“We try to make a point to sit down for dinner all together. We make it a priority and meals together is one thing we’ve really stuck to,” Anna says. “I also try to work out every day, even when I don’t want to. The easiest way to lower stress is to break a sweat for 20 minutes.”

Writing a list of daily goals and jotting down things she is grateful for are other self-care techniques that are helping Anna navigate these strange days.

“There is something about crossing things off a list, even if it’s ‘drink 100 ounces of water a day.’ It’s something I can control in a time when I can’t control anything. That’s really helped,” Anna explains. “Also writing down what I’m grateful for, any little thing that is good. When I get in a mood, I can go back and read it and remind myself that there are still a lot of positive things even though a lot of craziness is going on.”

One thing Anna is grateful for is the extra time she is getting to spend with her son. “At this age especially, they change so fast and learn so quick. It’s fun to experience. Also, I don’t have to choose between being a stay-at-home mom or working. I’m doing both; there is no pressure to be one or the other.”

Anna’s advice for other mothers juggling work, family and the anxiety of these uncertain times? “You don’t need to be super mom,” she says. “It’s a weird time right now. It’s OK to just be an OK parent.”

Diane: “Everyone else is in the same boat”

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

Before COVID-19 made its entrance in Alaska, Diane Heaney-Mead spent her days working at her architecture office in downtown Anchorage, while her wife, Colleen, ran a home day care for children including their own: Imogen, 1, and Alistair, 3.

Fast-forward several weeks and Diane has been shuffling her work between her daughter’s bedroom to the dining table and back between naps. Meanwhile, Colleen chose to discontinue her business due to social distancing requirements and to protect their son, who is easily affected by respiratory illnesses.

“I often end up working late both because spring is a busy time of year and because I find myself trying to help out with kids during the day,” Diane says. “And our kids have a hard time understanding why we can’t hang out with friends, go out to restaurants or places like the museum.”

Even with all the changes, the family has been adjusting fairly well, which Diane credits to keeping a schedule and setting work/family-time boundaries. “We are trying to keep a pretty similar routine, no hanging out in PJs or watching TV. The kids go for a walk in the morning about the same time each day, and my wife is still providing circle time for our kids,” she says.

“I give everyone a hug and a kiss before I ‘go to work’ in the bedroom and try to be clear about when it is work time and when it is not. I also try to be flexible based on their needs each day,” she adds.

While things are going pretty smoothly, there have been some tough days. “The first week we stayed home, there was a string of gun violence,” Diane explains, recalling a car chase with someone shooting an assault-style weapon out the window, and a separate incident with someone walking down the street shooting a handgun. “It was completely bizarre and not typical for our street.”

The silver lining was that it brought the neighbors together. A Facebook group was established so neighbors could connect and share information. Several people created neighborhood walks with themes like Halloween and space. And Diane and Colleen lent sleds to a nearby mom so she could tire out her active kids. “I don’t know that we would have connected as well unless we had all been home like this,” Diane says.

Spending more time as a family is another upside. “I get to spend more time with the children,” Diane says. “And last weekend we had the opportunity to look after a friend’s son for the weekend while she was giving birth. It was our children’s first time having a friend sleep over and made for a nice break from the isolation.”

When it comes to encouragement for other families, Diane says, “Hang in there. When kids run up during a web conference, I just remind myself that everyone else is in the same boat.”

Andrea: “We don’t always have to be doing something”

Andrea’s adopted son, Mitch

Life hasn’t really changed that much since the pandemic for Andrea Conter, her 21-year-old adopted son, and her two high-school-age foster boys. Unless you count the fact that Andrea isn’t working, her oldest son is now just working part-time, and the younger boys are schooling from home.

This is a family used to living with change, which is perhaps the reason they are taking the current situation in stride. Growing up in foster homes, the three boys are certainly familiar with frequent change – in homes, caregivers, schools, schedules. And Andrea, who became a mother just three years ago at the age of 52, has adapted to quite a bit of change in her life recently as well.

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

More change came a couple months later when Andrea got a call asking if she would foster two brothers on a temporary basis. Almost a year later, the two boys are still part of the family.

“Prior to COVID, we just did normal stuff – school, work, homework, gaming, friends,” says Andrea, who is a store manager at Burlington.

When COVID hit Alaska, that all changed. Instead of working full-time managing 80 employees, Andrea now completes several hours of virtual training each week and tries to keep her employees engaged over social media. Mitch’s work schedule was reduced to part-time, and he and Andrea share the grocery shopping responsibility. And the younger boys have transitioned to doing school from home.

“The biggest change is now we are all home all day. Things have been OK except for battling to get them to do homework,” Andrea notes.

All the ZOOM meetings and school emails are somewhat overwhelming, but Andrea says she likes to see the assignments and due dates and grades. She’s also been thrilled to see the change in her oldest foster son, who left a more stressful environment at one of the high schools geared for teens with behavioral issues. “He’s become much more engaged, and his stress and anxiety has dropped. I’ve watched him bloom,” Andrea says. “That’s been a win.”

A key to their success, Andrea feels, is being flexible with the family schedule. “I’m not too strict about schedules, but there are non-negotiables. Homework can be done at 2 a.m. but it has to be done. Same thing with chores. We have some structure in place, but there’s flexibility. Right now, it’s OK if there are a few things you let go.”

That flexibility, she has found, has opened the door to some important conversations with the boys that might not have happened otherwise. “If you’re too focused on structure and planning ‘family time,’ it can end up feeling forced. The biggest takeaway for me is we don’t always have to be doing something. We can just chill and allow conversations to naturally progress,” Andrea says.

While Andrea is missing the in-person interaction with her friends, employees and her volunteer work, she’s enjoying the time she has with her boys and their simpler lifestyle. “We were living in a go-go-go world,” she says. “I miss the engagement but realize that I don’t need it as much. I’m not going to require as much materially and socially after this is over.”

She hopes that will be true for others as well. “I’m seeing families together outside that I’ve never seen together before,” she says. “I hope that of all the things we take away from this, we keep that connection of family.”

Prevention in a Time of COVID-19: Building Resilience

In this time of COVID-19, with school closures and families isolating from others, building awareness of child abuse and neglect is more important than ever. This is an incredibly challenging time for all of us, underscoring the need and opportunity to build resilience in our children and in ourselves. We at Alaska Children’s Trust are here, dedicated to supporting Alaska’s children and families. Along with our partners, we are working to provide the resources, knowledge, skills and support Alaska’s families need to thrive, despite the circumstances.

April 1 marked the first day of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. And just as we are all pulling together to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we each must play a role in raising widespread awareness of child abuse and neglect, and what we can do to build resilience and make a positive difference in the lives of children and families around us.

For far too long, Alaska has had one of the highest rates, per capita, of child abuse and neglect. But there are many, many committed individuals and organizations working to change that – and we will succeed. Check out this inspiring map to see the partners across Alaska who are participating with us in Child Abuse Awareness Month.

The first step in any real change is awareness, and Child Abuse Awareness Month is our opportunity to be part of a coordinated, nationwide movement to do just that. Here’s how you can get involved:

  • Spread the word about #Resilient19. We know the COVID-19 outbreak has created an incredible amount of uncertainty in the lives of Alaska’s families. Our hope through #Resilient19 is to share a variety of ways children, families and communities can build the resilience to overcome these challenging times. Learn more about our efforts on our website, follow us on Facebook for the latest #Resilient19 posts, and be sure to share (or post your own!).
  • Download and post our prevention month poster in your home, school, workplace or online to raise additional awareness. It’s available both as a jpeg and as a PDF.
  • Get involved in our virtual statewide Go Blue Day Rally on Friday, April 3! No matter where you live, please join us. Wear blue, make a sign, take a photo and post it using the hashtags #GoBlue4Kids #DareToBeTheOne. Make sure your post is public so Alaska Children’s Trust can share it too! It’s one small, positive and proactive way to show you care.
  • Explore our parent resources. We have compiled resources that can help with building relationships with your child, organizations that can help keep a child safe, and information we trust to support children’s healthy development.
  • Discover ways to make a difference with these tips for families, friends and neighbors, and the community as a whole.

While the important work of preventing child abuse and neglect and building resilience is ongoing, this dedicated month allows us to shine a spotlight on the issue, and educate and inspire others to join with us in our efforts.

We invite you to join us in raising the volume on this issue throughout April – and beyond. Alaska Children’s Trust is actively addressing this complex issue in a variety of ways, and we need and ask for your involvement as we work together for healthier children and families across Alaska. Together we can prevent child abuse and neglect.

2-1-1 Help Line Offers the Right Help at the Right Time

211 homepage editedBy Sue Brogan, Chief Operating Officer, United Way of Anchorage  

Sue Brogan-photo for blog and e-news

Sue Brogan, United Way

 The Alaska 2-1-1 Help Line helps families quickly find     and connect with important services to meet their     needs. The phone and online service run by United Way   of Anchorage has no equal in the state. Since 2007,   specialists have answered calls from more than 244,000   Alaskans, made 330,000 referrals to more than 1,000   health and human service agencies, and logged more   than 517,000 online database searches.

But as of fall 2018, the Alaska 2-1-1 website hadn’t had an overhaul in 10 years. Ten years equals multiple generations online, so 2-1-1 was long overdue for an upgrade.

Thanks in part to a $10,000 grant from the Alaska Children’s Trust, that work got underway during fall 2018. In early spring 2019, Alaska 2-1-1 launched a modernized site that looks better, uses familiar icons to guide searchers to help, and provides a comprehensive complement to the call specialists who staff the 2-1-1 phone line five days a week.

By phone, 2-1-1 staffers provide a human touch. They listen, then respond with care and professional expertise. And while there’s no substitute for a sympathetic ear and a friendly voice, the Alaska 2-1-1 website aims for a warm online presence in trying to make the site more appealing and easier to navigate. We know that people looking for help don’t need hurdles.

Even though all calls are confidential, some Alaskans prefer to search for help online. The revised website meets them where they are 24/7. The first question on the main page is “What can we help you find?”. The second question is “Unsure of what you’re looking for? Let us help.”

Beginning on a page of descriptive icons, with a few keystrokes, searchers can define and narrow the field to find the help they need, by location and agency. The Alaska 2-1-1 database runs wide and deep; more than 9,300 services are included, and many entries feature detailed descriptions about what they offer, from child care to family counseling to housing assistance – as well as how to utilize those resources.

We redesigned the website with detailed provider information to streamline the search for help. Even so, we understand that the array of choices can still be confusing – which services, for example, will best meet my particular needs? That’s why the online search is sometimes the best prep for a call to 2-1-1, where specialists can guide callers to the provider who can best assist with the caller’s circumstances or use their knowledge to help brainstorm solutions if answers are not obvious. The website can be a helpful start, introducing people to the options available before contact with a specialist.

The importance of the partnership between Alaska Children’s Trust and Alaska 2-1-1 is clear. So many of the service providers in the 2-1-1 network involve the welfare of families and children – day care, health care, housing and nutrition. The mission of Alaska Children’s Trust is to prevent child abuse and neglect, and to ensure all Alaska children grow up in a family and community that provides them with the means to make their dreams come true. The right help at the right time is vital to that mission, and that’s the connection that Alaska 2-1-1 offers every day, by click or call.

We are grateful to the Alaska Children’s Trust for their support and partnership, and we are glad to contribute to their mission.

Alaska Childrens Trust awards grants to organizations in Alaska that work toward the prevention of child abuse and neglect.  With the generous support of its donors, Alaska Childrens Trust has invested more than $5 million in Alaska children and families to date. To learn more about available grants and eligibility, or to view current recipients and their projects, visit https://www.alaskachildrenstrust.org/grants-overview.

Summer – your opportunity to strengthen your family

It’s summer vacation! While summertime schedules can pose challenges, summer also provides lots of wonderful opportunities for families to focus on building stronger connections.

Strengthening Alaska’s families is what Alaska Children’s Trust is all about, so we’re pleased to share these national and local resources that can help your family not just survive, but thrive, this summer!

Keep learning. Did you know that children can lose up to two months of essential math and reading skills during the summer months? Fortunately, there are lots of ways you can support learning during summer vacation. Mark your calendar for National Summer Learning Week, July 8 – 13. This week is all about keeping kids learning, safe and healthy during the summer, ensuring they return to school in the fall ready to succeed. Check out the family toolkit for tips and resources, like:

Go to camp. From math and sports to gardening and entrepreneurship, there is a summer camp for nearly every age and interest! Explore the possibilities with your child in the Alaska Parent Summer Camps and Programs Resource Guide and the Anchorage Daily News Summer Camp Guide.

Eat healthy. According to The Children’s Lunchbox, a program of Bean’s Café, there are approximately 21,000 children in the Anchorage area who don’t have enough healthy food to eat. This problem becomes even more severe in the summer for children who rely on school lunch programs. Families who need help can connect with numerous programs that offer free meals to children during the summer, including:

Find quality child care. thread is Alaska’s Child Care Resource and Referral Network, offering services to families, early childhood educators, early childhood education programs, and communities statewide. If you need help finding or choosing quality child care, or are looking for child care financial assistance, thread is a great place to start.

Get some fresh ideas. Best Beginnings is a public-private partnership that mobilizes people and resources to ensure all Alaska children begin school ready to succeed. Their website has great resources on growing readers, building strong families and engaging community around the importance of a child’s early years.

 Have resources to add? Please share with us on Facebook or Twitter

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.