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Posts from the ‘Parenting’ Category

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.

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.