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Nominate a Champion for Kids by July 14

We are looking to celebrate the great work being done in Southcentral Alaska! Nominations due Friday, July 14.

Champ for kidsThe Champion for Kids Award, presented by Alaska Children’s Trust (ACT), recognizes individuals from different regions of Alaska who have demonstrated a dedication and commitment in working towards preventing child abuse and neglect. These individuals have committed their time and resources to helping children have a safe place to live, learn, and grow, whether it is through their professional employment, volunteer work, community activities, or actively working with children.

Currently, ACT is looking to honor a Champion for Kids in Southcentral Alaska, which includes the Anchorage, Mat-Su, Kenai Peninsula, Valdez and Cordova communities.

All across Southcentral Alaska, there are extraordinary individuals who are ensuring our children live in safe, stable, and nurturing communities. If you know one of these extraordinary individuals, ACT invites you to recognize them by nominating them for our 2017 Alaska Champion for Kids Award.

To nominate someone in your life, please fill out the Champion for Kids Award Application. Applications are due Friday, July 14, 2017. See past recipients.  

For additional information about past award recipients, the current Champion for Kids, and the application process, please visit Alaska Children’s Trust’s website.

Superhero Dreams to Statewide Network: My Story of the Alaska Resilience Initiative

By Laura Norton-Cruz, Alaska Resilience Initiative Program Director

Beginnings

When I was eight years old, I determined that I was going to work to end child abuse. At the time, I imagined myself more in a cape getting rid of bad guys than in business attire facilitating a statewide network, but in some form or another, that’s where my particular journey to the Alaska Resilience Initiative began.

image 0_ACT blog ARI

Me, age 7. As it turns out, working for the safety and well-being of children ends up being less the job of a superhero and more the job of a collaborative host and facilitator.

A few decades later, working for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium on child trauma and violence-related issues, I found that I was involved with and aware of a number of tribal health organizations and nonprofits who were doing great work on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), intergenerational and systemic trauma, resilience – but I wasn’t sure if they were all aware of and working with each other. A need that I and others in the field kept noting was for some entity who could coordinate between all of the organizations doing work to address ACEs, reduce trauma, and support healing and resilience. I kept thinking, “We would be so much more powerful if we knew what others were doing, if we could spend less time re-inventing the wheel and more time learning from each other, if we had some statewide messaging and systems change work to amplify our efforts. Which organization could take that on? Which individual coordinator could facilitate that?”

Trevor Storrs, the executive director of Alaska Children’s Trust (ACT), was asking those same questions with the small group of advisors he had assembled informally and named the “Alaska Resilience Initiative.” This group took on a few initial projects towards this goal, from training ACEs and resilience trainers to surveying and mapping who was doing trauma-informed work. In 2015, this group, led by ACT, Rasmuson Foundation, Mat-Su Health Foundation, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, and First Alaskans Institute, and in partnership with the Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships (MAPP) coalition in Homer, applied for and received a grant from the Health Federation of Philadelphia to be able to take on this statewide coordinating and movement-building role. When I heard that a program director would be hired for this work, it sounded like a dream come true – a childhood dream, at that! (Albeit a mature, updated version.) Despite being reticent to leave the tribal health system and the work I loved, I was thrilled when I was hired to join Alaska Children’s Trust and direct this initiative, beginning February 2016.

Building an Equitable Movement

As one of 14 Health Federation of Philadelphia-funded Mobilizing Action for Resilient Communities (MARC) grantees throughout the country focused on movement-building around trauma and resilience, we (the Alaska Resilience Initiative and our partner coalitions in the Southern Kenai Peninsula and Matanuska-Susitna Valley) have had the spotlight on us to pilot network building and trauma-informed change. While the regional coalitions had already formed over the past few years, the statewide Alaska Resilience Initiative (ARI)’s relatively nascent status meant a considerable amount of work to expand and diversify the network, to form the planning and decision-making bodies needed to move the work forward, and – in order to make sure we were doing the work in a way that was equitable, effective and non-traumatizing – to listen. Especially to listen to Alaska Native people.

Alaska Native people comprise nearly one-fifth of the state’s population, and Alaska Native children represent over half of the children in the foster care system, and yet historically their voices have not been well-included in decision-making about social services, education and behavioral health. That’s why one of the very first things I did on the job was to team up with First Alaskans Institute and the Chickaloon Village Traditional Council to host a gathering, held in May 2016, that put Native perspectives, customs, history and hopes at the center.

 

image 1_ACT blog ARI

A May 2016 gathering of Alaska Native and Native American people working on trauma and resilience issues around the state led to a number of principles for guiding trauma and resilience work. These included the importance of addressing collective forms of trauma, holding up ancestral knowledge about resilience, and partnering meaningfully with Native communities for solutions.

That gathering of about 30 people set a tone for the whole state that the voices and decision-making of Alaska Native people matter in this process. The goal was to seek input that could guide the Alaska Resilience Initiative, shape the curriculum for ACE/resilience trainers and frame a more inclusive and equitable approach to the work.

This initial gathering helped shape an inclusive approach to all the work that followed, from the large June 2016 gathering of organizations, tribes, schools and state departments from across Alaska to the building of ARI’s structure and processes, and the crafting of the “common agenda,” or shared goal of all ARI members, which is:image 1.5_ACT blog ARINow, in June of 2017, ARI receives its guidance from three active workgroups as well as a 23-member steering committee. The steering committee features a wide range of perspectives and connections, with representatives from social services, health care, behavioral health, community development, K-12 education, universities, early childhood education, philanthropy, government, law enforcement, business, faith-based and tribal organizations.

We also strive for equity by creating group norms that allow for all people to be heard, and by being intentional about diverse representation. The steering committee is still predominately white (69 percent), but both co-chairs are Alaska Native women, representing different regions, and members represent other ethnic and racial groups as well. This isn’t perfect, but it’s more diverse than many boards and leadership councils in Alaska.

image 2 _ ACT blog ARI

Lisa Wade, a co-chair of the steering committee, is Ahtna Athabascan and is a Nay’dini’aa Na’ / Chickaloon Village Traditional Council member, tribal court judge, and the Director of Education, Health, and Social Services for the tribe. Chickaloon is exemplary in its implementation of trauma-informed practices throughout the school, tribe and clinic. (The other ARI steering committee co-chair is Liz Medicine Crow, Tlingit and Haida from Ḵéex̱/Kake, Alaska, who is CEO of First Alaskans Institute.)

Lisa Wade, one of the steering committee’s two co-chairs, commented that the opportunity to lead and shape efforts of a statewide resilience effort is not simply having a seat at the table, but an open and inclusive process that creates equity:

“As a Tribal representative, one of the really positive things about participating on the Alaska Resilience Initiative has been the opportunity to develop deeper and more meaningful relationships with coalition partners early on in the process. Our cultural perspective and values have been welcomed into the planning and decision-making process. For instance, our coalition adopted a consensus model of decision-making so that each voice at the table has equal importance. This alone has built equity and justice into our work and begun the creation of a model of compassion-informed community work. This is an exciting time where our collective Alaska Native voices are recognized as valuable and integral to identifying the unique challenges facing our communities and for developing culturally significant strategies that make sense for our children, our families, our communities, and our state.”

As the ARI program director, I recognize frequently that although collaborative, participatory work and the building of a collective structure takes a considerable investment of time, an individualistic, superhero approach or leadership from only one sector, organization or demographic of leaders would not allow us to be effective. Likewise, we have a long ways to go yet in order to really meaningfully include rural voices and all regions and demographics in the state, and to grow our network into a self-sustaining movement. This is one of the ongoing tasks before us that we are eager to embrace.

image 3 _ ACT blog ARI

I sketched out the above illustration to demonstrate the Alaska Resilience Initiative (ARI) network’s structure. The internal part is the backbone agency, Alaska Children’s Trust (with — part-time backbone staff signified by partial bodies and full-time staff by a full body) surrounded by ARI’s Steering Committee and supported by three workgroups: Communication, Policy, and Trauma-Informed Systems. Crowns symbolize leadership or organizer/facilitator roles. Overlapping with the ARI Network, we also have the regional trauma and resilience coalitions whose work intersects with our own. The little circles represent people — those currently within the network and those not yet involved. The wider ARI’s network and the more engaged its many members, the more we can accomplish.

What’s Happening Now

Over the last few months, in addition to building the initiative’s structure and decision-making processes, the Alaska Resilience Initiative has been working towards revising the ACE training curriculum; giving presentations across Alaska; supporting trauma-informed schools work in the Anchorage School District; developing relationships with policymakers; and pursuing immediate policy objectives such as a sustainable fiscal plan to resolve the state’s budget crisis without cutting early childhood and other funding for children and families.

Another exciting recent development is that the ARI steering committee gathered for an all-day think-tank on May 16, 2017 with a few Mobilizing Action for Resilient Communities (MARC) grant managers in order to ground ourselves in the beliefs, values, and goals that guide us, and to create focus areas for future work. We acknowledged that trauma and resilience work spans vastly, touching issues such as incarceration, historical and ongoing systemic trauma, and addictions. Committee members agreed that it is important to understand the broader societal, historical, economic and institutional contexts in which families and children experience trauma and toxic stress and their effects.

image 3.5 ACT blog ARI
May 16, 2017 think-tank gathering

Additionally, we acknowledge the importance of our intersections with other coalitions and movements, being thoughtful about how we overlap with and complement their work while maintaining our focus on a child development approach, the NEAR sciences (neurobiology, epigenetics, adverse childhood experiences, and resilience), data, and ancestral understandings of trauma and resilience. In all things, we are guided by equity and an awareness of the importance of early life experiences.

While advocating, networking and educating, ARI members commit to listening, learning and engaging in critical self-reflection. We all agree to be honest and open, and to foster a commitment to authentic relationships. Our actions will be compassionate and kind, with attention to our own wellness. Above all, we plan to value and create space for diverse voices and perspectives. Because this is not the work of superheroes, but rather of a movement. None of us can “save” Alaskan families; only by working together strategically can we create the real shifts in our state that are needed to end child maltreatment, intergenerational and systemic trauma, and to support resilient and healthy children, families, and communities.

To learn more about ARI, please visit our brand new website, www.akresilience.org.

image 4 ACT blog ARI

To read about some of the fantastic trauma and resilience work happening around the state, including with our partner coalitions, Raising Our Children with Kindness (R.O.C.K.) Mat-Su and the Southern Kenai Peninsula Resilience Coalition, please visit the Alaska Resilience Initiative’s blog and/or Facebook page – and look at the album called “site visits.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alaska CARES: Coming Together to Help Kids Heal After Abuse

By Bryant Skinner, Alaska CARES Manager

Bryant Skinner head shot

Bryant Skinner, Alaska CARES

According to the Child Welfare League of America, Alaska consistently has one of the top five rates of child abuse in the United States. In Alaska last year, at least 8,000 children were physically or sexually abused, and this represents only reported cases[i].

Adverse childhood experiences like these cause toxic levels of stress that can strain and weaken children’s health and development, and can lead to lifelong social, emotional and cognitive impairments. Often these impairments result in the adoption of high-risk behaviors, disease, disability and social problems. In fact, children experiencing trauma are 49 percent more likely as adults to be unemployed and 92 percent more likely to earn less than $20,000 annually. Child trauma contributes to 60 percent experiencing frequent mental distress into adulthood. Additionally, the impacts of repeated adverse experiences can even lead to early death.

The statistics are grim, but we don’t have to let our children become statistics. Studies show that doing just two simple things can help children grow and thrive:

  1. First, we can invest in primary prevention models that reduce children’s exposure to trauma, or sustained, severe adversity.
  2. Second, we can support early intervention that helps children heal when traumas are experienced, and support children developing resiliency through positive, healthy, supportive relationships.

Alaska CARES is one program that specializes in the second strategy. Alaska CARES is a Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC), a comprehensive, child-centered program based in a facility where victim-advocate, law enforcement, child protection, tribal health, forensic medicine, and mental health professionals are co-located and work together in cases of child abuse.

In the old model of care, kids making a report of harm would have to go to several adult-centered locations to tell their story over and over, which was counterproductive to the child’s healing. The benefit of the CAC model is that it brings all those services together under one roof in a secure environment, designed for the privacy and dignity of young patients. Together, the multi-disciplinary team at Alaska CARES makes sure children feel safe and supported as they come forward to courageously tell their story.

One such child, we’ll call her Kimi, literally illustrates the healing power of early intervention.

Kimi was just 8 years old when she was the victim of sexual abuse by her neighbor. At the time she experienced the abuse she knew something was wrong and worked up the courage to tell the perpetrator “NO,” and then left the room. But her little sister was left with the offender. She found the courage to tell someone about the abuse and an appointment was set for her to be evaluated at Alaska CARES.

angerIt was determined during her visit that seeing a mental health therapist at Alaska CARES would be essential to starting the healing process. The first picture Kimi created (right) was completed during the first two weeks of her therapy. “Anger, Hurt, Sad, Guilt, Nervous, Scared” were the words Kimi used for this painting. She used all of the colors that she didn’t like as she began to process the trauma she experienced. 

guilt

“Guilt” was how Kimi described her painting after six months of therapy (left). Yet, her therapist noted that she was much more present in her session and no longer withdrawn! Although these colors look dark, they were colors that she actually liked and she placed an X to represent “Danger” or “Do not enter,” similar to a poison bottle. She labeled this drawing “Guilt,” which was significant in her progress toward being able to identify and resolve the more specific emotion relating to leaving her sister behind with the abuser.

peace

After one year of care at Alaska CARES, “Peace” was what Kimi called this painting (right). Kimi, her sister and her family were able to work through many emotions and develop tools to manage their feelings and build resiliency. Because Kimi was brave and disclosed the incident, her offender was held accountable for his actions. The care she received in her healing journey helped change the trajectory of Kimi’s life, her sister’s life and the health and resiliency of their entire family.

The issue of child abuse is a moral, social and human issue that impacts our entire community. The earlier the intervention, the better the intervention, and the more likely it is that we can help kids like Kimi as they grow up into adulthood. Alaska CARES demonstrates what is possible when professionals, community members and government agencies work together to support children.

If you would like more information about Alaska CARES, or if you know someone who might be helped by the services of Alaska CARES, visit their website.

[i] http://alaska.providence.org/locations/c/cares/abusefacts

 

 

 

 

Local Nonprofits Grant $82,000 to Support Suicide Prevention in Alaska

The Alaska Community Foundation (ACF) and Alaska Children’s Trust (ACT) are proud to announce the 2017 recipients of grants to support youth suicide prevention in Alaska.

In April, the Teen Suicide Prevention Grant Program awarded 17 grants totaling $81,928 across the state. Applicants were encouraged to align projects with strategies from the Alaska State Suicide Prevention Plan.

This grant program, now in its sixth year, is supported by many funders both within Alaska and outside. In addition to support from ACF and the State of Alaska, the program also receives critical funding from Rasmuson Foundation, Wells Fargo, and, for the first time this past year, WalMart Foundation. The program also received a grant from the Caroline Christen Torgerson Memorial Fund, an unrestricted fund at ACF.

Katie St. John, director of programs and grants at ACF, says, “We were thrilled to be able to award such a large number of grants this year to so many worthy organizations across the state, many of them rural communities providing critical services to their residents. From Metlakatla to Paimiut to Kiana and Hooper Bay, organizations throughout Alaska are working closely with their communities to provide help, hope, and healing to those suffering from the effects of suicide or struggling with it themselves.”

See a complete list of grant awards on the ACT website. For more information about suicide prevention efforts and resources in Alaska, please visit StopSuicideAlaska.org.

 

 

Empowering Moms for Breastfeeding Success

By Jennifer Willeford

ACT.PCG.FB.coverimageNew life begins in the middle of the night and in the early hours of the morning. Mothers are created when a child enters the life of a woman. Birth is a humbling and empowering experience. All the worries and preparation subside during labor and delivery and complete calm arrives when the beautiful gift is placed into a mother’s arms. There is nothing more life affirming than holding a newborn. Nothing else matters anymore and a new journey begins.

Breastfeeding is driven by the bonding relationship of the mother and baby. It’s in the first hours, days, and weeks that a breastfeeding dyad is born. Practice makes progress and is necessary for success. Those sweet moments are fleeting and the connection needs to be guarded and protected. Mothers need to be prepared to set ground rules and the support systems need to be able to offer help that contributes to the mother’s goals. All the focus should be placed on the mother and infant. Family and friends begin to pour in and the spotlight quickly shifts to the baby. It’s hard not to be swept up in the joy and love with a sweet, soft bundle that is irresistible to hold. It is very easy to forget about mom and her needs could get lost in the shuffle.

Everyone wants to help a new mom and feeding the baby has become the coveted position. Moms are overjoyed and excited to share this beautiful gift and can have a hard time declining offers. They don’t want to deprive people the opportunity to share the experience. Breastfeeding is a chance for an infant to be at the breast and provides the opportunity to practice and learn the skills they need. Milk supply is dependent on the frequent emptying and stimulation that nursing offers. Every feeding missed at the breast can contribute to decreased supply. Every intervention creates a roadblock and potential hazard especially during the first few weeks. Mothers deserve to be stingy and set boundaries. No bottle rules can help reinforce mom’s wishes.

Having jobs and chores lined up and ready for eager helpers can prevent conflict. Emphasize that feeding is reserved for mom. People feel that “helping” after baby is born means taking care of baby but true assistance comes in the form of “supporting” the family as a new bond is formed. Mom needs to find her voice and feel confident even though she is scared and exhausted. Remind her that it’s ok that all the dishes aren’t done and the laundry is not folded. Visit her with a cup of tea or coffee in hand and offer a non-judgmental ear. In vulnerable moments mom needs guidance, a calm presence, empathy and a gentle reminder that she is doing an amazing job.

If you are visiting and unsure what to do with spare time, prepare freezer meals for the months ahead. Folding laundry and doing dishes may not seem like great jobs but they are beyond helpful. Make mom a lunch. Fill a cooler so when she sits down to breastfeed she can stay well hydrated and nourished. Bring mom a bag of healthy snacks or play a game with an older sibling. Start a meal train for the family or bring paper plates to reduce chores. Ideal opportunities to hold baby is when mom is taking a shower or sneaking a much-needed nap.

Alaska is wonderful place to raise a family. It is true that it takes a village to raise a child. It’s the responsibility of the community to give emotional support, loving guidance and create a space where families can thrive. Breastfeeding success relies heavily on empowering mothers. The most important tool a woman can have when entering the breastfeeding journey is to know there are resources, tools and people who can help. Most moms will experience a few hiccups along the way. Breastfeeding is a learning experience for both mom and baby. Finding knowledgeable professionals who can aid through the challenges and find solutions to the momentary dilemmas can make all the difference.

Every woman deserves support. Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) and designated breastfeeding helpers can be found in many local organizations and agencies including the WIC office at the Resource Center for Parents and Children, The Women’s Center at the Hospital and Regional Public Health Offices. Help and support is always just a phone call or visit away. Encourage, inspire and uplift the new mothers and lend a hand so they can reach their breastfeeding goals.

headshot articleJennifer Willeford is an IBCLC and works for the Resource Center for Parents and Children. She is also a trained Doula. This spring she will graduate with Bachelors of Science in Crisis Counseling, Healthcare Administration and Health Sciences. Jennifer is the mother of two little boys and is familiar with the challenges of breastfeeding after she breastfeed both boys for a total of five years. Jennifer grew up in Fairbanks and completed her A.A.S in Certified Medical Assisting and Medical Coding at UAF and is active in the community with many local groups including Fairbanks Breastfeeding Coalition, 4H and Fairbanks Youth Soccer Association.

“Alaska Native culture keeps Alaska Native children safe.”

By Mary Johnson and Natalie Norberg

“Alaska Native culture keeps Alaska Native children safe.”

This is the vision statement for a five-year strategic plan created to address the disparities that Alaska Native children experience in the child welfare system. Today over 3,000 children are in the Alaska foster care system. More than half of these children are Alaska Native. This disparity is unacceptable.

blueberry boy
Recognizing that no one government agency or Tribal entity can solve this problem alone, the “Transforming Child Welfare Outcomes for Alaska Native Children Strategic Plan 2016-2020” was created as the result of a passionate and collaborative process which included numerous Tribal, state and community partners over many months. Participants talked openly and frankly about how to solve problems, reduce barriers and promote children being served closest to home within the context of their Tribe and culture whenever possible.

A personal account from a non-native foster parent:

With her little hand in mine, the two of us slowly walk down the ferry ramp into the bowels of the Le Conte, one of the oldest and smallest vessels that make up the fleet of inter-island ferries of Southeast Alaska’s Marine Highway. We are blasted by that familiar smell of salt water, marine diesel and car exhaust that permeates the parking level of the ferry before we ascend the several flights of stairs to the passenger level of the ferry. I feel weighted down as I struggle to carry the squirming child along with the numerous other packs and totes I am lugging that contain snacks and toys to keep an active toddler occupied for the four hour ferry trip. For Susie this is simply another day of her short life, where every day brings some kind of wonderment. When you are 2 years old, nothing is mundane; an ordinary walk to the park is a delight. For me, however, this day, this trip, feels far from joyful. In fact my mood feels like the dense heavy, gray clouds that press down on the forested islands we pass, layers and layers of suffocating gray.

Susie is 2.3 years old, a beautiful Alaska Native child with healthy rosy cheeks that are just beginning to shed their baby fat. She has soft, long, jet black shiny hair. Susie has been in state foster care since she was 11 months old. I am her 3rd foster home. Susie and I bonded quickly. I couldn’t wait for my work day to end and to pick her up from preschool. Although I did not ever encourage her to call me mommy, she quickly learned from her peers, to reach up her arms for me and call me mama. Susie loves to be read to, loves “Dora the Explorer”, and bubble baths. She is smart, perceptive and talkative. Susie could easily be that little girl I have always wanted as my own. But she doesn’t belong to me or my white culture. She comes from her own rich heritage, of which she must do her part to revitalize and pass-on.

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was passed 40 years ago by congress as a measure to attempt to stem the tide of a disproportionate number of American Indian/Alaskan Native children entering state foster care systems and being adopted by white families; these children would forever be lost to their families, Tribes, communities, and culture. Today, both nationally and in Alaska, racial disproportionality continues to exist at alarmingly high rates. In 2016, while comprising less than 20% of the population, Alaskan Native children comprise over 55% of the children in foster care in Alaska.

While it is easy to place blame on the child welfare system for the years it has taken to implement ICWA as it was intended; data shows widespread disparities of Alaska Native/American Indian people involved in all service sectors of society.  In order to follow the vision Alaska Native culture keeps Alaska Native children safe, there remains a need to balance both a recognition of the impact of historical trauma as well as the strengths of families we serve. Many professionals who have the responsibility to help vulnerable families may have unconscious bias about Alaska Native culture. These professionals are in positions to make life changing decisions for the family. Yet, without thoughtful and continuous self-evaluation, it is human nature to fall into systemic racism and follow the practice of favoring white, non-relatives over Alaskan Native relatives.

The ferry takes us to her island village, to her mother’s family, where she will be permanently placed with her maternal uncle and his family; a home, where she fits and belongs. Her hair and skin color matches theirs. She will be cuddled, loved and called “baby.” Their home is different than mine. It smells different, and is smaller, more crowded. Instead of having her own bedroom, as she did at my house, Susie will share a room with her brother who sometimes lives in the house and her teen-aged cousin. There is a chest freezer in the living room. Susie is terrified. She clings to me and won’t let go.  

Not too long ago, I feel confident that the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) would have let me keep Susie forever. The caseworker and I could have come up with many different “reasons” for why Susie should be adopted by me; and the white judge, white attorneys and white guardian ad litems, who make such decisions, would have nodded and agreed. Times have changed. And this is a good thing. Having been a social worker first, and a foster parent second, my head has known this long before my heart; but my heart is getting there. The spirit and intent of ICWA maybe, just maybe, are beginning to be embraced.

The privilege of working in the field of child welfare is having the honor of being a part of a family’s path to healing. In the example above Susie is in a home where she is learning how to live in her Alaska Native culture and it will be one less battle she will have as she grows up, a child from a traumatic beginning, as she pieces together her identity.

A year later I go back to her village and visit Susie. She is happy and thriving. She is now three years old and doesn’t remember me at all. Somewhere deep in her mind, seeing me may trigger a vague sense of familiarity – a sense of knowing she was well cared for, nurtured on her journey to get back to her family’s people. And that is truly what matters – that I was a vehicle to help her return, intact, healthy and able to rejoin her people. My heart truly believes this.  

Find the full “Transforming Child Welfare Outcomes for Alaska Native Children Strategic Plan 2016-2020” report on the OCS website at http://dhss.alaska.gov/ocs/Documents/Publications/pdf/AK-Transforming-Child-Welfare-Outcomes_StrategicPlan.pdf.

About the authors:

Mary Johnson is the Child Protection Program Manager with the Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks.

Natalie Norberg is currently employed by the State of Alaska, Department of Health and Social Services; she is a former OCS case worker and foster parent.

Science Action Club Builds STEM Identity Among Youth

20170227_102025_resizedTwenty youth at Bristol Bay 4-H Club stealthily maneuver in the outdoors, keeping their eyes to the sky – they’re on the lookout for birds. These youth are citizen scientists, actively counting birds and documenting their findings in an online platform where professional scientists and ornithologists use the submitted data for research.

The following week, the youth explore how oil spills can affect birds. Comparing two feathers – one dipped in water, the other dipped in oil – the youth discover that the feather dipped in oil will not dry, and investigate environmental solutions to cleaning oil from feathers.

“My favorite activity was seeing what happens to feathers in oil,” says Jacob Belleque. “I was surprised. I thought the oil would come out of the feathers, but it didn’t.”

This is Science Action Club – a curriculum designed to engage middle school youth in authentic, hands-on science during afterschool.20170228_170918_resized

Programs such as Science Action Club address a real need to engage more youth in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) at a young age. Alaska employers say STEM jobs are going unfulfilled because students are graduating from high school without the requisite skills. And in college, too few entering freshman see themselves as scientists, mathematicians, technical experts and engineers. Many youth, especially girls and other underrepresented groups, see STEM as something “other” people do – not something they can pursue.

Science Action Club is helping to make STEM relevant, important and fun for all youth. And once students engage in hands-on science, they begin to reconfigure their beliefs about themselves and their abilities. The club has helped the youth at Bristol Bay 4-H Club understand that they are part of a larger community – the Citizen Scientist Community. This sense of belonging has led to increased levels of self-confidence and STEM identity among club members.

At the start of Science Action Club, many of the youth stated that they did not consider themselves to be scientists, but that opinion has changed over the course of the club. Youth talk about activities with their peers and influence them to join the club – and the learning doesn’t stop when the club lets out. Youth voluntarily track bird activity at home and seek out and share birding books with each other. Parents have noted that dinner discussions are very animated on club days.

And that’s possibly because Science Action Club doesn’t look like your typical science class.Dillingham SAC 2

Instead, it looks like engineering a device that prevents a raw egg from breaking when dropped from a certain height.

It looks like designing paper airplanes to fly across the room, mimicking the flight styles of owls and falcons.

And it looks like real-life experiments, such as dissecting owl pellets, as well as going on regular birding walks.

“I like Science Action Club because we can identify birds and study them to get to know them better,” says one club member.

STEM education creates critical thinkers and increases science literacy. Science Action Club is only one example of the impact of an engaging STEM curriculum in out-of-school time. And while the Science Action Club curriculum is portable and can easily be taken on the road to different communities, access for many young people is still a problem.

Dillingham SAC 3The Alaska Afterschool Network aims to address these barriers, especially in rural Alaska, by forming partnerships to provide high-quality programming opportunities in the state. The Science Action Club is an example of such a partnership. The Alaska Afterschool Network brought the Science Action Club curriculum to 15 program sites across Alaska in conjunction with the National Girls Collaborative Project and the California Academy of Sciences, with funding support from BP Alaska.

The Science Action Club is only a dent in the surface of creating greater access to high-quality STEM learning in out-of-school time. And even though the research is clear on the benefits of exposing students to STEM activities, both within and outside of school, funding can still be a challenge.

Without continued, intentional support of STEM learning in afterschool, students may not get the chance to discover a future career as an ornithologist, or may not choose to pursue a college degree in physics. Afterschool programs bring STEM alive for youth – and support and active partnerships are crucial to continue bringing opportunities to our youth.

To get involved in supporting important afterschool efforts like the Science Action Club, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Alaska Afterschool Network.

What is the Role of the Office of Children’s Services?

By Christy Lawton, Director, Office of Children’s Services

christylawton5The Office of Children’s Services, or OCS, is often one of the most misunderstood organizations in state government. Formerly known as the Division of Family and Youth Services, after Gov. Frank Murkowski changed the name in 2003, the agency’s purpose was further muddled by the removal of the word “family,” leaving the emphasis solely on “children.”

The reality is that the focus is on the family as a whole. The OCS serves families whose children have been determined to be unsafe or at high risk of maltreatment by their parent or caregiver.

Services to families should always be done in the least restrictive, least intrusive manner possible. Decisions regarding needed interventions with families are based on thorough information collection that guides the initial and ongoing assessment of safety and risk.

After an investigation is completed on a report of child abuse, interventions with a family may fall along a continuum, from simple referrals to services; to services offered in the home, while the children remain in the home; to the children being removed and services provided to the entire family.

Because of our statutory duty, the agency and its staff often find themselves in situations where no matter what they do, it’s viewed as wrong by the public. Because of confidentiality, it is most often not known to the public how a decision was made or why. If a child gets hurt, people think we didn’t do our job. If a child is removed short of anything less than serious injuries or near death, some may say we acted too aggressively or were too intrusive in a family’s private matters.

What does all of this mean from a day-to-day perspective? It confirms that child protection workers have very difficult and often misunderstood roles. Keeping kids safe once we know there is a problem is the easier aspect of the job. Knowing when parents have really changed enough to ensure their child can be safe in the care is the most difficult and stressful.

OCS’s primary objective is to ensure the safety of the child and to reduce any further incidents of child maltreatment. Secondary to that, but equally important, is the hardest aspect of agency’s role, which is to work in partnership with the parent(s) to help them remedy the conditions or issues that resulted in the abuse or neglect that brought the family to our attention.

OCS works under a myriad of federal and state statutes that governs 99.9 percent of what we do. These laws ensure that parents are afforded due process to ensure their rights are protected and access to the courts system for judicial review of decisions made by the agency that help to ensure the agency decisions are sound and founded in law. It also seeks to ensure children don’t languish in foster care by limiting the amount of time a parent has to make the kind of meaningful change that would allow for a safe return of their child.

Funding for OCS services comes primarily from state general funds and federal funds at a ratio of about 70/30. Contrary to some theories, neither funding stream incentivizes the removal or the adoption of children we serve. When adoption is the goal, after having proven reunification is not viable, the federal government does provide incentive dollars for states that demonstrate that adoptions are finalized in a timely fashion.

Individual child welfare professionals within the OCS are not paid with respect to the number of families served, children removed, and/or children adopted or children reunified. They are paid to assess child safety, address strengths and deficits in parents’ protective factors, and to work to keep families intact whenever possible.

The 533 dedicated and skilled professionals who make up the Office of Children’s Services are providing a public safety service focused on Alaska’s most vulnerable residents, our children. Staff receive more than 15,000 reports a year and investigate over 9,000 individual reports. In addition, they work to provide effective case management and support to over 3,000 foster children, their parents, their relatives, and foster parents. They also partner with Tribes and work with numerous providers and legal partners.

OCS staff, like law enforcement officers, EMTs and many other safety-related professionals, provide this service often at a sacrifice to themselves and their own families. Unlike these professions that are typically well regarded and publicly supported, the professionals at OCS are sometimes minimized and criticized for doing the job they are legally obligated to do.

Despite these very real and significant challenges, OCS reunites more than half of the children that enter foster care successfully every year and very few of these children reenter the system later.

So, as we look forward to continuing our efforts to ensure a safe, healthy and thriving Alaska for all, I encourage you to look at ways you can ensure children in your community are safe by reporting all suspected abuse or neglect. I also encourage you to look for ways to ensure that the professionals who protect those children are supported, respected and appreciated for the work they do every day to ensure child safety.

Even the littlest voices deserve to be heard

Voices for Alaska’s Children makes it easy to speak up for Alaska’s kids

Voices FB profileWant to speak up on how potential new revenue sources impact Alaska families?

Have an opinion on how affordable health care is important to Alaska’s kids?

Have ideas about how to improve public education for our children?

There are so many issues and so many needs in our state, it can seem overwhelming. Hopeless. Helpless.

But it’s not. You have a voice. You can speak up. You can make a difference. We can help.

Voices for Alaska’s Children is a brand new grassroots, community movement supported by Alaska Children’s Trust and other community partners that makes it easy for you to turn up the volume on the issues you care about – whether that’s the PFD, health care, public education or anything else affecting you, your children, your clients or your community.

Through the Voices website, you can:

While you’re there, be sure to subscribe for Voices email updates so we can stay in touch on important issues and efforts. You can also follow Voices on Facebook.

Speak up! Join your voice with other Alaskans and let’s raise the volume on issues touching the lives of Alaska’s children, youth and families. Because even the littlest voices deserve to be heard.

Congratulations Monte Lynn Jordan: 2017 Interior Champion for Kids

monteFrom being a Big Sister to organizing healthy activities to inspiring others to get involved, Monte Lynn Jordan is a driving force behind preventing child abuse and neglect in Alaska. Those are just a few of many reasons that Alaska Children’s Trust is honored to announce Monte as our 2017 Interior Champion for Kids. Monte was honored at our Fairbanks fundraising reception on Friday, March 31. See event photos on Facebook.

For the past 30+ years, Monte has been working to prevent child abuse and neglect by supporting healthy kids in Alaska. Fond of the Shirley Chisholm saying, “Service is the rent you pay for your room here on earth,” Monte puts her time and energy behind those words as a tireless advocate for children and families. Whether she is working to provide services to strengthen families, organizing healthy living activities for kids, or simply lending her talents to better the community at large, when an advocate for a child is needed, Monte is there.

image013Monte believes that healthy communities begin with healthy kids. A leader in many nonprofit service organizations, Monte’s exemplary service is a motivating force behind groups that support healthy families, especially children. Specifically, she has worked with the Resource Center for Parents and Children, which helps parents with parenting skills, strengthening the family structure in order to help prevent child abuse and neglect. She is a member of the board of directors for The Carol H. Brice Family Center, which promotes healthy families through education, day care assistance, legal help, and low-cost health care. Monte has also been a Court Appointed Special Advocate for abused, neglected or abandoned children in juvenile court proceedings.

image012Another way Monte works to prevent child abuse and neglect is by helping provide healthy activities for young people. She is a founding member of Running Club North’s Equinox Kid’s Marathon and a prime assistant for cross country training. She volunteers to help with high school track and field events, and is a dedicated organizer of the Alaska Children’s Trust Mush for Kids. Monte has also been directly involved in the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization as an active and interested Big Sister to a local young person, with whom she maintained a relationship well into adulthood. Whether in groups or individually, Monte’s enthusiasm for a healthy, active lifestyle is both an inspiration and motivation for kids who may face challenging circumstances.

As important as the direct role she takes working with and for kids, is the fact that Monte uses her love of people and passion for service to recruit others to do the same. A model of lifetime service and diligence, she may be working in the background, but she is always leading by example.

Monte is quite simply a positive force in society. Her ardent activism on behalf of children, faith in the power of a healthy lifestyle, and unflagging efforts in her community mean that she can be found wherever she is needed. She has been called many things: persistent, insistent, ally, friend. One thing is sure – she is a champion for kids.

Each year the Alaska Children’s Trust Champion for Kids Award recognizes individuals like Monte who have demonstrated dedication and commitment in working toward eliminating child abuse and neglect by ensuring that children are living in safe, supportive and nurturing communities. We present three awards each year – one in southeast Alaska, one in Interior and one in southcentral. Earlier this year, we recognized Sen. Anna MacKinnon as our 2017 Southeast Champion for Kids. A call for nominations for the 2017 Southcentral Champion for Kids will be released this summer.