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Posts from the ‘Prevention’ Category

Does Alaska CRP make a difference?

Headshot of Diwakar Vadapalli, Ph.D.
By Diwakar Vadapalli, Ph.D.

Chair, Alaska Citizen Review Panel

Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska Anchorage

I have been the Chair of Alaska Citizen Review Panel (CRP) for more than four years now. The panel’s job is complicated and comes with considerable responsibilities, yet understanding the significance of the CRP’s role in protecting children has made the volunteer experience both rewarding and inspiring. However, recruiting others to serve on the panel has been difficult due to a lack of information on the role of the CRP in general, as well as the responsibilities of panel members more specifically. Potential members often have three main questions – What is the CRP? What does it do? What difference has it made?

The first question is relatively simple to answer. CRP is mandated by Congress as a mechanism to encourage members of the general public to participate in improving the effectiveness of child protection services (CPS) in their respective states. Every state must have at least one CRP, and the panels are primarily administered and funded under the authority of the state governments.

The second question becomes more complicated because of a CRP’s extremely broad mandate. CRPs have three main functions – review, outreach, and advocacy. Simply put, a CRP reviews the policies, procedures, and practices of a state’s CPS agencies; reaches out to families and communities to assess the impact of those policies, procedures, and practices; and recommends any necessary changes in those policies, procedures, and practices.

After four years of leading the panel, it is clear that doing all this is anything but simple. It requires clarity of purpose, adequate staff and financial resources, willing partnerships with the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) and other stakeholder agencies, and, most importantly, dedicated volunteer time. The panel made a lot of progress in clarifying its purpose, and its partnerships with OCS and other stakeholder groups are constructive and promising. The panel could use more than the current budget allocation of $100,000, but any increase seems improbable in the current fiscal climate. The last challenge, however, – dedicated volunteer time – has been the most difficult. Recruiting and retaining volunteers is challenging because the CRP’s work can be very technical, contentious, and at times, disillusioning.

So, naturally, with all that is expected of a CRP, volunteers wonder if all their effort makes any difference. Does CRP make a difference? I have been trying to answer this question since I discovered the panel’s work back in 2011. I was a new faculty member at the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER), trying to understand the complicated world of Alaska’s OCS. In one of my many searches, I found the CRP’s website. The panel was just beginning its 11th year of work.

Back in 2004 – 2006, before I left Alaska to get my Ph.D., I was an Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) worker in Sleetmute, in Western Alaska. My caseload included about 10 – 15 children in and out of custody at any time, and life was busy. Aniak was the closest OCS field office. Bethel also had an OCS field office, but along with the office in Aniak, they were required to report to the Wasilla Regional Office. It was strange having to work with OCS staff in the Mat-Su Valley to serve children and families living in our region. Many of us often wondered how administrators from a relatively urban location that existed entirely within the road system, and who had likely not been to villages in Western Alaska, could make meaningful and culturally appropriate decisions that significantly impacted the families we served. But, as a local ICWA worker, it was one of those high-level administrative decisions beyond my control, even though it had a direct impact on my ability to do my job. When I came back to Alaska five years later, in 2011, OCS had five regions. The Western Region was created in 2010, with its headquarters in Bethel.

When I found the CRP in 2011, I read through all its annual reports since 2002. It was strange to see that the panel repeated its annual recommendations, sometimes for several years. OCS responded in writing each year since 2005, but it is hard to tell if the recommendations were implemented, or even seriously considered. In some cases, changes happened at OCS, but it was unclear if the change was a result of a CRP recommendation, or if it was just a happy coincidence. One such change was the creation of the Western Region. CRP first recommended it in 2006. The panel made a very strong case for it in 2008. And repeated the recommendation in 2009. Each time, OCS’ written response was nonchalant at best. And then, suddenly, the Western Region was created in 2010, with no acknowledgement of any connection between the CRP’s recommendation and the actual decision.

I called the CRP in early 2012 to better understand how it works, and if the CRP’s recommendations had anything to do with the creation of the Western Region. The panel at the time was very focused on getting the necessary staffing and resources for the new regional office in Bethel, and was in need of new members with ground-level experience in the Western Region. With my previous experience in Sleetmute, I was a perfect fit, and joined the panel. I did not have the time to worry if the panel made a difference in the past, and began to worry if the panel was currently making a difference. Within a year, I found myself to be the Chair of the panel.

Over the last five years, many people asked me if the CRP ever made a difference. News reporters, legislators, service professionals, OCS employees, current CRP members, folks from across the nation, and my students – they all asked. I kept looking for the best answer, but could not find a better example than the creation of the Western Region. So, I went back to that recommendation and dug a little deeper. From CRP presentations to House Health and Social Services (HSS) Committee, CRP annual reports, OCS written responses, and a couple of informal interviews, below seems to be the story of how it happened over the five-year period from 2006 to 2010:

  • 2006: The CRP recommended that OCS create a fifth region for the first time. It was a transition year at OCS with a new commissioner for the department, and a new deputy commissioner at OCS. The recommendation was brushed aside citing the transition.
  • 2007: The 2007 CRP report did not include a recommendation to create a fifth region.
  • 2008: Late in 2007, OCS proposed to move the Social Services Manager V position from Bethel to Wasilla. The position was vacant at the time. A group of OCS frontline workers from the Bethel office approached the CRP, very concerned about the lack of support and understanding from the regional office in Wasilla, and the devastating effect this move would have on the Bethel office’s relationships with tribal partners. CRP contacted local agency partners of OCS in Bethel and in the region, and received more than 30 letters of support for the creation of an entirely separate region, just like the CRP recommended in 2006. Subsequently, CRP’s 2008 annual report included a lengthy analysis of various perspectives and data, making a strong case for the creation of a fifth service region with Bethel as its headquarters. OCS’ written response to the 2008 recommendation downplayed the need for a fifth region, and assured all that a new staffing pattern would address these concerns.
  • 2009: CRP’s annual report essentially repeated the recommendation, citing all the sources from previous year, making an equally passionate case. OCS’ response, for the first time, acknowledges CRP’s effort on this front. However, OCS reminded CRP that there were “other” priorities at that time.
  • 2010: CRP’s presentation to the House HSS Committee in February that year could not have been more passionate. The panel described the Bethel office as in complete disarray, barely meeting its legal and statutory responsibilities. The Director of OCS, in response to the CRP presentation, mentioned that a plan to create a fifth region was in the works, but due to the continued increase of population in the Mat-Su Valley, OCS had to prioritize development of the Wasilla office. Five months later, in June that year, CRP’s annual report acknowledged the creation of the Western Region, and noted that it was pleased to see the outcome of a multi-year effort. OCS did not mention the creation of the Western Region in its response.

OCS went through an extensive federal review in 2009, and prepared a plan to address the areas that the review identified for improvement. Neither the federal review nor the OCS’ plan had any mention of a fifth region. OCS’ five-year Child and Family Services Plan for the years 2010 – 2014 did not mention any plans to create a fifth region. None of the other OCS’ reports from those years prior to 2010 had any mention of plans to create of a fifth region.

After the Western Region was created in 2010, OCS’ documents never explained the creation in any manner, nor acknowledged CRP’s effort in the matter. Other than a brief comment in the 2010 CRP annual report that the panel was pleased with the outcome, the CRP just moved on to other challenges. If you do not know that CRP exists, or did not take the time to read through the annual reports, you would never know that CRP was involved in this effort. I spoke to a few contemporary sources to check if there were other strong advocates, unrelated to the CRP’s effort. I could not find any. I may have missed something here, and I trust someone reading this will correct me as necessary.

Nevertheless, let us just pause and think about it – the Alaska CRP is a small group of volunteers, less than 10 members during those years. They had less than $100,000 per year, for some staff support. This small group changed the structure of OCS, and redefined the way services are delivered to families and communities in a major part of the state. They were persistent, focused, and dedicated.

So, to answer the last of the three questions – did the CRP make a difference? – HUGE! It is not often that a small group of volunteers change the course of a major bureaucratic agency. This is exactly what Congress had in mind when they wanted regular citizens, not just child protection bureaucrats, to play an “integral role” in child protection services. The story of the creation of OCS’ Western Region is a perfect example of what Congress wanted CRPs to do.

And, by the way, this is not the only impact. I hope people will take the time to read through the CRP annual reports and OCS responses. They are all available on the panel’s website at www.crpalaska.org. Of course, do not be surprised if you have to dig deep like I did to find the actual impact CRP may have had. It is almost never acknowledged.

If you are wondering how such a small group of volunteers can have such a significant impact, much credit goes to Congress’ vision for the CRP. Before there were CRPs, many states were experimenting with citizen groups. Based on the success of these groups, Congress designed the CRPs, and required every state to have at least one CRP. Some states, like Alaska, went further and enacted their own laws for CRPs. Beyond the vision from Congress, and beyond federal and state statutes, a lot of credit goes to the CRP members in Alaska, for the persistence, commitment, and focus that resulted in the creation of the Western Region. Thanks to their efforts, children and families in Western Alaska have a better shot at being protected from child maltreatment.

The CRP can be a powerful mechanism if we all use it, and use it effectively. There are many ways to contribute. Join the panel, be a resource person, contribute to its work indirectly, and utilize its products. Visit the panel’s website, or contact the panel coordinator for further information.

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R.O.C.K. Mat-Su: Ending Child Abuse in Our Lifetime

By Desiré Shepler, Director, R.O.C.K. Mat-Su

Love. A sense of community. A sense of belonging. The feeling of being cared for. These are things all children should have. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

In 2013, the Mat-Su Health Foundation embarked on a community health needs assessment. As a part of the process, 23 community meetings were held across Mat-Su. Over 500 local residents and professionals spoke out at these community meetings and identified their leading goal: to keep Mat-Su children – all Mat-Su children – well-cared for and safe.

No one agency or sector can tackle this goal alone, so a group of influential champions was convened and asked to consider working together to achieve this goal. These champions, who were each working to improve the lives of children and families in Mat-Su in their individual agencies, committed to a new way of working. A way that moved beyond a single organization – or even single sector – view of the work in favor of a collective approach to working toward the common goal of promoting resilient families and ending child maltreatment. Out of this, R.O.C.K. Mat-Su, a cross-sector collaborative focused on Raising Our Children with Kindness, was born.

Made up of individuals representing the varied communities across the Mat-Su Borough, the partners of R.O.C.K. Mat-Su focus on building relationships and implementing innovative strategies in order to create systems change and connected communities. The ongoing work of R.O.C.K. Mat-Su reflects the genuine passion of a diverse group of community members to realize our vision that all Mat-Su children are safe, healthy and thriving.

Working collectively towards large-scale systems change, in our lifetime, R.O.C.K. Mat-Su will:

  • Strengthen families so all children are safe, healthy and thriving
  • End child abuse and neglect
  • And reduce Adverse Childhood Experiences.

We invite you to join us.

Pregnancy, Nursing and Marijuana: What’s the Real Story?

By Trevor Storrs, Alaska Children’s Trust Executive Director

With the passing of the recreational use of marijuana in Alaska nearly two years ago, there has been a lot of conversation regarding the potential impacts, good and bad. One of the controversial topics discussed has been pregnant and nursing mothers using marijuana and its potential effects on newborns.

First, let me say that I’m neither a doctor nor a medical expert of any kind. Rather, this post is to inform you about the main arguments for and against marijuana use while pregnant and nursing. There are so many conflicting opinions on the topic that the sheer amount of information can make it difficult to determine how much merit to afford any of the research. So, rather than you looking through countless disparate articles, I’ve collected the main research that seemed to be accepted as true across the many articles reviewed.

It is important to note that all the literature published on the topic is based on research methods like surveys, self-reported data, and tertiary forms of testing (infant development and levels of THC in breastmilk) (Beckett, 2016). The most valid research would involve controlled human studies; however, this would be unethical. Marijuana is equated with heroin in regards to its potential for harm, so researchers can’t expose pregnant or nursing mothers to cannabis to test its effects. This isn’t to suggest that the research conducted thus far is invalid; it just means there are other research methods that could better control confounding variables.

Research has shown correlations between cannabis use during pregnancy and fetal harm:

  • There have been reports documenting a decrease in fetal growth (Merritt, Wilkinson, & Chervanak, 2016).
  • It’s also been found that pregnant women who use cannabis are at a 2.3 times greater risk of stillbirth (Abuse, n.d.).
  • In addition, prenatal exposure has been correlated with a two to three times increased risk of subsequent child maltreatment (Merritt, et al., 2016).

This data was collected from the states where recreational marijuana use has been legalized (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington).

There’s no safe amount of cannabis to consume during pregnancy, despite the reason for using and the method used to ingest it (Good to Know, n.d.). Some women think that since it’s legal, then cannabis must be safe, but the legality does not constitute its safety.

Additionally, people discount cannabis’ harm because it’s a naturally occurring substance (Good to Know, n.d.). The issue with that argument is that it suggests that all naturally occurring things are safe to consume. Since that’s not true, it can’t be used to support the lack of harm that cannabis poses. There are several naturally occurring substances that are harmful for you and your baby: lead, tobacco and poisonous berries are a few (Good to Know, n.d.). The bottom line is that the potential for harm from cannabis use during pregnancy is high.

If the risks of cannabis use during pregnancy do not pose enough of a threat, there have been even more negative effects found from cannabis use while breastfeeding. The reigning opinion is to avoid cannabis for the entire time you choose to breastfeed your child. Even though it’s preferred that you breastfeed for a year, doctors recommend that mothers breastfeed for a minimum of six months (Conover, 2016). In just one feeding, an infant will ingest 0.8 percent of the weight adjusted maternal intake of one joint, and the infant will excrete THC in their urine for two to three weeks after (Merritt, et al., 2016).

Research has found that infants exposed to cannabis through breastmilk exhibit decreased motor development and executive functioning, and poor sucking reflex. Meanwhile, mothers who use cannabis have a reduced milk supply. When you consider the poor sucking reflex and reduction in milk supply in conjunction, you get an infant with an increased risk of what’s officially called “failure to thrive,” which occurs when the infant is undernourished and fails to meet milestones in his or her first year of life.

This is a fairly new topic that has been assigned a lot of stigma and misconceptions, and the last thing I want is to add to that. The facts presented here are simply for educational purposes. What you do after reading them is entirely up to you. I’m not here to pass judgment or tell you how to live your life, but I do feel an obligation to advocate for Alaska’s children.

Children deserve every opportunity afforded to them, and parents sacrifice a lot to give their children those opportunities. However, when you use cannabis while pregnant or nursing, you are putting all those sacrifices at risk. Don’t take away from your child’s well-being before they’ve even taken their first breath. Make the sacrifice, and give your child every opportunity to thrive.

Sources:

Free Screening of “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope”

Alaska has one of the top five rates of child abuse in the United States. Without treatment, sexual and physical abuse and witnessing domestic violence or neglect can cause serious health and social problems that last into adulthood.

Join Providence Alaska Foundation, Alaska CARES and Alaska Children’s Trust for a free screening of “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope,” a documentary that chronicles the movement among pediatricians, therapists, educators and communities, who are using cutting-edge neuroscience to disrupt cycles of violence, addiction and disease.

The free screening will take place Thursday, August 10 at 49th State Brewery Heritage Theatre at 717 W. 3rd Ave. in Anchorage. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the screening begins at 6 p.m. A panel discussion will follow.

Please RSVP to 907-212-2554 by August 3.

resilience

Strengthening Families Alaska is on the Move!

By Shirley Pittz, Strengthening Families consultant 

strengthening families logoStrengthening FamiliesTM is an effort to help families give their children what they need to thrive. It’s about parents taking advantage of their unique strengths and ensuring they have the skills and supports they need to make sure their children – and family as a whole – are safe, secure and happy. The outcomes that Strengthening Families programs strive to achieve are strong families, optimal child development and the prevention of child maltreatment.

Strengthening Families Alaska (SFA) is supported by the Early Childhood Comprehensive System Program (ECCS) in the Department of Health and Social Services and a leadership team consisting of several statewide stakeholder organizations. During FY17, SFA has focused on the Norton Sound Region, Kodiak Island and the Mat-Su Valley. Efforts are underway to embed the Strengthening Families “framework” across agencies and service sectors. In Kodiak, Kodiak Area Native Association (KANA) is leading the way. In the Norton Sound Region it is the Norton Sound Health Corporation and in the Mat-Su Valley it is the Mat-Su Health Foundation.

SFA efforts are supported by the University of Alaska Anchorage Child Welfare Academy (CWA). CWA has several certified trainers who can deliver the two-day intensive Strengthening Families training developed by the National Alliance of Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds. In addition to the regions discussed above, in FY17, training was provided to service providers in Bethel, 30 behavioral health aides at the ANTHC Annual BHS Symposium, RurAL CAP family advocates, Office of Children’s Services grantees, and the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. To date, the CWA has trained over 300 people in this approach!

Primary care providers received some focused attention this year since parents frequently look to them for reassurance and guidance on child and family issues. In November 2016, the All Alaska Pediatric Partnership (A2P2) rolled out a Strengthening Families Toolkit for Primary Care Providers that was developed with funding provided through a grant from Alaska Children’s Trust. An accompanying two-hour training was also developed and offered at the fall Pediatric Symposium in Anchorage. Additionally training on the Toolkit was provided in Juneau and Fairbanks and on a statewide “Learning Network” webinar.

Across the state, communities and providers are embedding the Strengthening Families approach in the work that they do. “Small but significant” changes in everyday practice can make a huge difference for families.

PROTECTIVE FACTORS:

Strengthening Families is built around five “protective factors.” Protective factors help families succeed and thrive, even in the face of risk and challenges. The protective factors are:

Parental Resilience Be Strong Even When You Are Stressed!

  • Resilience is the process of managing stress and functioning well even when things are difficult.

Social Connections Get and Give Support!

  • Sometimes being a parent can be very stressful. It’s easier to handle parenting challenges when we have positive relationships with family, friends and neighbors. Having a network of caring people in our life helps us feel secure, confident and empowered – and this helps us become better parents.

Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development – Learn More So You Can Parent Better!

  • There is no such thing as a perfect parent, but knowing what to expect does make the job a lot easier.

Concrete Support in Times of Need Get Help When You Need It!

  • All families go through tough times. However, knowing where to get help in the community can make things a lot easier.

Social & Emotional Competence Help Your Child Manage Feelings and Relationships!

  • Helping children develop social-emotional competence allows them to manage their emotions and build healthy relationships with their peers and adults. The things we do to model and help our children learn these skills makes a huge difference.

For more information about Strengthening Families Alaska and how you might get involved, please contact one of the following:

For more information about the Strengthening FamiliesTM approach, visit the Center for the Study for Social Policy website.

Stay Safe and Have Fun on the Water this Summer

Water Safety Tips from the Red Cross of Alaska

By Lisa Miller, Red Cross of Alaska Regional Communications Officer

In Alaska, we are great at capitalizing on these short but precious summer months. With nearly 24 hours of sunlight and endless exploration opportunities, adults and children alike are itching to get out and get on the water.

Whether you’re heading out for a day of deep sea halibut fishing, or kayaking around your neighborhood lake, take a few moments to consider these aquatic safety tips from the Red Cross of Alaska before you and the kids head out to make a splash.

Plan Ahead

First thing’s first. Before making plans to spend time in or around water with your children, make sure you all know how to swim.

It is the mission of the Red Cross to prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. The Red Cross Swimming and Water Safety program helps fulfill that mission by teaching people to be safe in, on and around the water through water safety courses for individuals of a wide range of ages and abilities. American Red Cross Aquatics and Safety Classes are offered at many pools across the state of Alaska. Call your local pool to learn more about classes.

Once the entire family knows how to swim, you’re ready to plan your first trip out on the water. As your trip draws near, remember to check the weather. Weather conditions can change suddenly, so always check the forecast before heading out.

In the event you run into bad weather or an emergency situation, Ray Miller, a Red Cross of Alaska volunteer and member of the United States Power Squadrons (USPS) in Fairbanks, says it’s a good idea to pack some means of communicating, such as a whistle and signal mirror that can be used to alert a rescuer. A hand crank radio is a good item to have packed away in a wet bag as well. It will ensure you always have a way to tune in to local weather reports and emergency messaging.

You can build your own boat first aid/survival kit, or shop the Red Cross Store for a ready-to-go kit.

Miller also suggests telling someone when you go out on the water. If you are going out for just a few hours, let someone know where you plan to go, and when you will return. If you are planning a boat trip longer than a few hours, Miller says to file a written float plan. According to the USPS, a float plan includes a description of your boat, who is on board, a description of the safety equipment you are carrying, where you expect to be, and when you expect to be there.

You can download a USPS float plan here: http://www.usps.org/o_stuff/fp_form.html.

USPS says the person holding your float plan should notify the Coast Guard or other appropriate agency if you do no not return within a reasonable time.

circle of drowning preventionLife Jackets. Life Jackets. Life Jackets … Did We Mention Life Jackets?

There’s a lot involved in boating/water safety, especially for children, but a key factor is that everyone, especially children, use properly fitted, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets whenever they are on, in and around the water.

“The best tip I would have for parents of kids is to set the example for your kids and always wear a life jacket when boating,” Miller says. “Second suggestion would be to buy your child a life jacket that fits them and is appropriate for the activity they will be engaged in and most importantly one they will wear. Third, take your child to a pool or other swimming area and let them try out their life jacket to gain confidence that it will keep them afloat.”

Miller added the water in Alaska can be very cold and even on warm sunny days it will not take long for even the strongest swimmer to become unable to swim to shore, pull themselves back into the boat or help a buddy.

How do I choose a life jacket?

When choosing a life jacket:

  • Make sure it is the right type for the activity.
  • Make sure it is U.S. Coast Guard approved. Look for the stamp on the life jacket.
  • Make sure it fits the intended user. Check the label on the life jacket for weight limits.
  • Check buckles and straps for proper function. Discard any life jacket with torn fabric or loose straps.
  • Put it on and practice swimming with it.
  • Water wings, swim rings, inflatable toys and other items designed for water recreation are not substitutes for U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets or adult supervision.

Life Jackets Aren’t Just for Boats

Young children and weak swimmers should wear life jackets whenever they are in, on or around the water, even at a pool or a waterpark. Put it on at the dock, deck or shore and don’t take it off until you are on dry land.

Finally, this Kids Don’t Float Activity Book from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources is a great way to get the kids excited for your boating trip while also teaching them to be safe around water.

May you have a safe and happy summer with your loved ones!

LMheadshotLisa Miller is the Regional Communications Officer for the Red Cross of Alaska.

Preventing Youth Suicide in Light of “13 Reasons Why”

The new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why has created a lot of buzz recently around the topic of teen suicide. The show graphically chronicles a fictional teen’s suicide and, in many ways, glamorizes it.13-reasons-why

Suicide among youth is a serious concern for everyone who engages with young people – whether at home, in school, or during out-of-school time. According to the Kids Count Alaska 2013-14 data book, suicides were the second-highest cause of deaths among youth ages 10-17. And in areas outside of Anchorage, the suicide rate among youth is four times higher.

Youth who are exposed to suicide or suicidal behaviors are more at-risk for attempting suicide, according to the American Association of Suicidology. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (ASFP) notes that risks of additional suicides increase when a story explicitly describes the method, uses graphic headlines or images, and glamorizes a death.

Seeing the graphic depictions and the sensationalized story of Hannah Baker brought to life in 13 Reasons Why has become a widespread concern among parents, as well as professionals in mental health, education and afterschool.

This type of glamorization has caused widespread copycat attempts, giving us more of a reason to talk about the reality of what is happening. Silence or ignoring the issue has never made it disappear. If anything, it has provided the right environment for it to grow out of control. ASFP states that we can prevent suicide by being aware and taking action – and that means talking about it.

The National Afterschool Association created the following list with recommendations for afterschool professionals and teachers on how to handle the latest Netflix hit:

  1. Watch 13 Reasons Why.

Rather than trying to get kids to avoid watching the series or talking about it — because they will, with or without permission — watch it so you are prepared to discuss the content when it comes up.

If you hear kids talking about the series, ask how they feel about the content. Watch how they’re reacting to the topic, paying close attention to their emotions.

  1. Watch for warning signs.

AFSP notes there’s no single cause for suicide, which most often occurs “when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.” Conditions such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse problems increase the risk for suicide — especially when unaddressed. 13 Reasons Why depicts additional triggers, including sexual assault and bullying. Most people who die by suicide exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do. Find a list of warning signs from AFSP here.

  1. If a young person exhibits warning signs, talk to him or her about it.

“Be direct,” says Valencia Agnew, Ph.D. “Don’t be afraid to ask if they’ve thought about suicide, or if someone is hurting them.”

  1. Listen to young people – without judgment.

Get kids to tell their stories while they’re alive — not after they’ve made a permanent decision to what could be a temporary problem.

“Listen to children’s comments without judgment,” Agnew said. “Doing so requires that you fully concentrate, understand, respond, and then remember what is being said. Put your own agenda aside.”

If you have concerns, consider reaching out to prominent adults in the young person’s life that you trust. Ask the adults if they’ve noticed anything unusual.

  1. Validate young people’s feelings.

Feelings aren’t always facts, but never downplay a young person’s stress level or emotions. Instead, try to understand and show you care. “Avoid giving advice to fix it,” said Agnew. “Pain isn’t going to kill them. It’s what they do with the pain.”

  1. If needed, get help.

If a young person you know is having thoughts of suicide, reassure him or her that you’ll help —then act. It’s not expected that the typical afterschool professional or teacher has the knowledge and skills to handle this alone. Work with the school and other trusted adults to find local resources available for help. Suicide Awareness Voices of Education offers a number of resources and tools, and is a great place to start.

Afterschool hours continue at home. Share these guidelines for parents and guardians on suicide prevention, in light of the series. Together we can ensure our children live in a safe, stable and nurturing environment.

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.