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Posts from the ‘Success Stories’ Category

Heart Gallery Features Foster Kids Seeking Forever Homes

By Dawn Paulson, Family Coach Supervisor

Who do you call when making a major life decision? Who do you spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with? Who do you call to celebrate milestones in life with? For most people it is family. For children in foster care who are waiting for an adoptive family, it is no one.

In the state of Alaska there are over 150 children in foster care whose parental rights have been terminated and they are waiting for an adoptive family to choose them. Without an adoptive family, these children will age out of the system and be on their own.

The statistics for aged out foster youth are staggering: only 50 percent will graduate high school, 40 percent will experience homelessness, 30 percent will be incarcerated and 25 percent will report substance use and abuse. The Heart Gallery of Alaska is the only recruiting of its kind in the state of Alaska for these youth.

The Heart Gallery of Alaska utilizes the power of media to capture the individuality of children waiting in foster care in order to advocate for their adoption. Each child listed on the Heart Gallery of Alaska has chosen to be featured and is legally available for adoption.

This gallery does not show every child awaiting a home, but serves as a compelling representation of the many Alaskan children who are looking for forever families. Through the Heart Gallery of Alaska, a loving family can inquire and learn more about children awaiting adoption, and children featured on the gallery are encouraged to express what they are looking for in a forever family.

Beacon Hill operates the Heart Gallery of Alaska and is a privately funded nonprofit based in Anchorage and operating across the state. They work with professional volunteer media teams to showcase Alaska’s beautiful children. Because of this, many of these children have and will find permanent, loving homes.

In 2017, the first full year of Heart Gallery of Alaska, 30 children had chosen to be on the gallery, six were adopted, one found a legal guardian, 14 were matched with potential pre-adoptive families, and two aged out of foster care.

So far in 2018, there are 39 children listed on the gallery with 24 of them matched with potential pre-adoptive families and five finalized adoptions! An exciting victory is a sibling set of five who were listed on the Heart Gallery in December 2017 and were matched with a family March 2018 and continue to do well! Heart Gallery of Alaska works at finding children forever families!

Beacon Hill’s Heart Gallery of Alaska was selected from 2,000 nonprofits from across the country as one of the top 200 finalists in the State Farm Neighborhood Assist. A 10-day voting period in August brought a fierce competition with supporters from across Alaska and the country participating by voting daily. The top 40 winners of $25,000 will be announced September 25.

Dawn Paulson Family Coach Supervisor

Dawn Paulson, Family Coach Supervisor

The CrossFit community is rallying around the Heart Gallery of Alaska by holding an upcoming event: The Reliance Games. CrossFit Grizzly at the MTA Sports Center is hosting a CrossFit competition event to raise funds for the Heart Gallery of Alaska during Adoption Awareness Month. The event will be held November 11 at the MTA Sports Center and they have an exciting goal of raising $50,000. Check out the Facebook event, or register as a volunteer or competitor.

View the children on the Heart Gallery at www.heartgalleryak.com.

“There are no unwanted children, just unfound families.”

– National Adoption Center

Real story #4: Trauma-informed transformation

Part four of our four-part Real Stories series; read more in our 2017 community report

Imagine a child. A young boy or girl who has experienced trauma. Perhaps it’s emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Perhaps there’s substance abuse or mental illness in their home. Or perhaps their parents are divorcing or a family member is in jail.

Imagine now the child in school, where they are supposed to sit quietly, listen attentively and work diligently. But because of the biological changes that have taken place in their bodies because of trauma, they are simply unable to.

Instead they act out. Perhaps they yell at another student. Kick over a chair. Walk out of the classroom.

In response, the teacher sends the child to the principal’s office, where they are reprimanded. Perhaps the parents are called. Perhaps a harsh punishment awaits the child at home.

And the cycle continues.

Changing this cycle is one of the focus areas of the Alaska Resilience Initiative (ARI), an initiative of Alaska Children’s Trust. “Our goal is to support Alaska’s institutions to be trauma informed and culturally responsive, providing children and families the opportunity to heal, while also working to prevent new traumas,” explains Laura Norton-Cruz, ARI program director.

Trauma-informed, culturally responsive institutions focus on helping the person who has experienced trauma, rather than removing or punishing them. And they offer help in a way that is just, equitable and accepting of different identities. “Being culturally responsive is equally important to being trauma informed,” Laura says. “Those things together create a safe, empowering, trustworthy environment.”

ARI’s collaboration with the Anchorage School District (ASD) is just one example of efforts to create trauma-informed, culturally responsive transformation in Alaska.

In August, Laura presented to all of the ASD elementary school principals, discussing the importance of trauma-informed, culturally responsive schools. “School needs to be a safe place for all kids – and especially kids who have experienced trauma,” she says.

Following the presentation, Nunaka Valley Elementary School principal Timothy Blake invited Laura to come to his school. “I was moved by her talk,” he says. “Many of the characteristics of children with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that she described are evident here on a daily basis and impact our school greatly.”

Laura spoke to his entire staff – from teachers and counselors to the custodian and lunch lady. “It was very well received and generated a lot of discussion,” says Timothy, who has since joined ARI’s trauma-informed systems change workgroup. “The most important thing we took from the presentation was the importance of building connections with students and focusing on building resiliency through supportive relationships with kids.”

Going forward, Nunaka Valley staff will continue their professional development in social emotional learning and trauma-informed practices. They are also looking to establish family support groups and offer parenting workshops.

“Being trauma informed creates supportive relationships with our students and families,” Timothy says. “Understanding the effects and characteristics of ACEs allows us to use informed practices to create successful opportunities for every child.”

In addition to providing direct training, ARI also works to connect people and amplify existing efforts – such as those at ASD’s Northwood Elementary. Three years ago, led by principal Deanna Beck, the school began its trauma-informed systems change journey, beginning with a focus on staff wellness.

Through staff training, collaborative planning and implementation of practices such as morning greeters at the front door and “We are glad you made it to school today” cards in place of tardy slips, Northwood has experienced some real shifts. For example, according to the School Climate and Connectedness Survey, 79 percent of their 6th graders agreed with the statement “I can name at least five adults who really care about me” – a 29 percent improvement from the previous year.

After learning about Northwood’s efforts and successes, ARI began sharing the school’s story with others, publishing an article on the ARI blog and incorporating highlights into presentations.

“The trauma-informed work going on at Northwood is not because of ARI,” Laura explains. “We learned about it and amplified their efforts by telling others about it. And now other people are asking about it. Deanna is getting regular inquiries from other schools asking for guidance.”

ARI plans to continue collaborating with ASD, as well as expand trauma-informed systems efforts to other institutions and areas of the state. ARI, with input from many diverse statewide voices, is also in the process of developing curriculum and creating a cohort of trainers who can give presentations on ACEs and trauma-informed systems change to audiences across Alaska.

“When we address the root of trauma, we can begin to move the needle on many issues, including child abuse,” Laura says. “It’s a game changer.”

ARI’s shared goal is mobilizing Alaska to end child maltreatment, intergenerational and systemic trauma through healing and strategic advocacy. It is working toward that through networking, communication, policy advocacy, and trauma-informed systems change.

 

 

Real story #3: Too expensive to stay alive?

Part three of our four-part Real Stories series; read more in our 2017 community report

When Amber Lee was diagnosed last fall with a very rare genetic condition that can lead to aggressive kidney cancer, one of her first thoughts was if she would have insurance coverage to help cover the cost of care.

“It’s not a cheap disease to have. Without insurance, it would be impossible to manage,” says Amber, who must get MRIs of her kidneys regularly to monitor for cancerous growths that could quickly spread if not caught early. Currently, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) ensures that Amber can’t be denied health insurance coverage because of pre-existing conditions like this.

Amber is one of many Alaskans who would be profoundly impacted by the repeal of the ACA. She’s also one of many Alaskans speaking up to protect the ACA through Protect Our Care Alaska, a coalition of individuals, organizations and businesses.

“People and groups came together to protect the Affordable Care Act from repeal. It is still being threatened constantly,” Amber says. “The issue impacts everyone, and we are aligned with how important it is to get Congress to do the right thing.”

Voices for Alaska’s Children, a program of Alaska Children’s Trust, has been the backbone organization for the coalition, providing space and support for the grassroots effort.

“Health care is a critical tool to help prevent child abuse and neglect,” explains Trevor Storrs, ACT’s executive director. “Health care reduces stress on our most vulnerable families who are already struggling due to poverty, and inability to access services. Health care gives parents access to services to address their own trauma, provides preventive services, ensures children remain healthy physically and mentally, and minimizes the fiscal stress and impact on the family.”

For Amber, the importance of protecting the ACA goes beyond just her own health.

“The disease I have is genetic, so my kids could have it,” says Amber, who has two sons, ages 9 and 11. “If they are tested for the genetic condition and have it, they could be denied coverage for the rest of their lives.”

“There is already so much stress with the disease, and then on top of it, I have to worry about if I have insurance coverage and if I can pay for it. I make a decent salary, but it could get to a point where I can’t pay to care for myself. And for my kids, they could go through their entire lives without coverage. It is very stressful,” Amber shares.

“It gets to a point where you have to ask yourself, ‘Is it too expensive to keep myself alive?’”

“People talk about this like it is a political issue. But it’s about people’s lives,” Amber stresses. “Repealing the ACA means less coverage, less protection and more expense. It’s important for people to understand it.”

Amber strongly encourages other Alaskans to get involved in efforts to protect the ACA. “All these voices together send a strong message. We are not one special interest group. We are the majority of Alaska,” she says “Our voices are powerful.”

Get involved! Join ACT and others to #ProtectOurCare. Learn about the issue and how you can get involved at protectourcareak.org or on Facebook @protectourcareAK.

Real story #2: Connecting beyond bars

Part two of our four-part Real Stories series; read more in our 2017 community report

A mother singing her child to sleep – it’s perhaps one of the most timeless images of motherhood. However, it’s also one of the most out of reach for a mother in prison. This gap between a mother in prison and her child can be wide – both physically and emotionally.

“Even though my kids are older, it’s still very hard. Also my grandbabies – I am missing everything about their lives and growing up,” shares Stacy Lundy, an inmate at Hiland Mountain Correctional Facility in Eagle River, who has three grown children and three grandchildren, ages 5 and under.

The Hiland Mountain Lullaby Project seeks to bridge that gap and bring mothers at Hiland closer to their children – and grandchildren, in Stacy’s case. The Lullaby Project, modeled after a similar project at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, pairs incarcerated women with musician coaches to create beautiful, personal lullabies for their children at home.

“The Hiland Mountain Lullaby Project will help to lessen the trauma among the children resulting from the separation from their parent by helping mothers use music to support and convey to their children that they are loved; to create a sense of belonging; to share feelings, express joy, love and a connection to each other – all necessary for a child to develop a sense of security and healthy social/emotional development,” explains Shirley Mae Staten, who spearheaded the project in Alaska. Alaska Children’s Trust supported the effort with a $10,000 grant.

Last year, 16 mothers at Hiland participated in the first year of the project. “We all wrote a letter to our children and then our musician helped turn it into a song with music,” says Stacy, adding that she found writing the letter to be most challenging. “I wanted them to know how sorry I am and how much they all mean to me … It was very emotional.”

The inaugural year of the project culminated with a concert at Hiland, where the mothers and musicians performed the songs to an audience of 250 supporters. At the concert, Stacy presented her lullaby, “You Are My Sunshine,” to her children and grandchildren.

“I felt proud, blessed, guilty and emotional,” says Stacy. “They all loved their song and everyone was emotional.”

The lullabies were compiled into a 16-song CD, which were given to the inmates and their families, as well as available for purchase.

The inspiring project will continue this year with a few additions. Two former inmates who participated in the 2016 project will return as teaching artists, and two children of inmates will work with coaches to compose a responding lullaby to their mothers. A lullaby journal with sheet music for the songs will also be created and given to the inmates and their children, as well as to Anchorage elementary music teachers. And the concert schedule will be expanded to include performances for male inmates, female inmates and a public performance at Hiland.

“I think every mother should be able to participate in this program,” Stacy states. “It helps mothers reconnect with their children.”

Since inception, ACT has awarded more than $5 million in community investment grants to organizations in Alaska that work toward the prevention of child abuse and neglect.  In 2016 – 2017, we awarded $301,920 to 29 organizations across the state. See the full list of grant recipients and funded projects at alaskachildrenstrust.org.

Real story #1: How bugs beat out video games

Part one of our four-part Real Stories series; read more in our 2017 community report

The Teen and Youth Center (TYC) in Seward was at a low point. Attendance was declining, and grades were dropping – especially after summer break.

“Kids just wanted to stay home and play video games,” explains Josie McClain, coordinator of TYC, a city-run program offering afterschool programs and summer camp for elementary and middle school students.

When Josie saw an email from the Alaska Afterschool Network (AAN) – a program of Alaska Children’s Trust – about an upcoming Science Action Club training on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), her eyes lit up. “I said, ‘I want to explore this!’”

“Investing in our children safeguards their well-being today and assures the future success of our state and nation,” explains Thomas Azzarella, AAN director. “Research shows that afterschool programs increase student’s attendance, grades, and graduation rates; decrease expulsions; increase self-esteem, causing a reduction in suicide; and builds the protective factors to overcome trauma.”IMG_1102

Josie received a grant from AAN and attended her first STEM training – on bugs – last October. “I don’t even like bugs, but it was so cool,” she says. After completing the training, she brought the curriculum kit back to Seward and launched a pilot program for middle schoolers.

And that’s when the tides began to turn for TYC.

“Before, we didn’t have these kinds of programs in Seward. It helps us reach kids we don’t normally see, and we are seeing more and more of them,” Josie shares. “Kids interests began to change, and we started to see them light up.”

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The STEM afterschool program was so well received that Josie built the entire summer program around STEM. With coaching from AAN, Josie wrote and received a grant from the Seward Community Foundation to help cover summer activities. “We were full for the first time in years,” she says. “We even had a wait list.”

As part of the summer program, kids visited botanical gardens, explored the Imaginarium in Anchorage, and went on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Alaska Zoo. “It was the coolest summer, and I have been doing this for a long time,” says Josie, who has been at TYC since 2005.

While increased participation is exciting, it’s the change in the kids that is most powerful. “Kids are having conversations, partnering more and asking good questions. They want to do activities, not just hang out. And they are having a lot of fun – they don’t think it’s work,” Josie shares. “It is really cool to watch the changes.”

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One student in particular stands out to Josie – a middle schooler who has always struggled to fit in with his peers. This summer, as part of another Science Action Club STEM curriculum on birds, the student was put in charge of researching the different kinds of birds that the group saw.

“He was very meticulous. He went beyond what the lesson was – he researched more and then came in and presented to everyone,” Josie recalls. “It gave him the opportunity to be the hero. He still had rough times but to watch him shine in those moments was so special.”

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Josie is looking forward to continued opportunities through AAN, including a Science Action Club training on clouds this winter and the Alaska Afterschool Conference in November.

“I am so grateful to the Alaska Afterschool Network for helping open the door for Seward,” Josie says. “None of this would be possible without organizations like AAN bringing this information to smaller communities.”

The Alaska Children’s Trust 2017 community report is full of inspiring real stories like this one about how our supporters are making a real difference in the lives of Alaska’s children and families. Read more on our website – and if you’d like to help us make a difference, please consider making a gift to ACT. Thank you!

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.

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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.

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.

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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. 

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“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.

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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

 

 

 

 

Giving Thanks for Pick. Click. Give.

(Get inspired to help us reach our goal!)

We are giving thanks for our Pick. Click. Give. donors who gave $5,225 to support our mission to prevent child abuse and neglect this year!

We ended the campaign $775 short of our goal, but we have hope that we can reach $6,000 in donations. While the PFD application period has ended, supporters can still add or change a Pick. Click. Give. contribution until August 31.

Get inspired to give! Read these stories about what you are supporting when you Pick. Click. Give. to Alaska Children’s Trust:

Here’s what you can do to help us reach our goal (we are so close!):

  • Visit pfd.alaska.gov.
  • Click the “add or change a Pick. Click. Give. donation” button on the right side of the page.
  • Log in to your account.
  • Make your Pick. Click. Give. donation to Alaska Children’s Trust!

Together we can prevent child abuse and neglect!

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.

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.