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Straight Shooter: Talking to Kids About Gun Safety

Mother and son

By an Alaska mom

I grew up in a house without guns. My family didn’t own guns, we didn’t shoot guns, we didn’t even really talk about guns. Ironically, when I got married, I joined a family of subsistence hunters, sport shooters and gun collectors.

While I am still not entirely comfortable around guns, I respect the fact that we live in a state where guns are tightly interwoven in the lifestyles, cultures and traditions of many Alaskans.

While I don’t eat meat, I respect the fact that, like many families in Alaska, my in-laws fill their freezer each year with moose they have brought home from successful hunting trips.

And while it makes me nervous, I respect the fact that my son wants to learn to shoot safely – and that my husband and father-in-law want to pass their knowledge down to him.

So while we each have differing experiences, attitudes and opinions about guns, one thing we can all agree on is the importance of gun safety. And that starts with talking to our kids.

Even if there is not a gun in your household, your children are likely to come into contact with one at some point, so it is important to talk to them about guns and gun safety.

Depending on the age of your child, questions you may want to discuss together include:

  • How should a gun be treated?
  • Do any of your friends have access to a gun at home?
  • Have any of your friends talked about using a gun?
  • Have you ever had a friend show you – or try to show you – a gun?
  • What would you do if you saw a gun at school or at a friend’s house?
  • When you see guns being used in TV shows and movies, do you think it’s realistic? Do you think there were other ways the characters could have handled the situation?

This is a conversation that needs to continue and evolve as your kids get older, make new friends and experience different situations.

Now that my son is of an age where he is spending time with friends and family without my supervision, I know I can’t control every person and situation he comes in contact with. I believe the best way I can protect him is to prepare him with the information he needs to make good decisions.

So what does my son need to know? Here are some kid-focused tips, based on information from KidsHealth.org, that parents can share with their children. (Please know that these tips are just focused on basic gun safety – the topic of gun violence, how to address that and how to talk to our kids about it is a huge and important issue worthy of its own article.)

If your family has a gun at home:

  • All guns should be stored in a secure gun safe. You are not allowed access to the safe until you are an adult and know how to handle a gun.
  • When you have friends over, don’t show them where the gun or gun safe is kept.
  • Never get the gun out or handle a gun unless a parent or another responsible adult is with you and says it’s OK.

When you’re at a friend’s house:

  • If you see a gun somewhere, stop what you’re doing. Do not touch the gun, even if it looks like a toy. Leave the area where the gun is. Tell an adult right away.
  • If a friend wants to show you a gun, say “no” and leave or call your parent for a ride. Tell your parent right away what happened. Don’t worry about getting your friend into trouble — you will be helping to keep him or her safe.

If someone is carrying a gun:

  • If someone tells you they have a gun or shows you a gun, get away from the person quickly and quietly. Tell an adult you trust immediately. If you can’t find a teacher, parent, coach or other adult, call 911. Don’t feel that you’re being a tattletale if you tell an adult that someone has a gun. Remember, you may save a life!

If you’re using a gun for hunting or target practice:

  • Never get the gun out when you are alone. Only use the gun with a parent or a responsible adult there and only if you have their permission.
  • Always assume a gun is loaded.
  • Neverpoint a gun at someone, even if you think it is unloaded. Always point a gun toward the ground until ready to use.

Of course, there are also things we as adults need to do to keep our kids safe. For example:

  • If you have a gun at home, store it unloaded and locked up in a gun safe. Lock up bullets separately from the gun. Only responsible adults should know how to unlock the gun safe.
  • Before your child goes over to a friend or family member’s house for the first time, you may want to consider asking if there are guns in the house and if they are locked up and stored out of reach. Although the question may be uncomfortable, it could end up saving your child’s life.
  • If your child is going to be using a gun for hunting or target practice, make sure they have been taught by a responsible adult how a gun works and how to use it safely. Taking a gun safety class is a great family activity.

So whether you are a sharpshooter or don’t know a single thing about guns, here are three common steps we can all take to keep our kids safe:

  • Talk with our kids.
  • Prepare them with information to help them make good decisions.
  • Take appropriate safety precautions.

Find more information at https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/gun-safety.html.

Why Teaching Our Kids “Stranger Danger” is Not Enough

By Trevor Storrs, Executive Director, Alaska Children’s Trust

Blank Danger And Hazard Triangle Warning Sign Isolated MacroKeeping children safe is a common thread that binds us all together, no matter our differences. April, being Child Abuse Prevention Month, is a good time to remind ourselves of this bond.

Over the past year, our headlines have been filled with national and local events that challenged this common thread. Whether it was the thousands of stories of the #MeToo movement, the trial of the U.S. Olympic team doctor Dr. Larry Nassar, the family in California that held their 13 children captive, the inaccurate information about Prop 1 in Anchorage, or any one of the many stories of Alaska children being harmed by a trusted adult.

Each of these stories spurred conversations about child abuse and neglect online, in the paper, or at the watercooler. And each of those conversations usually ended with a similar question, “How do we protect our children?” 

For many, our quick answer is to teach the old adage, “Stranger Danger.” But when we look at who is hurting our children, the data gives a very different answer. Nationally, approximately 90 percent of sexually abused children knew their perpetrator.[1]

That number is even higher in Alaska. According to the 2016 Crime in Alaska Supplemental Report: Felony Level Sex Offenses, 96 percent of the victims in Alaska between the ages of 11 – 17 years old knew the suspect.[2] The report further shows that 74 percent of sex offenses occurred in a residence. That means these abusers are trusted friends, family, teachers, coaches and religious leaders.

We need to ensure we provide the right information and tools so our children know what to do not only when a stranger approaches them inappropriately – but when a trusted adult does as well. Parents are encouraged to:

Engage in direct dialogue with your children.

  • Ensure that your young children know the proper words for their body parts and understand that there are certain parts of their body that are private.
  • Answer questions your children have about their bodies honestly, and make sure they know that they can talk to you about anything that is bothering them.
  • When your children are older, have conversations about healthy sexuality and what respectful romantic relationships look like.

Teach children about secrets.

  • Make sure your children understand what a secret is, and what kinds of secrets are OK to keep, like birthday presents, and what kinds are not.
  • Ensure children know that no adult should ever tell them to keep a secret from you.

Talk about their rights.

  • Talk about when is it okay for a child to say no to an adult, even if that adult is a relative or trusted friend.
  • Let them know that they don’t have to hug someone if they don’t feel comfortable. It is OK to give a handshake, a high five, or a fist bump.

Learn about and advocate for institutional policies.

  • Inquire about the policies for background checks with the care providers you use, such as babysitters and childcare or afterschool program staff.

It’s important to know that you don’t have to be a parent to help tackle this issue. By knowing and recognizing the warning signs of child sexual abuse, you can help protect children in your community. Warning signs of child sexual abuse include:

  • Inappropriate knowledge of sexual behavior for their age level
  • Sexually explicit drawings
  • Highly sexualized play (e.g., simulated intercourse with toys, pets or other children)
  • A child being fearful of a specific person or place
  • A decrease in academic performance

If you suspect abuse, it is critical that you make a report to the authorities by calling the Alaska report line at 800-478-4444.

Most importantly, when a child shares a story about an inappropriate encounter, believe them. Many victims recount the time they tried to share their story with an adult, and the adult made an excuse for the perpetrator or ignored it completely. It is important to validate the child and notify the appropriate authorities to ensure the validity of the information is investigated appropriately.

All of these stories, media reports and discussions have brought more light to an issue that has plagued our communities for way too long. Due to the nature of the topic, it can be very difficult for a victim to step forward and share their story, just as it is difficult for a community member to intervene. But the more we all acknowledge and accept these responsibilities, the greater chance we have to change the current trend. As the old proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Together we can prevent child abuse and neglect.

[1]Finkelhor, D., Ormrod, R., Turner, H., & Hamby, S. L. (2005). The victimization of children and youth: A comprehensive, national survey. Child Maltreatment, 10, 5-25

[2]2016 Crime in Alaska Supplemental Report: Felony Level Sex Offenses, prepared by Christen L Spears and Kathryn Monfreda.

Celebrating our 2018 Interior Champion for Kids: Taber Rehbaum

Taber Rehbaum was honored as the Alaska Children’s Trust 2018 Interior Champion for Kids during our annual reception in Fairbanks on March 29. The award recognizes an individual who has demonstrated dedication and commitment in working toward eliminating child abuse and neglect by ensuring that children are living in safe, supportive and nurturing communities.Champ for Kids

For 22 years, Taber led the amazing work of Big Brothers Big Sisters. She was hired as the executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters – Greater Fairbanks Area in 1995. Between then and 2007, she grew the Fairbanks agency from less than 30 children served per year to approximately 600.

During this time, the agency implemented a number of new initiatives, including school-based mentoring, programs serving Interior villages, and many partnerships intended to reach Alaska Native people, address the mental health needs of Alaska children, and help incarcerated youth avoid recidivism when released. The Fairbanks agency was recognized nationally for its program expansion.

In 2007, Taber helped plan and execute the merger of the three Alaska Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies into Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska. From 2009 to 2017, Taber served as CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska, helping develop a more effective organizational structure. Under her leadership, the statewide agency continued to be recognized nationally for its work with Native populations and the juvenile justice system. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska was also a leader in developing systems and practices to partner with parents to prevent child abuse and to identify and respond to indicators of abuse.

In addition to leading the agency, Taber was also matched with two Little Sisters, both of whom she is still in contact with. Taber’s first Little Sister now lives in Houston, where she and her husband are expecting their first child. Taber’s second Little Sister will graduate from high school this spring.

Taber says she is grateful to have her Little Sisters as well as many mentors in her life – and Alaska Children’s Trust is grateful for Taber and the years of dedication she has shown to Alaska’s children and families.

 

Endocrine Disruption and Health: The State of the Science and the Need for Primary Prevention

By Pamela Miller, Executive Director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics

Pamela_K_Miller

Over the past 25 years, scientists have made astonishing progress in elucidating how endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in the environment affect humans – especially pregnant and nursing women, babies, infants, and children. Scientific understanding has far surpassed public policy, leaving us with chemical policies that are not protective of public health.

Confronted with this growing body of new research, the highly respected Endocrine Society set an important precedent for scientific and medical organizations in 2009 by taking a public stance on endocrine-disrupting chemicals and again in 2015 by issuing a comprehensive scientific statement. The Endocrine Society is the largest international membership organization representing scientists and health care professionals in the field of endocrinology. The Endocrine Society statements:

  • “Defined an EDC as a compound that, through environmental or developmental exposure, alters how an organism communicates and responds to the environment;
  • Asserted that there is no endocrine system that is immune to EDCs and that the effects may be transmitted to future generations (e., transgenerational);
  • Declared that the evidence for adverse reproductive outcomes is strong and mounting for effects in areas such as neuroendocrine, sexual development, obesity, metabolism, thyroid systems, and insulin resistance;
  • Highlighted the “precautionary principle” for informing decisions about exposure and risk: Chemicals must be tested before being introduced into the environment;
  • Encouraged scientific societies to partner with organizations with scientific and medical expertise to evaluate the effects of EDCs and communicate to other researchers, clinicians, community advocates, and politicians.”

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are exogenous chemicals that can act in various ways to disrupt the delicate chemical messaging system of the body, including mimicking or blocking our normal hormone functions. They are found in our home, school, and work environments in such products as electronics, furniture foam and carpet padding treated with certain flame retardants, personal care and cleaning products, pesticides, food packaging, medical equipment, and toys. We are exposed to EDCs in our air, water, food, and through household dust. In a commentary in Environmental Health News,[i] Dr. Laura Vandenberg of the University of Massachusetts states:

“We also know that Americans today have hundreds of chemicals circulating in their bodies. Our babies are being born ‘pre-polluted’ with chemicals detectable in their blood, in the placenta, and in amniotic fluid because of exposure to EDCs and other contaminants during pregnancy and throughout the mother’s life. We now recognize that EDCs can act at low doses . . . It is also clear that the traditional adage ‘the dose makes the poison,’ used by toxicologists for decades, is outdated and too simplistic when it comes to understanding the health effects associated with EDCs; studying high doses often does not tell the full story about a chemical’s effects. And there are periods in our life when we are more sensitive to these chemicals; exposures during vulnerable periods of development can produce effects that might not manifest until adulthood.”

EDCs are implicated through laboratory and epidemiological studies in adverse health outcomes including infertility, thyroid impairment, neurodevelopmental harm, obesity, and certain cancers including testicular, breast, prostate, and ovarian.[ii] Pregnant and nursing women, babies, infants, children, and adolescents are particularly vulnerable. Several studies have highlighted the harmful exposures of premature babies in neonatal intensive care units who are exposed to certain endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in medical devices, such as phthalates and bisphenol A. Phthalates are chemical substances used as plasticizers in plastics such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and found in medical devices including blood storage bags, IVs, breathing tubes, feeding tubes, and catheters.

What Can You Do?

Some simple ways to prevent or reduce exposures include:

  • Wash hands frequently
  • Dust with a damp cloth and using a vacuum with a HEPA filter
  • Avoid personal care products with the word “fragrance” on the label
  • Use glass and stainless steel instead of plastic or Teflon for food storage and cooking
  • Choose fresh, frozen, or dried foods (such as beans) rather than canned foods
  • Choose organic foods as much as possible

But it’s clear we can’t “shop our way out of this problem.” Public policies that are based on our current scientific understanding of EDCs and prioritize protection of public health are vital to the health of current and future generations of Alaska’s children. Expecting our Alaskan hospitals and medical clinics to develop a plan for acquiring and using alternative medical devices, materials, and products that do not contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals is a great place to start.

Resources:

  • The Endocrine Society’s Second Scientific Consensus Statement on Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals, 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4702494/
  • Introduction to Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals: A Guide for Public Interest Organizations and Policy Makers, 2014. A Publication of the Endocrine Society and the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN): http://ipen.org/documents/introduction-endocrine-disrupting-chemicals-edcs.
  • Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments: Promoting healthy people and healthy environments by educating and leading the nursing profession, advancing research, incorporating evidence-based practice, and influencing policy. http://envirn.org/
  • Health Care Without Harm – an excellent resource for health care providers interested in environmentally responsible health care: https://noharm-europe.org/issues/europe/edcs-infographic
  • The Endocrine Disruption Exchange – a helpful source of information on the latest science concerning endocrine disruption: https://endocrinedisruption.org/.
  • Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) – an information source about community-based research, science and health in Alaska. ACAT hosts free monthly teleconference seminars with leading science and policy experts on environmental health topics: akaction.org
  • Safer Chemicals Healthy Families – a national coalition of health professionals, parents, advocates for people with learning and developmental disabilities, reproductive health advocates, environmentalists and businesses: http://saferchemicals.org/

[i] Vandenberg, L. 2016. Commentary: 25 years of endocrine disruptor research – great strides, but still a long way to go. Environmental Health News: http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2016/sept/commentary-25-years-of-endocrine-disruptor-research-2013-great-strides-but-still-a-long-way-to-go

[ii] The Endocrine Disruption Exchange Fact Sheet on Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals: https://endocrinedisruption.org/assets/media/documents/EDC%20Fact%20Sheet%2020170705.pdf

What is Help Me Grow?

Rachel author headshotBy Rachel Boudreau, intern with Help Me Grow Alaska & the All Alaska Pediatric Partnership

Alaska is a large state with a small population. While we are fortunate to have many services to support families and children, sometimes the services a family needs are not available or, if they are, access to them can often be challenging. This can be an extremely frustrating and exasperating barrier for families trying to do their best raising happy, healthy kids.

For the last three years, a diverse group of professionals from the field of early childhood and pediatrics have worked together to find a solution, a “glue” if you will, that connects providers, community-based services, and families to ensure easier access and to help guide what new services still need to be created or expanded. That glue is a system called Help Me Grow, and we are excited to finally bring it to families here in Alaska.Help_Me_Grow_logo_update

What is Help Me Grow Alaska?

Help Me Grow Alaska (HMG-AK) is a resource and referral system that provides care coordination services and links families with services and supports throughout the state. HMG-AK is based on a national model developed in Connecticut in 2005 out of a need for a better way to connect families with community-based resources. HMG-AK is not an agency designed to offer more services, but it is intended to connect families with the resources that are already in place in communities across the state, and to help identify where more services are needed. Help Me Grow’s mission is to identify children who are at risk for developmental delays and/or behavioral problems, and then to link these children and their families to community-based and statewide resources.

Why do families need to be connected to developmental screenings?

As part of its mission, the Help Me Grow system promotes and provides a standardized tool to screen children ages 0-5 for developmental delays or disabilities. Periodical developmental screening monitors a child’s developmental milestones, such as walking, using words, expressing emotions, playing with peers, etc. Answers to the screening questions show what the child’s strengths are and will identify any areas where the child may need support or extra practice.

The screening tool is easy to complete and can offer fun ideas for interacting with children in an age-appropriate way. HMG-AK provides families with free access to this developmental screening tool on paper or online, and the care coordinators work with the family to connect them to further evaluation, should there be any concerns of a developmental delay. When reviewing the screening results together with the parent, the care coordinator will also provide additional activities to do at home to help support the child’s healthy development while enjoying fun, free and high quality time with the child.

A child does not need to have a delay or disability to receive services or activity ideas from a Help Me Grow coordinator. The service is available and free to all families with children.

Why would a family contact the Help Me Grow call center?

HMG-AK is designed to assist families with young children looking for a broad range of support. This could be anything from questions or concerns about their child’s development or behavior to helping a family who recently moved to a community find a medical provider and social supports and community activities such as parenting groups or organized play time for kids. The care coordination model is set up to help families navigate complex situations through follow up and continued support to ensure the family feels comfortable and confident in the next steps for their child and themselves.

How do I access HMG-AK?

HMG-AK is available to anyone raising a child as well as medical providers, childcare providers and community members. All it takes is one call to the HMG-AK call center to speak with a trained care coordinator. HMG-AK’s care coordinator will answer questions a family might have and then link the family with the needed resources or find alternative supports to assist the family until the appropriate services are available. The care coordinators will follow up with the family to ensure a connection was made to the recommended resources and to discuss any additional concerns the family might have.

As Alaska’s Help Me Grow system develops, families can expect to see local Help Me Grow family-friendly events in their communities and useful educational materials to help parents understand more about their child’s development, how to manage stress (both for the parent and the child), managing difficult behaviors and more.

When will HMG-AK be available in my community?

We are currently in the very beginning phase of launching Help Me Grow in Alaska and still have a lot of work ahead of us. The first phase is focused on three regions: Norton Sound, Kodiak and Mat-Su. We are working hard and putting a lot of effort and thought into the planning, and hope to expand the program statewide, shortly after. Stay tuned through the Help Me Grow mailing list for updates!

Dr. George Brown Honored as 2018 Champion for Kids

Alaska Children’s Trust (ACT) is pleased to honor the late Dr. George Brown as our 2018 Southeast Champion for Kids. The award was announced and celebrated at our fundraising reception that took place February 13 at the Governor’s house in Juneau.

George Brown Courtesy of Michael Penn

Dr. George Brown, photo courtesy of Michael Penn

During his 48 years as a pediatrician, Dr. Brown practiced in Anchorage, Hawaii, Palmer, Vermont, Africa and Juneau, in addition to his itinerant Public Health Service work all over Alaska. He cared for thousands and thousands of children and families.

Throughout his career, the prevention of child abuse and neglect was Dr. Brown’s primary focus. This was lived out in clinical and hospital practice, seemingly eternal weekend and night call, behavioral health, family counseling, court systems, public speaking, teaching, professional writing, community leadership, house calls, and the thousands of high-fives he exchanged with children. Paramount in his work and relationships was the integration of safety, nurturing, family, community and the highest quality of clinical care and public health.

Among his many activities, Dr. Brown participated in the development of the Child Study Center, the first intervention and prevention services for child abuse and neglect in Alaska. During his time in Vermont, he was also integral to the development of the Safe Child Program. He was a volunteer physician in Kenya, Africa, where he helped develop an HIV-AIDS identification and treatment program. He later developed the visionary Kenya Health Scholarship Program to train Kenyan high school graduates in health-related careers. He was also the founder and host of the Juneau-based Father’s Café, which provided fathers and their children a forum to share fatherhood, childhood and protection/safety for their children. He was, in fact, en route to a Father’s Café gathering on the day of his heart attack in December 2017.

Dr. Brown was deeply and directly involved in the creation of ACT. For many years he bombarded legislators and executive branch officials with his letters and presence to urge the creation of ACT. During his years of practice in Palmer, he worked with then-Sen. Jalmar Kerttula for the creation of the statutory framework of the trust.

For his many years of dedicated service, Dr. Brown was honored with the Ray Helfer Award for Community Pediatrics from the National Alliance of Children’s Trusts and the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2009.

Our annual Champion for Kids Awards recognize individuals, like Dr. Brown, 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. The purpose of the award is to recognize these individuals for their contributions to Alaska’s children, whether it is through their professional employment, volunteer work, community activities, or actively working with children. View past recipients on our website.

 

Unraveling the stories of sex trafficking in Alaska

By Eileen Wright, trafficking case manager, Covenant House Alaska

In April 2017, Covenant House released a groundbreaking study that shed new light on the link between youth homelessness and human trafficking. It was the largest study ever of human trafficking among homeless young people, conducted in 10 cities nationwide, including Covenant House Alaska in Anchorage. The results were staggering. Of the 10 cities studied, Anchorage had the highest reported prevalence of trafficking. 28 percent of the youth surveyed at Covenant House Alaska were found to be survivors of human trafficking – more than a quarter of youth at the shelter, compared to 19 percent in the survey nationally. Eileen Wright, trafficking case manager at Covenant House Alaska, relates her experiences about the work done at the youth shelter for survivors of sex trafficking.

Not too long ago, a teenage girl arrived at our shelter at Covenant House from a small village in rural Alaska. Like most our youth, she had experienced some kind of trauma and was looking for a safe place to spend the night off the streets. Little by little, we began to unravel her story. The girl had been locked inside a boarded-up room and held against her will, armed men outside barring her escape. Her boyfriend – the trafficker – had brought customers into the room to sexually assault her as he profited from her abuse. She had come to Anchorage from the village to escape a dangerous home life. She now found herself trapped in the nightmare of sex trafficking, with no place to go.

Sex trafficking is an insidious crime, where predators target the most vulnerable of society. And in Alaska, we have one of the most vulnerable populations in the entire country: our children. Alaska sadly has the highest statistics of child molestation and abuse in the nation, and the highest rates of sexual assault and child neglect. These children are particularly at risk to sexual exploitation and chronic homelessness later on – they’ve already been “normalized” to a life of abuse and so are easy prey. There are criminals out there, looking to make a profit. Homeless youth are the targets.

Traffickers groom young people through manipulation, through coercion and lies. It usually starts out with a relationship with a youth who is already vulnerable, who has no sense of value or self-worth. The trafficker lies to them, telling them they are loved, they are appreciated and will be cared for. For many at-risk youth, this is the first time anybody has lavished them with such praise and affection. A young girl soon cannot imagine their life without this person; in their minds, they are the only ones who have ever truly cared for them.

Then comes the abuse. Their boyfriends, the pimps, tell them, “If you really love me, then you will do this favor for me.” Resistance meets with beatings and threats. Girls will often be tied down and injected with meth or heroin, igniting painful addictions. And thus the cycle of trafficking begins.

When we found out the results of the study – that 28 percent of our youth at Covenant House Alaska were survivors of human trafficking – none of us here were surprised. If anything, we felt that it was underreported. We were also not surprised to learn that Alaska experiences the most heinous cases of sex trafficking in the nation. The researcher, Dr. Laura Murphy of Loyola University’s Modern Slavery Research Project, told us that from among all the Covenant House sites across the country, ours had the most brutal cases of sex trafficking – worse than the big, crime-filled cities of Los Angeles, Detroit, New Orleans and even New York. And it’s true. When youth finally do open up to us, their stories are horrific. It is absolutely soul-crushing.

I love these young people. All of us here at Covenant House truly do. And I believe that the most important thing we can do for youth who are being trafficked – for all our youth who experience abuse and homelessness – is to show them unconditional love and respect. We build trusting relationships with them and always accept them for who they are. We make it so that Covenant House is a safe place that they can always come back to. The more times they come back here when they’re in trouble, the more likely they are to open up to us. And we become that relationship of unconditional love that they thought they had, which unlocks the ability for them to share the abuse they’ve suffered. Burdens are easier to carry when someone else is supporting you.

We all must do something to end this epidemic of sex trafficking in Alaska. It can start with our most precious resource: our children. Our mission at Covenant House is to “serve the suffering children of the street and to protect and safeguard all children.” If more Alaskans took that mission to heart, then perhaps we could begin to tackle the underlying trauma that brings youth to the streets – and ultimately to sex trafficking – in the first place.

Eileen headshot

Eileen Wright, trafficking case manager, Covenant House Alaska

Covenant House Alaska is the state’s largest shelter serving youth ages 13 – 21 experiencing homelessness, abuse and trafficking. It provides safe shelter and warm meals, as well as medical, counseling, education and employment services. Since 1988, CHA has served over 25,000 at-risk youth in Alaska. To read the Covenant House study on human trafficking, go to https://covenanthousestudy.org/landing/trafficking/. For more information on how you can join Anchorage’s movement to end youth homelessness, please contact Covenant House Alaska’s volunteer specialist at 907.339.4261 or volunteer@covenanthouseak.org.

ACT is Coming to Juneau

We are looking forward to the Alaska Children’s Trust fundraising reception coming up next week in Juneau! The reception, hosted by First Lady Donna Walker and Ms. Toni Mallott, takes place Tuesday, February 13 at 5:30 p.m. at the Governor’s House. During the event, we will recognize Dr. George Brown, our 2018 Southeast Champion for Kids. If you plan to attend, please RSVP to vlewis@alaskachildrenstrust.org or 907.248.7374 by this Friday, February 9. We hope to see you there!

ACT First Lady invite for email

Getting a Head Start on Success

By Mark Lackey, CCS Early Learning, Executive Director, and Anji Gallanos, Department of Education and Early Development, Early Learning Administrator

Head Start and Early Head Start in Alaska are a crucial component in helping children and families across our state be more prepared for success in school and in life. However, many people don’t have a solid understanding of what services these programs provide or how they operate. Let’s take a quick look…

Broadly speaking, Head Start (ages 3-5) and Early Head Start (expectant mothers – age 3) are federally funded and federally regulated programs. Over $40 million in federal funding is delivered directly to local grantees in Alaska – it does not come through the state government. However, each local grantee must provide a 20 percent non-federal match (cash or in-kind) against their federal grant to demonstrate that states and local communities have “skin in the game” and remain confident in the grantee providing the services. The State of Alaska contributes $6.8 million towards this match and grantees gather the remainder of the required match in a variety of ways. Some examples include contributions from Native corporations, United Way and other local grants, facilities or community services provided at reduced rates, parent volunteer hours, and donations received from individuals and corporate donors.

While the federal government provides the law (The Head Start Act) and the regulations (Head Start Program Performance Standards) about how these programs must be operated, they allow much flexibility in allowing local grantees to deliver services in a way that meets the needs of their local community. Programs must do a community assessment that provides a careful examination of what the needs within their community are. Local oversight is provided by two governance bodies: a governing board (board of directors or elected officials) and a policy council (comprised of parents of enrolled children). These two groups are tasked with making sure the grantee offers services that best meet the specific needs of the children and families that have been identified in the assessment.

In Alaska, there are currently 17 different grantees providing Head Start and Early Head Start services in over 100 communities all around the state. In the 2016-2017 school year, Alaska grantees served 3,558 families and 3,879 children. Of these children, 762 were enrolled in an Early Head Start program and 3,117 were enrolled in a Head Start program. Approximately 60 percent of enrolled children were from families who had income below 100 percent of poverty (as an example, a family of four would need to have income of less than $30,750). Approximately 8 percent of enrolled children were homeless, and another 6 percent of enrolled children were in foster care.

So what services were actually provided and what impact does Head Start or Early Head Start have? As mentioned above, these programs serve both the child and the family. We know and understand that parents are the first and most important teachers for their children and will have the greatest opportunity for having a positive impact on their children. The top five services that were provided to families in Alaska during the last school year were:

  1. Parenting Education (1,318)
  2. Health Education (885)
  3. Emergency/Crisis Intervention, such as meeting immediate needs for food, clothing or shelter (573)
  4. Housing Assistance, such as subsidies, utilities, repairs, etc. (356)
  5. Mental Health Services (251)

Other examples of family services that were provided include adult education, and asset-building services such as financial education, job training, and English as a second language. Generally speaking, services to families are determined by what each individual family identifies as a need or a goal that they would like assistance in working towards. Our job is to help these parents be outstanding advocates for their child and to equip them with the parenting and self-sufficiency tools that they will need moving forward. We provide these family services directly when we can, and/or connect them to other community resources that might be available.

The services provided to children are individualized as well. Each child comes into our programs at a different place and on their own developmental path. We work very closely with parents to determine where each child is developmentally and to determine what child goals we should reach for together. Our staff use ongoing assessment tools to observe and measure where children are in a host of areas at the beginning, middle and end of each school year, helping and encouraging each child to progress all along the way. Teaching Strategies GOLD® is the assessment tool that Head Start programs in Alaska utilize. The charts below give a few examples of the growth that 4-year-old children in Alaska Head Start programs made last year, as measured by observations and assessments documented in Teaching Strategies GOLD®.

Based on 2016/2017 data. N=1299 

To demonstrate growth in these areas, we would see the percentages of “meets” and “exceeds” (orange and gray) to be getting larger in the spring after a school year in our program, while the percentage of children who are “below” (blue) should be decreasing.

In addition to the academic areas above, we also assist children to be more prepared for school readiness by helping them develop their social-emotional skills. We teach and assess growth in dimensions like following limits and expectations, and balancing the needs and rights of self and others – both of which are also very important as children move into their school years.

Finally, there is ongoing research into the long-term outcomes for families and children who participate in Head Start and Early Head Start. A very recent study released by Michigan State University found that, “Kids up to age 5 in the federal government’s preschool program were 93 percent less likely to end up in foster care than kids in the child welfare system who had no type of early care and education.” Another study described in the Wall Street Journal in September suggests that the impacts of participation carry over to the next generation as demonstrated by this quote: “Societal investments in early childhood programs can disrupt intergenerational
transmission of the effects of poverty.”

For more information about Head Start or Early Head Start in Alaska, visit the Alaska Head Start Association website at www.akheadstart.org. You also can connect to the local grantee in your community to find more information about enrolling your child, the specific services that are provided, and/or supporting and partnering with them in the important work that is being done!

Mark Lackey

Mark Lackey is the executive director of CCS Early Learning. Formerly known as Chugiak Children’s Services, CCS Early Learning is a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides early childhood services in the Mat-Su Borough and in Chugiak and Eagle River.

 

Alaska, Our Children Need Us

5 Ways Your Support Can Help Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect

umbrella infographicAlaska, our children need us.

Our state continues to have one of the highest rates, per capita, of child abuse and neglect in the nation.

If you’re like most of us, you’re probably asking, “What in the world can I do to prevent child abuse and neglect? How can I possibly make a difference?”

There are many factors that contribute to child abuse and neglect – lack of resources, substance abuse, inadequate healthcare, lack of affordable housing, shortage of care during out-of-school time, trauma that the parent themselves experienced …

All of these things can cause stress in the family and set the stage for child abuse and neglect to occur.

That’s why we have to take a comprehensive look at all of these factors, and address them holistically to ensure our children grow up in safe, stable and nurturing environments.

Of course, we – as individuals and as an organization – can’t do that alone.

That is why Alaska Children’s Trust has formed partnerships with many individuals, businesses and organizations across Alaska. We support their local nonprofits efforts through our community investment grant-making program. We collect and share research and data to help build a road map to prevention. We act as the backbone for collective efforts like Alaska Resilience Initiative, which is striving to minimize toxic stress and build resiliency. Through the Alaska Afterschool Network, we work to strengthen afterschool programs and build protective factors in our youth. We join our voices together to educate Alaskans and help influence public policy through efforts like Voices for Alaska’s Children and Protect Our Care Alaska.

We work together toward a shared goal: To strengthen families. To safeguard children. To support the people and organizations already working to support kids. And ultimately, to prevent child abuse and neglect.

This isn’t an issue that can be solved alone. We all have a role to play. There are ways you can make a difference. And Alaska’s children need you to.

One very easy way to make a difference is to make a gift to Alaska Children’s Trust, and there are two easy ways to do that:

  1. Pick. Click. Give. to Alaska Children’s Trust when you apply for your PFD this year. Remember, the application period opens this coming Monday, January 1.
  2. Make a direct contribution to Alaska Children’s Trust on our website.

Your gift will help forward the work we and our partners are doing on many different fronts to address the issue. For example, when you make a gift to Alaska Children’s Trust, you’ll be helping to:

  1. Bring families closer together. 
  2. Give kids a safe place to be after school. 
  3. Teach teachers how to help kids who have experienced trauma. 
  4. Ensure Alaska’s kids don’t lose their health care.
  5. Provide a safety net for families in crisis. 

By joining together, you can help prevent child abuse and neglect.

Make a difference. Make a gift and help prevent child abuse and neglect. Give to Alaska Children’s Trust when you fill out your PFD application this year, or make a direct donation at alaskachildrenstrust.org.