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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.

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Help Shape the Next Decade of Healthy People!

healthy peopleThe U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is soliciting written comments on the proposed framework for Healthy People 2030 that was developed by the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives for 2030 (Committee).

This framework includes the Healthy People 2030 vision, mission, foundational principles, plan of action, and overarching goals — and it will guide the selection and prioritization of objectives for Healthy People 2030.

Members of the public are invited to submit comments on the proposed framework from June 27 through September 29, 2017.

Learn more and submit your comments today!

Why Alaska nonprofits need to pay attention to the healthcare debate

Note from Alaska Children’s Trust: The Foraker Group is a statewide organization dedicated to supporting Alaska nonprofits, including ACT. We wanted to share this article from their blog on why healthcare is critical to many of the nonprofits we as Alaskans support and depend on.

Last night was one of many tense nights in the ongoing debate about healthcare in our country. There is a lot at stake for getting it right, and no easy solution for Alaskans.

One sliver of hope was the impact that many individuals and organizations in our state had when they raised their voices to engage in a way forward to a healthcare solution. I am proud to see so many Alaska nonprofits urge the U.S. Senate to engage in a clear, bipartisan process. We all need to unite in the goal of providing access to quality, affordable healthcare coverage to more Americans.

If your organization has been on the sidelines so far, there are still many opportunities in the coming weeks and months to engage. Here are 3 reasons to come to the table:

  1. Charitable nonprofits make up 12 percent of the workforce in urban Alaska and more than 50 percent in rural Alaska. In short, nonprofit organizations are an economic engine in communities throughout the state – and particularly in rural areas. Healthcare organizations represent the largest employers in Alaska’s nonprofit sector.
  2. Every Alaskan will feel an impact from these decisions. In particular, the people served by health and human services nonprofits are deeply affected by the legislation – especially those who rely on Medicaid or receive insurance through the individual market. Without thoughtful legislation, Alaskans will be in greater need – and we as organizations will not be able to fill the gaps.
  3. The ability of the nonprofit sector to offer health insurance coverage has an impact on every hire we make. Often it is the “make or break” decision for people who agree to take a job or stay in their job. Alaska’s nonprofits need to provide quality, affordable health insurance to recruit and retain talent.

The road ahead is going to be long. We all need to raise our voices to get to a bipartisan solution that benefits all Alaskans. We applaud the efforts of many nonprofits leaders who have raised their voice – it is an issue that affects ALL of us.

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.

Nominate a Champion for Kids by July 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Laura Norton-Cruz, Alaska Resilience Initiative Program Director

Beginnings

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

image 0_ACT blog ARI

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

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

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

Building an Equitable Movement

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

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

 

image 1_ACT blog ARI

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

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

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

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

image 2 _ ACT blog ARI

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

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

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

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

image 3 _ ACT blog ARI

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

What’s Happening Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

image 4 ACT blog ARI

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