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Get Out Your “Go Blue Day Best”

Go Blue Day on Friday, April 7

ACT GBD Facebook eventMark your calendar and check your closets … Friday, April 7, is Go Blue Day! Dress or decorate in blue to show your support for safe, happy kids and raise awareness of national Child Abuse Prevention Month.

You are also invited to attend a Go Blue Day rally in your community:

  • Anchorage, 9 a.m., Wells Fargo on Northern Lights
  • Mat-Su Valley, 9 a.m., Wells Fargo in the Target parking lot, 1701 E Parks Highway
  • Juneau, 12 p.m. noon, Capital steps

Then, on Go Blue Day, post photos wearing your “Go Blue Day best” and be sure to tag @AlaskaChildrensTrust!

Let’s come together and show our love for Alaska’s kids. Together we can prevent child abuse and neglect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating 20 years of Mush for Kids

Free family event in Fairbanks on Saturday, April 1

MFK4It’s that time of year … time for Mush for Kids! The free family event takes place Saturday, April 1 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks.

This year’s Mush for Kids will be more special than ever – we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of one of Fairbanks’ most-loved events!

Join us for:

  • Free dog sled rides for kids 4 – 12
  • Kids’ activities
  • Live entertainment
  • Demonstrations and information booths

Learn more about the history of this fun Fairbanks event on our website. And a very special thank you to our premier sponsor, Pogo Mine.

 

Two weeks and $2,250 left to go…

PCG.fb.coverAs of yesterday, we are up to $3,750 in Pick Click Give donations! Thank you to all of our Pick. Click. Givers!

pcg-logo-fb-profileWe still have $2,250 left to go to reach our goal. If you haven’t made a Pick. Click. Give. donation yet, will you please consider doing it today? It’s easy to add a donation at pfd.alaska.gov.

And remember, when you Pick. Click. Give., you’ll be entered to win an extra PFD! Five lucky Alaskans will receive an additional dividend PLUS an extra dividend will go to the nonprofit of their choice.

Together we can prevent child abuse and neglect.

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.

$3,100 Left to Go!

donate-hands-fbCan you help us reach our Pick. Click. Give. goal?

Woo-hoo! In the past two weeks, you have helped us grow our Pick. Click. Give. donations from $1,525 to $2,900! Thank you to all of our Pick. Click. Givers.

pcg-logo-fb-profileWe still have $3,100 left until we reach our $6,000 Pick. Click. Give. goal. Could you Pick. Click. Give. just $25 to help us get there?

You can make your pledge at pfd.alaska.gov. If you’ve already completed your PFD application, it’s easy to log back in and add a Pick. Click. Give. contribution.

And remember – by making a Pick. Click. Give. donation, you have the chance to double your PFD! (And earn a PFD for the nonprofit of your choice!)

Thank you for your support – together we can prevent child abuse and neglect!

Lullaby Project Brings Mothers in Prison Closer to their Children

By Shirley M. Springer Staten

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Shirley Mae Springer Staten spearheaded the Hiland Mountain Lullaby Project of 2016. ACT supported the project with a $10,000 grant.

The Hiland Mountain Lullaby Project of 2016 paired incarcerated women with Alaska musicians to create beautiful and personal lullabies for their children at home. The effort began in June of 2015, beginning as the mission of a single committed Anchorage woman. Happily, she did not work alone for long.

The result? On September 24, 2016, a packed audience of 250 supporters gathered in the prison gymnasium at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center to witness a powerful testament of love and connection. Sixteen mothers and 16 musicians performed lullabies before a heart-warmed public audience. In most cases, the tender lullaby recipients, small children, stood onstage with their moms – proudly or shyly – to hear her sing directly to them. Tears flowed, both on stage and in the audience. This event was healing made visible.

mothers-mg_2654How did the Hiland Mountain Lullaby Project happen? It is a genuine story of compassion that sprang from chance circumstances.

Shirley Mae Springer Staten likes to lounge in bed on Saturday mornings, listening to public radio. Listening to “This American Life” on NPR, Staten heard a woman say, “I can do some things for my children, even from prison.” The story was about women prisoners in Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail complex for 10,000 prisoners – literally on an island in the East River. The radio story told of a project by the Carnegie Hall Music Weill Institute to bring mothers in prison closer to their children, using lullabies to strengthen their bond.

All Staten could think about was women prisoners at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center. She knows its women because she has participated in many programs delivering hope and inspiration there since 1986. She wanted this musical opportunity for Hiland’s mothers and their children.

Staten made a cold call to the Carnegie Institute to ask about the project. Manuel Bagorro, program manager for Carnegie, called back a month later. He wanted to know – who was this woman in Alaska proposing to start a Lullaby Project in Alaska? How did she think she could accomplish it? Why was she qualified to lead it? Was she all talk, or could she really pull it off?

Bagorro didn’t wonder for long. He said he could hear the energy and commitment in Staten’s voice. He soon believed she could do it, and invited her to New York City for training. Staten had the opportunity there to witness a Lullaby Project in action.

She watched as women from a homeless shelter joined with local musicians to write lullabies. She remembers the women as amazing, even as they expressed little self-worth. Invited to write lyrics, they would often say, “I don’t know how to write a song!” But at the end of a five-hour workshop, they had indeed successfully composed choruses for their individual lullabies. They danced for joy, Staten said.

Back in Anchorage and on fire to launch a local project, Staten faced big hurdles. Where would the money come from, and how would she earn institutional approval?

The first step was gaining Hiland Mountain Superintendent Gloria Johnson’s support. She and her staff emphasize empowering women and reducing recidivism. This program, aimed at bonding prison mothers with their children, seemed like a good fit. They gave an emphatic green light, and the project was on. Of 25 lullaby projects around the United States, only two – Hiland Mountain and Rikers – happen in prison.

Staten attributes the project’s success to what she calls the “Yes factor.” That’s when armies of supporters say, “Yes!” and step up to help. Together, she and her co-conspirators found a nonprofit to host the project and raise necessary funds. Alaska Children’s Trust awarded a $10,000 grant to support the project.

Her next steps were recruiting musicians, providing training through Carnegie staff and matching musicians with inmate songwriters. The mothers tackled their lyric writing using the “Carnegie Lullaby Workbook.” In it, they sketched their dreams and hopes for their children. Together, mothers and musician “coaches” worked to translate those ideas into the language of song, and musicians wrote the tunes. A “listening party,” where mothers could approve final versions, was an emotional experience. For many of the mothers, this was the first time they were able to hear their own words set to music.

Finally, the project culminated in that September public performance, with each mother receiving a CD copy of her lullaby. It was an afternoon of soulful solidarity as fellow citizens stood with these incarcerated women and shared their love and affection for their beautiful children.

“It made me want to be a mother again,” one Hiland mother said.

 

3 Reasons to Pick. Click. Give.

On the fence about making a Pick. Click. Give. donation this year? You’re not alone. Less than 5 percent of Alaskans have donated through Pick. Click. Give. so far this year.

donate-hands-fbTo help you make your decision, take a look at these three great reasons to Pick. Click. Give. to Alaska Children’s Trust:

  1. You love a challenge. Let’s be honest – Pick. Click. Give. is off to a rough start. Donations statewide are down dramatically – including ours. We need your help to reach our $6,000 goal. We understand that not everyone can afford to make a large donation. But if we all give together (even just $25!), it adds up.
  1. You can double your dividend. Why just get one PFD check when you can get TWO?! Pick. Click. Give. when you file by March 31 and be entered to win an extra PFD. Five lucky Alaskans will receive an additional dividend PLUS an extra dividend will go to the nonprofit of their choice.
  1. You love kids and want to keep them safe. That’s the reason we are here! Everything we do is focused on preventing child abuse and neglect in Alaska. Your Pick. Click. Give. donation helps us do that.

So what do you say? Will you help us reach our goal by Pick. Click. Giving just $25?
Do it today by logging onto the PFD website.

If you’ve already donated, don’t worry – it’s not too late! It’s easy to log back into your application and add a Pick. Click. Give. contribution.

Thank you for your support!

Nominations Open for Volunteer of the Year Awards

First Lady Donna Walker announced earlier this month that nominations have opened for the First Lady’s Volunteer of the Year Awards. Started by First Lady Bella Hammond in 1975, the Awards recognize Alaska volunteers who have displayed an extraordinary personal commitment to volunteer service, and have made a major impact on their community or state.

 
“Over the years, we have recognized many exceptional individuals who have done amazing things for Alaskans,” said First Lady Walker. “I am so pleased to continue this tradition, and encourage Alaskans to nominate those in their communities whose selfless efforts make Alaska an even better place to live.”

 
Nominations will be accepted beginning February 6 through close of business on March 6, 2017. They may be submitted online at volunteerawards.alaska.gov, or hard copies are available for pick up at the Governor’s Offices in Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks, and Palmer. The First Lady’s Volunteer of the Year Executive Committee will review the nominations, and recipients will be announced in late May.

 
For more information, visit the FLVA Website.

STEM Afterschool Innovation Mini-Grants Provide Youth with Opportunities

By Rachael McKinney, Afterschool STEM Expansion VISTA

The Alaska Afterschool Network, Juneau Economic Development Council, and BP Alaska have awarded $24,000 allocated to 16 programs across the state, with grants ranging from $500 to $2,000. These STEM Afterschool Innovation Mini-Grants are designed to help afterschool programs implement or expand high-quality science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning.noorvik-bg-club

The Alaska Afterschool Network (a program of Alaska Children’s Trust) is grateful for the opportunity to help bring such a great resource to afterschool programs in Alaska.

The need to support STEM learning in-school and after-school is ever-growing. Students spend less than 20 percent of their waking hours inside a school-day classroom, and a number of studies show that STEM learning during the school day is necessary but may not be sufficient for lifelong STEM literacy. Afterschool provides opportunities to reinforce in-school STEM learning through engaging, hands-on STEM activities that can garner and sustain student-interest in these fields.

Estimates show that 80 percent of future jobs will require STEM literacy, with employment in science and math occupations growing 70 percent faster than the overall growth of occupations. A strong, educated STEM workforce is critical to the continued growth of Alaska’s economy. Alaska must provide a STEM education pipeline for students to become effectively educated with the critical thinking and 21st century technology skills needed to tackle the rapidly changing economic, communication, and physical environments affecting Alaska.

However, many students, especially girls and those from underrepresented minorities, find it difficult to envision themselves in these careers. Participation in afterschool STEM programing has been correlated with reducing STEM inequities and increased likelihood of students selecting science-related college majors and careers.

peak-2STEM Afterschool Innovation Mini-Grants are aimed at fostering this process of sparking youth interest in STEM for a more productive and innovative future workforce. From opening a bakery to creating an automobile engineering summer camp, the grant recipients will help provide Alaska youth with valuable skills to prepare them for success in college, career and life.

The Alaska Afterschool Network thanks all of the grant applicants for their commitment to positive youth development and informal STEM education. In total, 53 grant applications were submitted by a diverse group of applicants, including programs from nonprofits, public schools, and libraries spanning the entire state, with requests adding up to more than $83,000. The Alaska Afterschool Network and our partners are committed to increasing resources and opportunities so all Alaskan youth have the opportunity to engage in STEM learning during out-of-school time.

The 2017 STEM Afterschool Innovation Grant recipients are listed below.

Boys & Girls Club of Alaska – Nome Community Center | Nome, Alaska
The Clubhouse plans to teach youth that we are all changing individuals and how these changes benefit everyone through the exploration of habitats and solar energy. Funding will be used to purchase habitat supplies, microscopes, solar car kits, and wind turbine experiment kits. This will allow the clubhouse to increase the frequency of STEM offerings and to take their STEM programing to the next level.

St. Paul Preschool | St. Paul, Alaska
Funding will be used to purchase a Discover STEM Lab to be used on a rotational basis, exposing students to multiple STEM modalities by promoting innovation and inquiry, developing problem-solving, and encouraging mathematical reasoning skills within their afterschool program.

Boys & Girls Club of the Kenai Peninsula – Kasilof Clubhouse | Kasilof, Alaska
The Kasilof Boys & Girls Club Bakery will encourage the use of engineering, science, and mathematical skills among club members. Youth will create a student-run bakery business by constructing a storefront for sales, using data analysis to create and maintain spreadsheets of sale records, and utilizing math and life science skills in baking and nutritional labeling.

Sitka Sound Science Center | Sitka, Alaska
STEM grant funding will be used to create a new one-week summer camp called REVolution Camp, which will focus on automobile engineering, fuel systems, and design and product testing. The camp will expose students to the ideas of automobile mechanics, renewable energy systems, design requirements, and testing engineering.

Cordova School District | Cordova, Alaska
Funding will be used to help purchase a Little Bits Pro Library to provide students with more opportunities to learn and create. The Little Bits Pro Library will enable youth to create a comprehensive makerspace that engages them in hands-on STEM activities.

Meadow Lakes Elementary | Wasilla, Alaska
The Meadow Lakes Einstein’s Club will use funding to purchase materials and accessories to teach students problem-solving, engineering, and computer programming. Students will engineer things such as index card towers and paper tables; robots will be used to teach youth about coding and programming.

Teeland Middle School | Wasilla, Alaska
Funding will be used toward the purchase of a replacement 3D printer, which will be used to manufacture robot frames and used as a vehicle for teaching computer programming to students.

Discovery Southeast | Juneau, Alaska
Discovery Southeast will incorporate an explicit STEM focus into its Outdoor Explorers Summer Camp. Three weeks of the camp will be dedicated to Ocean, Salmon, and Rocks, during which campers will pose questions, conduct investigations, collect data, and create a project to share the information they have gathered.

Friends of the Zach Gordon Youth Center | Juneau, Alaska
STEM grant funding will assist Body and Mind Afterschool Activities in providing new STEM curriculum focusing on snow science, space, and birds.

Fairbanks North Star Borough School District 21st CCLC | Fairbanks, Alaska
Funding will be used to purchase three OSMOs classrooms sets that will be shared across 21st CCLC programs in Fairbanks using their Afterschool Lending Library. The OSMOs expose students to problem-solving, coding, mathematics, and computational skills.

Trailside Discovery | Anchorage, Alaska
Trailside Discovery will use grant funding to purchase a JASON Rigamajig to be used in Anchorage School District Title I schools that operate 21st CCLC programs. The Rigamajig is a large-scale building kit used for hands-on free play and learning.

The Arc of Anchorage | Anchorage, Alaska
STEM grant funding will purchase a modular Magnetic Levitation (Maglev) race track and corresponding Maglev cars. Participants will be able to building different tracks, and will then break into teams to build the Maglev cars that will be used for racing. Concepts such as aerodynamics will be taught to students to help them continually rebuild and improve their engineering designs.

Anchorage Public Libraries | Anchorage, Alaska
A geocaching program for youth grades 3-5 called “Geocaching – Hi-tech Hide and Seek” will be rotated throughout programs held in Anchorage’s public libraries. Geocaching will increase youth’s early exposure to real-world mathematics, geospatial science, and GPS technology, while also building upon critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, and teamwork.

Boys & Girls Club of Alaska – Woodland Park | Anchorage, Alaska
Funding will be used to create a DIY STEM program at the clubhouse. Four units will be introduced: Energy and Electricity, Engineering Design, Food Chemistry, and Intro to Aeronautics. The program will promote interest and awareness of STEM among club members.

Camp Fire Alaska – Tyson Elementary and Fire Lake | Anchorage/Eagle River, Alaska
Staff members of Camp Fire Alaska will receive specialized training in STEM activity facilitation, focused on supporting youth to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Additionally, staff will receive an orientation to the STEM supplement of the Youth Program Quality Assessment tool in preparation for observing and measuring quality of STEM programing. Camp Fire staff will then implement 12, pre-planned activities intended to introduce youth to basic STEM concepts.