By Trevor Storrs, Executive Director, Alaska Children’s Trust
As we prepare to leap into the New Year, I wanted to take a moment and reflect on the past year. 2016 has been an absolutely incredible year for the Alaska Children’s Trust (ACT), thanks to all of our supporters. I’ve shared some highlights below, and invite you to view our 2016 community report for more information.
Alaska has struggled with some of the highest rates (per capita) of child maltreatment in the nation for decades. However, we have seen amazing signs of hope that we are making strides to change this trend. All across the state, more and more conversations are taking place at all levels about the impacts of trauma like child abuse and neglect, as well as strategies for building resilience in our children, families and communities. This past year has been no different.
Nearly four years ago, ACT embarked on a journey to expand our knowledge of the impacts of toxic stress (i.e., adverse childhood experiences or ACEs) on the growth and development of our children. Through a partnership with nonprofit, private, tribal and government organizations, ACT established the Alaska Resilience Initiative. The goal of the Initiative is to educate and advance the dialogue in our state on ACEs, the impact of ACEs on brain development, and how communities can prevent ACEs and build resilience.
This year, with the support of donors and a grant from the Health Federation of Philadelphia, we hosted two key gatherings. The first gathering brought Alaska Native leaders from across the state to discuss the impacts of trauma in their community and explore how we, as a state, can support their healing. A month later, several of these Alaska Native leaders joined a group of local experts from across the state to begin conversations on how to empower and support communities in their own healing process. Through the support of these two gatherings, the Initiative has formed a steering committee that will help guide our work.
In addition, thousands of individuals have learned about trauma and resiliency through our resilience speakers’ bureau and community showings of the documentary, “Paper Tigers”.
One of our key strategies in preventing child abuse and neglect is the building of protective factors within children and families. Afterschool programs are an essential partner in building these protective factors. Through the support of the C.S. Mott Foundation, the Alaska Afterschool Network received another three-year grant to continue supporting activities before and after the bell.
With Alaska’s economic growth being dependent on resource development, the Afterschool Network has launched a statewide STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) committee. The committee will help develop and expand STEM programs across the state to promote the skills our children need to enter the Alaska workforce as adults.
The Network has also hosted various trainings for their 165 members that strengthen their skill sets and promote the protective factors. And the Network is partnering with the Association of Alaska School Boards to build resiliency, social and emotional skills, protective factors, and reduce risk of high-need students in six rural districts.
With the support of our donors, ACT invested nearly $360,000 in child- and family-focused programs and organizations this year, surpassing the $5 million mark for total investments. In 2016, over 54 organizations across the state received support for a wide variety of programs focused on preventing child abuse and neglect, teen suicide prevention, and training. For example:
- The Native Village of Unalakleet identified a need to enhance child abuse prevention efforts through increased family preservation strategies.
- Fairbanks Arts Association hosted a reading of “Our Voices Will Be Heard,” a personal story of a mother-daughter journey that reveals how generations face the choice of continuing to perpetuate or disrupt family violence.
- Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) created safe space for children who have been abused by providing the children with mentors.
- Keys to Life established the Lullaby Project at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center. The project provides mothers the opportunity to develop and maintain a relationship with their children while incarcerated.
Find more stories about how our partners are making a positive statewide impact in our 2016 community report.
In 2015, with the advocacy of ACT, the State of Alaska passed the Safe Children’s Act (otherwise known as Erin’s and Bree’s law). A taskforce was assembled to provide recommendations to the Department of Education and Early Development regarding model curricula for use by school districts to meet the new law. As a member and chair of the taskforce for the past year, ACT helped develop a report that promotes the empowerment of children, parents and teachers to be actively engaged in preventing trauma like child sexual abuse and promoting resilience.
With an investment from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, ACT welcomed our newest program, Kids Count of Alaska. The addition of this program will support our expansion of our advocacy role. Kids Count is a premier source for data on children and family wellbeing. ACT will utilize this data to empower individuals, organizations and communities to become a voice for our children and youth, who rarely given the opportunity to voice their needs and concerns.
Our vision for 2017 is simple – continue what we started. Children are our most precious resource. Their development is the foundation for growth and strength in our community. Children have unlimited potential, if they grow up in safe, supportive and nurturing environments. However, this potential can greatly diminish when a child experiences trauma like child abuse and neglect. ACT is committed to investing in sustainable and meaningful primary prevention. We will continue to focus on four key areas:
- Programs focused on the prevention of child abuse and neglect.
- Collection of quality and reliable data
- Building community capacity and advocacy.
- Ensuring the values held by Alaskans promote safe, stable and nurturing environments for our children.
Together we can prevent child abuse and neglect.
On behalf of the ACT board of directors and staff, thank you for your support over the past year. We wish you a festive holiday season and a very happy New Year.