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Posts tagged ‘resilience’

thread and ACT: Strengthening Relationships in Early Education

At the core of quality child care is a trusting, respectful relationship between the early childhood educator, child and family.

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Trauma-informed transformation

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

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

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

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

And the cycle continues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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” DVD for Loan

The movie Resilience, directed by the same team that brought us Paper Tigers, is a view into the discoveries made by researchers as to the dangerous biological effects of abuse and neglect during childhood.

As this new documentary reveals, toxic stress can trigger hormones that wreak havoc on the brain and bodies of children, putting them at a greater risk for disease, homelessness, prison time and, in cases, early death.

However, trauma can be prevented and the long-term effects can be reduced through intervention. Leaders in pediatrics, education and social welfare are using innovative science and field-tested therapies to protect children from the treacherous effects of toxic stress on children. Check out the movie trailer.

The Resilience DVD is available for loan at Alaska Children’s Trust (ACT). If your organization is interested in using this video as a learning tool or hosting a community showing and dialogue, please complete DVD Loan Agreement and send the request to

The DVD and discussion guide are available at no cost and it must be requested four weeks prior to the event. For more information and to request the DVD, go to the ACT website.

“Resilience” Film Showing and Discussion in Juneau on January 17

A showing of the award-winning film “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope” screen-shot-2016-12-29-at-10-50-23-amwill take place Tuesday, January 17 from 5 – 7 p.m. at Centennial Hall in Juneau.

Trevor Storrs from Alaska Children’s Trust will lead a community café discussion after the film to talk about ways we can build support networks to reduce toxic stress for our children in Juneau and in Alaska.

Appetizers will also be served.

View the event poster for more details, or contact AEYC at 907.789.1235.

World Suicide Prevention Day

act-suicide-prevention-web-slideBy Trevor Storrs, Executive Director, Alaska Children’s Trust

In 1998, the issue of suicide became real to me. A team member for a local Anchorage service provider, who was loved by all, committed suicide and it was my responsibility to notify the team, the children we served, and other community members. It is a day I will never forget. Since that day, three other friends have committed suicide. Suicide has plagued Alaska for too long.

Alaska has one of the highest rates of suicide per capita in the country. In 2013, the rate of suicide in the United States was 12.57 suicides per 100,000 people. Alaska’s rate in 2014 was 22.3 suicides per 100,000 people.

September 10 marks World Suicide Prevention Day. One day is not enough but it can be the first day of many where we take action to ensure our loved ones have the support and help they need to get beyond the idea of suicide.

One of the most at-risk populations are our youth. A recent article by the Population Reference Bureau, “Suicide Replaces Homicide as Second-Leading Cause of Death Among U.S. Teenagers,” showed that suicide attempts from year to year have been relatively stagnant. What’s alarming is the increase in the numbers of suicides that resulted in death over the last 15 years.

Suicide has now become the second-leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States. This surpasses homicide deaths and is projected to surpass traffic accident deaths. American Indian and Alaska Native girls had a 60 percent increase in suicide rates, and now represent the highest teenage suicide rates in the nation. The greatest incidence of suicide is in rural areas, likely due to social isolation, prevalence of firearms, economic hardship, and limited access to mental health and emergency health care services.

One of the most concerning findings of the article is the higher suicide completion rate. This presents a significant challenge. In the past, failed suicide attempts gave a person an opportunity to seek professional help. The higher rate of suicide success diminishes these “second chances” significantly. It also increases the likelihood that other at-risk teenagers will mimic the same behavior, as they are exposed to increased suicides within their peer group.

Prevention programs are doing their best, but I believe we need go deeper to get to the root cause of suicide. Early adverse childhood experiences (toxic stress/trauma) like child abuse or being exposed to domestic violence dramatically increase the risk of suicidal behaviors. Prevention needs to begin with reducing the level of toxic stress/trauma children, families and communities are experiencing on a daily basis. We also need to support efforts in the implementation of protective factors and building resilience.

Without addressing early childhood trauma and giving kids adequate coping skills to use as they progress through some of the toughest years of their life, we are simply not going to be able to turn the tides on the rising rate of suicide successes. However, by recognizing the adverse experiences we all face and teaching our children how to react and heal is the ultimate suicide prevention technique.

As a community, it is our responsibility to ensure children and families live in safe, stable and nurturing environments. It is these types environments that promote the protective factors and build resilience to combat trauma and suicide. We begin to build these environments through the promotion and inclusion of culture – all cultures. Children and youth should have two to three adults in their lives, other than their parents, who they feel safe with and trust.

We can also help by knowing the warning signs of suicide, like being preoccupied with death, having no hope for the future or engaging in self-destructive behavior. Also, monitor your children’s social media. Help children and youth build a network of friends. Become part of a community that supports other families. For more ways to prevent suicide go to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or Stop Suicide Alaska.trevor-polo-shirt-small

Together, we can change this trend and ensure all children and youth grow up with the resilience to overcome the traumas of life and be happy, healthy, successful members of our community.

Trevor Storrs is the executive director of Alaska Children’s Trust, an Alaska nonprofit dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect.