Mat-Su Health Foundation 07

HEALTHY FOUNDATIONS FOR FAMILIES

The goal of the Healthy Foundations for Families focus area is that all Mat-Su children and families are supported by a community-wide system that prevents maltreatment and promotes family resilience. The Mat-Su Health Foundation recently released the third and final report of its Behavioral Health Environmental Scan. This new report, "Keeping Our Children Well-Cared-For and Safe," focuses on prevention of child maltreatment. It offers 17 recommendations to help reach the goal that all Mat-Su children should be well cared-for and safe.An executive summary of the report may be downloaded here.

Research has shown strong connections between negative experiences in childhood and adult emotional health, physical health, and mortality. According to data from the State of Alaska Office of Children’s Services, there were 2,240 reports of child maltreatment in Mat-Su in 2015, of which 243 were substantiated. The Centers For Disease Control estimates that the average lifetime cost of a non-fatal child maltreatment is $228,000 per individual, which equates to $55.4 million in the Mat-Su. This estimate is based on the cost of short- and long-term health care, loss of earnings, child welfare, criminal justice and special education.  

Among the recommendations are the following: creating a community where it is easy for all parents to build supportive relationships with other parents, seniors, and other residents; promoting affordable, high quality child care, after-school care, and home-visiting programs; supporting the development of parenting classes; filling the gaps in the behavioral health system and increasing access to information and existing programs through a central resource center; promoting integrated physical and mental health care; supporting universal access to early learning and preschool programs; and promoting social emotional learning for all Mat-Su children.

The five evidence-based protective factors around which the report is organized are as follows:

1. Social connections – Parents need people who care for them and their children, who can be good listeners, who they can turn to for advice and who they can ask for help in solving problems. These people may include supportive family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and other community members.

2. Knowledge of parenting and child development – All parents, guardians, and Child-Care Providers need accurate and timely information on child development and age-appropriate expectations for children’s behavior. Developing brains need proper nutrition, regular sleep, physical activity, a variety of stimulating experiences, and caregivers who respond to their needs in a nurturing way to form a secure attachment between the child and the adult.

3. Parental resilience - Parents are resilient when they can handle personal challenges and those of their children, manage adversity, heal from the effects of trauma in their own lives, and thrive given the characteristics and circumstances of their family. Also, by managing stressors, parents are more able to provide their children with nurturing attention and a secure emotional attachment, which is important for children to develop their own resilience.

4. Social and emotional competence of children - When a young child has positive interactions with others, self-regulates his or her behavior, and effectively communicates his or her feelings, this has a positive impact on that child’s relationship with family, other adults and peers, and on their ability to learn in school. When the strengths of adolescents are fostered through the intentional and deliberate process of providing supportive relationships, experiences and opportunities, they develop into healthy, responsible adults who have the capacity to give back to their community. While social-emotional learning is important for all children, it is crucial for the emotional development of children who have experiences Adverse Childhood Experiences that may significantly affect their emotional development.

5. Concrete supports in times of need - To thrive, families’ basic needs must be met. Adequate concrete supports, (e.g., housing, income, and transportation) must be in place to provide stability and help for families in need. These services should be provided in ways that ensure parents’ dignity and do not increase parental stress. Services should help parents identify their assets and strengths, and become active participants in negotiating their support system and independence.

The Mat-Su Health Foundation and its community partners are currently evaluating the report’s 17 recommendations to determine next steps to implementation. The complete report and an executive summary are available here.