The Mat-Su Health Foundation (MSHF) has released the third and final report of its Behavioral Health Environmental Scan. The new report focuses on prevention of child maltreatment. It offers seventeen recommendations to help reach the goal that all Mat-Su children should be well-cared-for and safe.
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.
“While resilience offers an opportunity to diminish the experience of long-term exposure to childhood adversity, prevention is the first line of action,” said Elizabeth Ripley, Mat-Su Health Foundation Chief Executive Officer. “Exposure to some adversity during childhood is normal and necessary for healthy development, but sustained or repeated exposure to severe adversity without supportive relationships can be detrimental for children.”
The new MSHF report focuses on five evidence-based protective factors that are key to the development of a system that keeps children safe and well-cared-for. It further identifies recommendations within each of the five protective factors that can help create a system in the Mat-Su that keeps children well-cared-for and safe. The entire community has a role in this system, including employers, churches, schools, medical providers and individuals, and the entire community benefits as well.
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.
• 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 experienced 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 (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 seventeen recommendations to determine next steps to implementation. The complete report and an executive summary are available at healthymatsu.org.