WASILLA — Representatives from local governments, tribal governments, businesses, and community organizations gathered Monday to discuss ways to work together.
Organizers of the Mat-Su Collective Impact Event said the main focus was to find ways to create a collective impact framework, a reference to a specific method of addressing complex and endemic social problems. The easiest way to explain it might be to think of it as a team approach, where organizations with very different missions — governments, businesses, schools, and shelters — collaborate toward a positive outcome.
The target issue for this first conference was child maltreatment, a catchall term for different forms of adversity children can face growing up, ranging from physical violence, to incarceration among adults, to divorce, to recreational drug use.
The scope of the problem was defined by a two-year Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES), conducted on patients of Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, which found adults who reported adversity growing up were more likely to develop long-term health risks, like alcoholism, smoking, illicit drug use, depression, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
According to the results, only about 36 percent of just over 17,000 respondents reported facing no childhood adversity growing up.
The bottom-line focus is on improving families, said Desiré Shelper, a program officer with the Mat-Su Health Foundation, one of the events’ sponsors.
“We’re really using the collective impact framework in our healthy foundations for families focus area,” she said. “We’re hoping to work around addressing issues around decreasing child maltreatment and increasing family resiliency.”
Others, like foundation executive director Elizabeth Ripley, put it more directly.
“We’re trying to engineer a movement,” she said. “It’s reframing the way we think about engaging with parents and kids in our communities.”
On the other side of the issue is long-standing practice among community groups, which typically segment social issues among individual clienteles. For example, one group targets homeless children and another targets homeless adults.
Groups can sometimes end up competing fiercely for limited funds to address problems that can have the same cause.
By contrast, the collective impact approach creates incentive for groups to address the problem together, Ripley said.
Collective impact also allows success stories to move from individuals to the population as a whole, Ripley said.
“We’ve never been deliberate as a society,” she said.
“There’s really positive news here is that people can heal, but we as a society have never been deliberate about helping them heal,” Ripley added. “What would that look like? We have a chance to do that in the Mat-Su.”
Among the community groups present, representatives generally said they were pleased to meet with and discover other potential avenues for help, said Paula Jones, executive director of the Children’s Place, which focuses on helping the youthful victims of domestic violence and abuse.
“A big part of our mission is prevention,” she said. “Though what we’re doing — most of our work — is not prevention at all. It’s immediately following a traumatic event. We see kids that are victims of sexual abuse and physical abuse, but part of our mission is prevention, and that’s a big part that we want to roll forward with.”
Community groups don’t intend to preach to parents, but simply to raise awareness of the fact that youth adversity can have impacts into the next generation, Jones said.
“When it comes to raising kids we all have questions and we all have struggles, and ACES provides us a framework to look at … most of us come into this work for some reason because we have our own” firsthand experiences, she said.
For other attendees, the stakes could be still more intimate. Three high school students in attendance said they had faced severe youth adversity, ranging from sexual abuse to addiction.
“I struggled with addiction and substance abuse, I was incarcerated for about three months, and institutionalized for eight months to help with my drug addiction,” one student said. “My mom struggled with addiction herself. I was kind of raised in a hostile environment.”
For this student, recently accepted to college for a degree in a science background, the conference was about learning to help others trapped in similar circumstances.
“Ever since I turned my life around, things have been a lot better and I care a lot more,” the student said. “I was really coldhearted, I didn’t care for anyone and I didn’t care for myself.”
“Now I see, that there are people at my school who do struggle, and I see it and it makes me sad because I’ve been there and I wanna help,” the student added.
More information about ACES, including the 10-question survey, is available at www.acestudy.org.
Contact Brian O’Connor at 352-2269 or email@example.com.