A cold wind whipped in front of the Alaska State Capitol on Friday afternoon, sending pinwheels spinning and a police barricade tumbling.
The pinwheels and the traffic barricade were there for a rally in honor of National Go Blue Day, which aims to raise awareness about child abuse and neglect. The annual event also tries to bring attention to the importance of families and communities working together to build a more positive environment for vulnerable children.
More than 60 people showed up, despite the windy weather, and many of them were wearing blue for the event. Blue streamers, pinwheels and cupcakes were handed out. There were at least 15 legislators in attendance, including Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, who helped put the event together along with the Alaska Children’s Trust and the Association for the Education of Young Children.
“I look forward to this day,” Tarr said. “It’s not an easy topic, but because it’s an opportunity where we can come together in solidarity and we work toward change. I know with all the amazing people here, when we work together we’ll create the change that we really want.”
The keynote speakers were both from Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA). Family Services Administrator Barbara Dude spoke about her own experience as a child and the support she received from family members and those in the community. Child and Family Clinician Amalia Monreal provided some tips to those looking to make a child’s day a little brighter.
Dude said she has a fairly high Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) score, meaning she went through a great deal of trauma as a child. Things began to turn around, she said, when women in her community began supporting her. She became involved in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program and formed a deep friendship with her “big sister,” she said.
Monreal referred mostly to a Readers Digest article that she thought spoke well about the issue. The article, entitled “I survived child abuse for years — here’s what everyone gets wrong about it,” written by Erin Cole, detailed how abuse can be overlooked, even by the victims themselves.
Many children who are being abused or neglected might not even realize it, Cole wrote, and might assume that the treatment they’re going through is normal because it’s all they’ve ever known. Monreal read from the article, but looked up from time to time to offer her own insight.
One main piece of advice she shared was a simple way to raise a child’s self-esteem.
“You need to take the time to look at the children, look them in the eye, and tell them how amazing they are,” Monreal said.
After Dude and Monreal spoke, about a dozen legislators gathered on the steps together and a few of them shared their thoughts.
Among them was Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, who spent 15 years on the Juneau Board of Education and is currently the co-chair of the House Education Committee.
“I really appreciate the words that were spoken up here,” Story said. “They touched me deeply. We need to support parents, grandparents, caregivers on the tough job of raising children. It’s so demanding. It deserves our support.”
Following the rally, the remaining attendees gathered with the lawmakers on the steps for a picture, declaring loudly that they intend to end child abuse. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and people can find more resources at organizations’ websites such as www.alaskachildrenstrust.org or www.dhss.alaska.gov/ocs.
Tips for supporting children and neighbors
• As a parent, block out 15 minutes per day to play one-on-one with your child, doing anything they want.
• Tell the children or youth in your life how much you care for them and appreciate them.
• Connect with grandparents to preserve cultural heritage.
• Compliment a father on something positive you see him do with his children.
• Support parents looking for a job by offering your professional knowledge and experience in resume writing or preparing for a job interview.
• Introduce yourself to your neighbors.
• Take action on legislative issues that affect children and families. Call your elected officials.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.