New program helps youngsters find their assets - inside and out

Posted: Monday, April 24, 2000

Giving kids the backbone for a moral and satisfying life is not simply a matter of calcium and regular hugs. It's a matter of assets, local experts say.

Derek Peterson, a child and youth advocate with the Association of Alaska School Boards, explains that for young people to be successful, they need to have within them a certain number of assets.

Peterson speaks of assets with a capital ``A'' -- 40 of them.

``It's so hopeful,'' Peterson said. ``One parent told me, `I heard about this when my family was in a state of chaos. I read it. It helped me. I even sent it to my sister in Oklahoma.' ''

Building assets isn't an overnight fix. It involves a commitment of time. ``Children truly want your time, no matter what they are saying or begging you for,'' Peterson said. ``When they say `I'm bored,' what they often mean is they want someone to do something with -- fishing or walking or talking or sewing.''

Agencies offer respite, free advice for parents

Whether merely curious or severely stressed out, Juneau parents have a wide range of parenting resources available - everything from respite to reading material.

Respite is available through the local office of Catholic Community Service, said CCS executive director Rosemary Hagevig. The Parent Time Out Program is run at St. Vincent de Paul near the airport.

``It's emergency day care for people who feel in need of some respite,'' Hagevig said. The program is funded by the city. For details, call Helen Kalk, 790-4102.

Other Juneau sources of respite are the Center For Community at 790-3650 or (800) 790-3650, and REACH at 586-8228.

Parents who prepare themselves for the demands of infants are less likely to feel frustrated by those demands. Expectant parents can learn more through a free class given every six weeks at Bartlett Regional Hospital. The class, ``Breastfeed Success and Newborn Care,'' runs from 6 to 8 p.m. Mondays. The next three-class session runs May 29 through June 12. For details or to enroll, call Bartlett Beginnings at 586-8424.

The Alaska Child Abuse Prevention Network has put together a Community Resource Kit. To obtain a copy, contact Marie LaVigne at (907) 257-0305, call 1 (888) 701-0328 or e-mail her at mlavigne@acfonline.org.

A newsletter is also available from the Southeast Child Abuse Network. To get on the mailing list, call Beth Mercer, network specialist at 789-7610 or e-mail her at bethmer@jys.org.

Instead of reading, parents can watch a video, ``The All-Time Great Parent Test.'' The 60-minute tape instructs parents on how to choose a high-quality child care program, how to stimulate children to learn, and how to raise a moral child.

In-depth answers and information are provided by the five winners of the Kohl/McCormick Early Childhood Teaching Award. To order a copy of the $10 video, call (888) MTF-2224.

A statewide source of resources is contained between the covers of ``Where to Turn,'' a 160-page booklet compiled by the Department of Health and Social Services. Copies are available from the Governor's Council on Disabilities and Special Education in Anchorage, (907) 269-8990. The booklet includes family support services, behavioral health services for young children, respite services, child care services and more.

For instant help, dial (800) 478-2221, the Healthy Alaskans Information Line. It's a free and easy way to locate counseling services, information about maternal and infant care, health care referrals and sources of emergency and crisis intervention.

Other resources can be found on the World Wide Web:

PARENTS, Inc., offers a calendar of events, a newsletter and links to other agencies at www.parentsinc.org/ Or call toll free (800) 478-7678. E-mail it at parents@parentinc.org

The Southeast Child Abuse Network's Web page is available at www.jys.org/scan.

The Alaska Child Abuse Prevention Network can be reached at www.ak.org/html/childabuseprevention.html.

The RID Alaska Child Sexual Abuse organization in Kenai can be reached at www.alaska.net/~rosenbau/.

The 40 assets are both internal and external. Internal assets include positive values such as caring, honesty, responsibility and a sense of equality and social justice. Being able to plan ahead and to utter an emphatic ``no'' to inappropriate behavior are also internal assets.

External assets include support from family, neighborhood, school and a faith community; clear rules and consequences; high expectations; and constructive use of time.

The assets framework grew out of the results of a survey taken by Search Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Minneapolis. The six-year survey of half a million kids in 33 states showed that the difference between troubled teens and those leading healthy, productive lives was strongly affected by developmental assets -- those that provide a rock-solid sense of security, which a child can draw on again and again.

The Search Institute found that the average teen has only 18 of the defined assets, and that the count declines with age. Twenty percent have fewer than 10 -- and are usually in trouble of some sort. Only 8 percent of youth have 31 to 40 assets.

Peterson will give his signature assets presentation ``Building Safety Nets and Launch Pads for Kids'' at 7 p.m. today at Aldersgate United Methodist Church; and at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Northern Light United Church.

His presentation has people leaping after balloons and weaving nets.

``It's color, noise and no expert,'' he said. ``The message is, `You are the expert.' ''

Communities enjoy his active approach to the usual motivational lecture. For example, 180 people out of Angoon's population of 600 turned out to hear him.

For more specifics about assets, consult ``Helping Kids Succeed - Alaskan Style'' developed by the Association of Alaska School Boards (at 586-1083). So far, 48,000 copies have been printed, said Peterson.

The book has been ``an epiphany'' for teen parents as well as parents in prison, Peterson said. It helps break the cycle of absentee or unconcerned parenting. ``They say, `My parents just let me run loose, but maybe I should set some boundaries.' ''

In these pages, communities from all over the state set down the nitty gritty of creating resourceful, competent kids. The hundreds of down-to-earth suggestions include:

From Teller: ``Don't put down your children's friends - because you are putting down your own child. Instead, have other kids over to spend time in your home with you.''

From Kodiak: ``Some families face issues like alcoholism, violence or emotional abuse. If this is the case, home is not especially good for kids. If you have these problems, be courageous and get help - for your kids' sake.''

From Hoonah: ``Tell stories of how family members cared for one another in the old days.''

``When the book was published two years ago, we talked about it at PTA meetings and handed a lot out to parents,'' said Sally Donaldson, a counselor at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School.

``Parents are so excited that there is something positive to look at about discipline, something acceptable to everybody. It helps them to look at their families in a focused way,'' she said.

A keystone of the assets framework, Donaldson said, is that kids are not naturally resilient but can become resilient when they have a caring person available -- a mentor, someone they can always talk to.

Assets is a holistic approach to looking at children, family and community, said Joy Lyon, executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Southeast Alaska chapter.

``Our society is so focused on the individual that we forget that the individual is part of the family, which is part of the community. They are all interwoven,'' Lyon said. Assets helps to forge the links.

The assets framework is used mostly for teen-agers. It has been so helpful, Lyon said, that a children's version is in the development stages.



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