For the past several years, ANJC has funded an Alaska Native Unit, based at Alaska CARES. But a grant that paid for two case workers will run out in August.
“It is a huge help,” says Cory Bryant, who manages Alaska CARES. “And not only does it help the children and the families, but they also provide education to the multi-disciplinary team.”
Last year, Alaska CARES provided services for more than 900 children. About 40 percent of those are Alaska Native.
Bryant credits the ANJC staffers with making Alaska CARES a more welcoming place for Native children and their families, who find their knowledge of Native language and culture reassuring.
“When a child has experienced a trauma, what they do revert back to, is, what is comfortable,” says Bryant. “The cultural pieces the Alaska Native Unit has added has been wonderful. I worry about not having that service for the Alaska Native children and families that we see.”
Bryant says Alaska CARES will continue to provide services once the ANJC program ends, much as they did before the unit was created, but she says the quality won’t be the same.
Elsie Boudreau, a social worker, as well as a survivor of child sexual abuse, heads up the Alaska Native Unit. She hopes another Native organization will come to the rescue and take over the program.
“The message that it sends to our Native children, our Native families that come through the program, is, that this issue is not important enough,” says Boudreau. “It’s really important that we as a Native people step up to the plate and figure out a way to hold our children, so that no child has to go through this alone.”
Walt Monegan, who is head of the Alaska Native Justice Center, says it’s important to keep in mind that the Alaska Native Unit was a pilot program, which proved an important point.
“It showed it is a necessary and needed service,” says Monegan. “It just needs to be sustained by someone who can actually make it bigger than we were able to. It needed to be more robust.”
Monegan compared the program to the Eskimo blanket toss.
“The more of us that grab the edge of the blanket, the more successful the person in the middle will get to be,” said Monegan, who hopes another agency will move into place and take the program to the next level.
Monegan also says the Alaska Native Unit would be better fit for a health organization, because the Alaska Native Justice Center’s core mission is legal advocacy.
The loss of the Alaska Native Unit is not the only problem for Alaska CARES, which says the Anchorage Police Department’s cutbacks to its Crimes Against Children Unit has also hurt.
The unit, which is housed at Alaska CARES, once had eight detectives. But about a year ago, a number of detectives throughout APD were reassigned to patrol duty, to boost the numbers of patrol officers on the street. The unit based at Alaska CARES is now down to six positions and is deemed fully staffed by the department.
Chief Mark Mew hopes those positions might eventually be restored, perhaps after the next police academy graduates.
Until then, child advocates worry about whether detectives in the unit can keep up with the growing caseload.
“We specifically are seeing a lot more children who have been battered, beaten, burned, strangled -- and so those kind of cases are coming forward,” said Bryant.
In the meantime, Bryant says, victims of child abuse grow up and have a lot of substance abuse, depression and other mental health problems.
“Those start young,” says Bryant. “You need to intervene at a young age, so that those patterns and cycles don’t continue.”
As for Alaska CARES itself, the agency says it continues to receive state funds, but those have remained flat over the last few years.