The work that Alaska CARES does is not celebrated nor do its advocates reach out for recognition. However, the work they do is silently and critically important. Alaska consistently has one of the top five rates of child abuse in the United States, which represents roughly 8,000 Alaskan children each year. Alaska CARES is the only Child Advocacy Center in Anchorage, and it works tirelessly to help child victims recover from trauma or abuse.
Last year, Providence Health & Services Alaska continued its mission to serve the poor and vulnerable through financial support of Alaska CARES. Alaska CARES provides the mental, physical and emotional support these young victims need to recover. In 2017, the program assisted more than 960 children, an increase of more than 100 from 2016.
“I certainly don’t think the need is going down,” says medical director Cathy Baldwin-Johnson, MD, FAAFP. “Providence’s annual donation does make a tremendous difference in what we can do.”
Bryant Skinner is Alaska CARES’ center manager and oversees day-to-day operations. The staff of Alaska CARES’ shares its space with three detective units that include the Anchorage Police Department Crimes Against Children and Special Victims Units as well as Alaska State Troopers; Forensic Nursing Services of Providence, who serve adult victims of sexual assault; and an investigative unit from the Office of Children’s Services.
The building is nondescript on the outside, and inside, children are welcomed into a safe, healing space. In one room is a large pile of stuffed animals, some larger than a 5-year-old. In another are books and toys that help keep children occupied while they are being treated. An exam room, featuring a giant polar-bear shaped treatment table, is colorfully painted with a wall mural depicting seals and beluga whales frolicking in the water.
It is not by accident, Skinner says, that these services are all located in one building. When a victim arrives here, they are able to tell their story, undergo a physical examination and receive the emotional support they need. Having all of these services in one location makes the healing process that much more successful, he adds. The traumas that come through the building can be heart-breaking – from physical and sexual abuse to children who have witnessed violent acts. The range of severity among each case varies, and with it, the care that is administered.
“We have increased our mental health services, and that need has grown since 2007,” Skinner adds. The reality is that while the physical wounds often heal, the long-term effects can be crippling. Adding to that, says Baldwin-Johnson, is a lack of resources at home, which compounds the damage.
“A significant percentage of these kids’ caregivers have their own trauma history,” she adds, “so getting them help while we can matters.”
Both Skinner and Baldwin-Johnson say that unfortunately, the need for Alaska CARES services is only growing in Alaska. And from this corner of Anchorage, they feel they are slowly making gains, thanks to financial contributions such as that of Providence, which has supported the program for more than 20 years. They continue to care for one child at a time, from the moment of crisis until their recovery toward a better future.