Improve Health Outcomes

Brain Science is Clear: Child Separations Will Have Major Long-Term Negative Impacts.

What do we do? We want to hear from you. 

By: Sarah Lyman, Executive Vice President, and Shivon Brite, Program Director/Director of Strategy

Undoubtedly, the federal child removals at the U.S.-Mexico border will have horrific consequences for the children currently being detained, their families, and other undocumented immigrants. We've seen the heartbreaking impacts of child removals upon Native American communities. Indian boarding schools traumatized hundreds of thousands of children in the 19th Century. Native or not, research proves that forcefully removing children from communities results in poorer public health and devastating losses of cultural wealth.  

Even since President Trump’s executive order, latest counts show roughly 3,000 children are still detained, with little clarity about whether, how or when they will be reunified with their parents. On June 26th, a Federal Judge in California ruled that children and parents separated at the border must be reunited within 30 days. While this is clearly a major milestone, there is still much uncertainty about how this will play out. According to pediatricians and other professionals on the ground, some of the children have been moved to other parts of the country, and many are falling through the cracks without paper trails, making it extremely difficult for parents or other professionals to locate the children. There have been allegations of abuse by patrol officers, and children as young as infants are being neglected and left to cry without physical contact by a caregiver day after day. 

Brain science is clear. Being separated from a parent is a traumatic experience that has lifelong negative impacts on brain development for children. A Harvard study found that children who experienced foster care are nearly twice as likely to suffer from Post  Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) than U.S. war veterans returning from tours in Iraq. Now, layer the extreme fear and anxiety experienced by children in these detention centers onto that, where their fate is completely unknown to them, and they are experiencing physical and emotional neglect for extended periods of time in a language many can’t understand or speak.

This is a dangerous and tragic cocktail for vulnerable children who have been stripped of their support system and their human rights. 

As has been clearly validated through many studies, including the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Study, childhood traumas like these are strongly associated with adulthood high-risk health behaviors (smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, severe obesity), as well as poor health including depression, heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease and shortened lifespan. Compared to an ACE score of zero, having four adverse childhood experiences was associated with a 700% increase in alcoholism, a doubling of risk of being diagnosed with cancer, and a 400% increase in emphysema as an adult. 

Even if these current actions by our government are reversed and children are actually reunified with their parents in the short term, there is no question that these traumatic experiences will have lasting negative consequences. This is a humanitarian crisis - plain and simple. 

Have we not learned anything from our painful history as a country? 

The Indian boarding schools devastated Native communities. Under the pretense of helping Native Nations, the U.S. promoted this assimilation policy with the slogan “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” Most of the hundreds of thousands of children were forced into these schools through starvation, where the Federal government withheld food rations until families relinquished children, or kidnapping, where government officials stole children from their homes. Many of these children died from homesickness, working accidents, uncontrolled diseases, and ill-planned escape attempts. Graveyards still sit behind these school dorms and classrooms. These schools were abolished in the 1940’s, but the damage had been done. The surviving children came back to their communities without their Native languages, life ways, religions, or parenting models. They were forever changed and deeply traumatized.

Today, the cumulative effects of these types of human rights violations are called “historical traumas.” Research on historical trauma shows that there are multi-generational health harms. Whether its Jewish children removed in Auschwitz or Native children removed in Washington State, the collective health outcomes are the same – lower life expectancy, poorer health, worse quality of life.

As Shivon Brite, Program Director for EHF’s Native American Health portfolio stated: 

“These child removals are breaking our hearts. We are still living the impact of these types of policies. Impacts that have turned our once large and vibrant communities into a minority among minorities who endure the worst health – period. This discussion needs to include our Tribal leaders. This is our story less than a century ago.” 

It is our duty and obligation as a country, and as fellow human beings to help. Empire Health Foundation is a regional health foundation focused in a small seven-county region and we’ve been asking ourselves: what can we do? What are value-added roles we could play in an effort to step up in the face of this humanitarian crisis? Even though the acute impact is happening in a geographic region far away from our defined service area, the effects of these policies and practices have deep ripples throughout the country and throughout our region. 

Admittedly, we feel somewhat helpless. But some initial ideas of things EHF could directly support include:  

  • Support convenings of local Hispanic/Latinx communities as well as experts such as pediatricians, legal advocates, trauma professionals to identify ways to provide critical counseling, mental health and language services support to the children and families impacted. 
  • Help educate regional groups and policy makers about the impacts of trauma and evidenced based strategies to mitigate the long-term impacts of trauma.
  • Connect mobilized professionals and organizations to other funders who might be able to provide financial resources or link people to existing coordinated efforts.
  • Participate in regional funder networks focused on supporting organizations and efforts working with immigrants and refugee populations.

What else should we be doing to stand up and support families and children in crisis? We want to hear from you. 

Andy Hill Cancer Research Endowment (CARE) Distinguished Researchers Program - Request for Applications

The Andy Hill Cancer Research Endowment is pleased to announce that it will begin accepting applications for the second cohort of the Distinguished Researchers Program. The Distinguished Researchers Program will match, dollar for dollar, Washington research institutions’, organizations’, and commercial entities’ recruitment commitments up to $500,000 per recruitment, to add value to recruitment packages that bring leading cancer researchers to Washington. Andy Hill CARE grant funds may be used for any purpose (e.g., salaries, equipment, etc.) that advances the scholar’s research.

Please visit the Andy Hill CARE Fund website and the Distinguished Researchers page for a full program description and access to the application portal. The application period for the second cohort is February 15, 2018 to April 10, 2018.

Please contact Peter Choi ( with any questions regarding the program or application process.

Rising Strong Among Premera's 2017 Social Impact Grant Recipients

Social Impact Report written and published by Premera

The prevalence of behavioral health conditions is greater than the five most common chronic health conditions combined — heart failure, coronary artery disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and diabetes. By treating behavioral health issues, overall health will improve.

Recognizing the importance between behavioral health and overall health, in 2017, Premera Blue Cross launched a $3 million Social Impact Program aimed at supporting behavioral health issues, particularly in underserved communities. 

Last year, Premera granted $175,000 to Rising Strong, a partnership between Catholic Charities and Empire Health Foundation. Rising Strong is a family centered drug treatment program with housing for the entire family. It serves families with children at risk of entry to foster care due to abuse or neglect by parents with substance abuse disorder. 

“It is clear that behavioral health is inseparable from physical health. If you are severely depressed, you will not be able to effectively manage your diabetes, control physical pain, and you may self-medicate with alcohol or other drugs which can lead to addiction,” said Dr. Shawn West, Medical Director for Provider and Customer Engagement at Premera.

Premera launched a multimedia-driven Social Impact Report, which can be read here. The piece highlights the importance of why the company is stepping up to address behavioral health and how Premera is partnering with nonprofits in Alaska and Washington to creatively find solutions.

Rising Strong gives troubled Spokane parents another chance to keep their children

Written and published by The Spokesman-Review, December 26, 2017

Cassandra Moffitt knew she needed a change when she went to the hospital to give birth to her son, Zek.

Moffitt, 26, had already lost custody of her four older children when she went to Deaconess Hospital for her C-section in October. She remembered shooting up with meth before the birth.

“All my kids were born drug-addicted,” she said.

Normally, that would lead to the state seizing her baby. But this time, Moffitt was given another option: enroll in a residential treatment program, and keep her newborn.

Moffitt and 2-month-old Zek are one of eight families now enrolled in Rising Strong, a live-in treatment and parenting program for families in danger of losing custody of their children, often due to drug use.

Parents began moving into the dormlike rooms at the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary convent in October, with kids following a week or two later.

The program is run by Catholic Charities with funding and support from the Empire Health Foundation, as well as Premera Blue Cross and Providence. The goal is to keep kids with their biological parents and give those parents the skills they need to get clean and find jobs.

When Moffitt was growing up, her mother was in and out of prison and jail for drug possession, forgery and identity theft.

“At 12 years old, she showed me how to make bathroom crank,” she said. Moffitt was using it a year later.

When she was young, she promised herself she’d be nothing like her mother.

“I sit back now and I’m the spitting image of her and it sucks,” she said.

For a while, she held down a job, but that ended as her addiction deepened. She lost custody of her three oldest children, who are with her grandmother. Her fourth child was taken away from her after birth because she was still using meth.

She’s had no stable housing for the past decade, and she said that before she enrolled in Rising Strong, she usually slept around the Safeway on Market Street. She argued with caseworkers and the court commissioner assigned to her children and was angry most of the time.

“I’ve worked on my anger, worked on my temper,” she said, though she can still swear a blue streak. 

One of her counselors was able to help her calm down by finding a meditation video called, “(Expletive) It and Let that (Expletive) Go,” which blends New Age music, the relaxing voice of traditional meditation and a heavy dose of cursing.

Moffitt said it’s done wonders.

At Rising Strong, she’s learned how to swaddle Zek in a wrap covered with blue whales. He was getting over a bout of bronchitis and the flu this week, she said while bottle-feeding him.

“Every time I burp him, it comes out the wrong end!” she laughed.

Rising Strong will eventually take a total of 20 families for the pilot program. When parents graduate, they will be clean and will have earned either a GED or associate degree.

Child care is provided on-site for kids who aren’t school-age, and parents have a demanding all-day schedule of classes and group sessions focusing on addiction recovery, parenting skills and job readiness. Several said having a daily routine is helping their recovery by keeping them busy and out of old habits.

A single van serves as transportation for the families to get to doctor appointments, school and other places.

“We’re not going to let them fail. We’re going to help them stand up until they can,” said Teri Kook, the vice president of family resiliency at Empire Health. She’s “on loan” to Catholic Charities temporarily to help get the program off the ground, and gets to help cradle and feed the babies while parents are in classes.

“It’s the joy of my life to do this,” Kook said.

The on-site staff include peer support specialists who have experience losing their own children to foster care.

One of those specialists, Melissa Zielstorf, said she started using opioids at 14, then added other drugs. She moved to Spokane five years ago because her mother was here and she wanted to get off heroin.

“I called her on Christmas and said, ‘I need help,’ ” she said. After her first try at drug treatment, she kicked the heroin but picked up a meth habit. She lost custody of her kids 20 days later.

“Losing my kids was the worst thing I’ve ever been through,” she said. A second round of treatment helped her get clean and get her kids back.

Zielstorf now works with families at Rising Strong to show them recovery is possible and offer support. 

“I truly believe I went through everything because this is what I was made to do,” she said.

Tiffany Link and Anthony Whitehead share a room on the third floor of the convent with their infant daughter, Zamariah, who was born in July.

The couple have three older children who are 5, 3 and almost 2, who are scheduled to move into neighboring rooms Dec. 22. That just happens to be their third wedding anniversary.

The couple were homeless before joining Rising Strong. Whitehead was working in a restaurant while Link cared for the kids, but the two struggled to stay off meth and afford an apartment while supporting their children. They voluntarily surrendered their older children because they couldn’t care for them without housing and struggled to get custody back because of drug use.

“This program was our saving grace,” Whitehead said. “If it weren’t for this, we wouldn’t have our kids.”

Whitehead quit his job to move into Rising Strong and dedicate himself to recovery full time. He’s formed such a bond with Zamariah that she starts screaming if he leaves the room.

Residents support each other, and while there are tensions and frustrations, there are also inside jokes and moments of caring.

The group has started calling the small cribs provided for babies “taco beds” because they’re oblong and fold up to be stored. Whitehead is known as the “sheriff.”

Moffitt calls Zamariah the group’s “lucky bald baby” and said many of the babies in the convent like to wake her up first thing in the morning to play.

While walking through the halls, Link looked wistfully at the small kitchen on the fourth floor near Moffitt’s room.

“This is the nicest kitchen,” Link said.

“That’s because we keep it clean!” Moffitt responded. The refrigerator is covered with children’s artwork, inspirational quotes the parents have written for each other and sobriety certificates. Moffitt is on day 59.

For her, even the worst parts of parenting have become a privilege.

“I have yet to have any kind of urge to use,” she said as Zek stretched and started to cry in her arms. “This little cry right here is the reason why.”

Foundation helps schools launch scratch-cooking programs

Written and published by Food Management, December 4, 2017

This fall, LJ Klinkenberg introduced a new menu item at Cheney School District in Washington: chicken and lentil Korean street tacos. 

Klinkenberg, director of nutrition services, says students like that it’s a trendy-sounding food. “But they’re also getting lentils that are coming in from literally less than an hour from here.” 

Cheney students eat a variety of meals like this one, all made by district cooks: chicken and waffles, barbecue pulled pork sandwiches, deep-dish turkey potpies and pizza made with a naturally fermented crust from a local purveyor. About 80 percent of the food purchased by the district comes in the form of whole commodity or locally sourced ingredients.

A total of nine school districts in eastern Washington run scratch-cooking programs like this one, launched through partnerships with Empire Health Foundation. Cheney started its program in 2011 as one of the foundation’s pilot partners, at the dawn of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. 

“Our very first strategic initiative was to see to see what we could do to reduce childhood obesity rates in eastern Washington,” says Laura Martin, program associate for the foundation. 

The foundation has invested nearly $3 million dollars in its Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools initiative, which serves a mix of people living in urban, suburban and rural areas in a seven-county area and on tribal lands. The population mirrors those in other parts of the country: About one in three children are considered overweight or obese.

Partner districts deliver 4.7 million scratch-cooked meals yearly, serving 44% of the total K-12 student population in the region. In the Cheney School District, they’ve seen a 4.5 percent (statistically significant) reduction in the number of students classified as overweight or obese over a period of five years. It appears that they’re on the right track.

The foundation provides training for kitchen employees, connects schools with funding streams for needs such as kitchen equipment and helps districts reimagine their meal programs—from menu modifications to marketing plans. 

Klinkenberg, who served as the foundation’s liaison to school districts before he took the position in Cheney, says training kitchen workers to be school cooks is the foundation’s top priority. “There was a generation of people who had only been opening bags” to prepare school meals, he says. 

To help employees acquire an entirely new set of skills, the foundation brings teaching chefs into the schools through its culinary academy. Kitchen workers attend a four-day program where they learn bedrock culinary tasks such as knife skills, vegetable preparation and proper raw protein handling. They also learn management skills such as food buying practices and efficiency in the kitchen. 

If training is the most important aspect of launching a scratch-cooking program, marketing is the most important aspect of maintaining one, Martin says. To make it worthwhile, a district needs to change its food culture. 

“School food is pretty synonymous with hot dogs and tater tots and chips, so when you’re replacing those with roasted potatoes and baked chicken that has actual bones in it, marketing these programs to the kids and making it fun is imperative,” she says. “You can pat yourself on the back if you’re pumping out food that’s nutritious, but unless you’re actually getting those kids to eat the food then, to me, it’s not a success.” 

Employees are encouraged to reimagine their role in the lunchroom. Kitchen workers are educators who create opportunities for kids to try new things and promote healthy food choices. They begin with tasting events, where staff and students preview new menu items and share their opinions. Districts launch new menus at the start of the school year, so they hold promotional events in the spring, complete with voting boxes at elementary schools so students can rank dishes.

Throughout the year, workers describe new dishes in familiar ways to skeptical or inquisitive students. (A pasta casserole may be described as “curly noodles, tomato sauce and cheese.”) They also stock small cups on the line so they can offer samples. At the secondary level, table tents inform students about nutrition and new menu items. 

Districts also aim to elevate the appearance of school food, to make it look less industrial. Martin says it’s important in an age when more and more students pay attention to aesthetics: “From fifth grade up, that’s a pretty savvy customer group,” she says. 

The foundation has seen firsthand that, with resources and creativity, schools can make nutritious scratch meals that appeal to almost any student. 

“It can happen,” Martin says. “Kids actually will eat vegetables.”

Read the original article here