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ASU experts help drive Arizona Town Hall project on helping families thrive

ASU experts contribute to town hall on 'Strong Families, Thriving Children'
November 12, 2019

Annual nonpartisan convention tackles issue of child welfare in Arizona

Arizona has seen some improvements in child welfare, but the gains are not equal for all groups — and that's an issue that the state must face, according to Judy Krysik, director of the Center for Child Well-Being at Arizona State University.

Krysik, an associate professor in the School of Social Work at ASU, was one of the main authors of the recent “Strong Families, Thriving Children” report, sponsored by Arizona Town Hall and produced by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU.

The report is the background document for the upcoming Arizona Town Hall event, a three-day gathering devoted to the topic of “Strong Families, Thriving Children.” Arizona Town Hall is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded in 1962 that educates and connects people around the state to solve problems. Every year, the organization chooses a topic and travels around Arizona, holding community meetings to collect feedback on the issue. The year culminates in a big town hall gathering, to be held Thursday through Saturday this week.

The report covers several aspects of family health in Arizona, and Krysik wrote the chapter on child welfare. One of the main takeaways is inequity.

“The good news is that there are a lot of improvements. The bad news is it’s not across the board,” she said.

“It didn’t matter which indicator we looked at — there are disproportionate outcomes with race and ethnicity. Poverty is one, health insurance, low birth weight, infant mortality.”

For example, the percentage of children living in poverty in Arizona decreased from 26% in 2013 to 21% in 2017. But 45% of American Indian children in Arizona lived in poverty in 2017, up from 41% the year before.

“On the one hand we can celebrate and on the other hand we can say, ‘We’re not done.' We’ve made positive gains but those gains aren’t realized equally across the board.”

Arizona Town Hall topics over the past few years included criminal justice, K-12 education, water and relations with Mexico. Those also included input by ASU experts. The Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU produced the town hall background research report. It was edited by Erica Quintana, policy analyst for the Morrison Institute, who authored the multiyear, five-part research project on childhood neglect released last year.

“Arizona Town Hall reached out to me because the topic was child welfare, and they asked if I could identify experts in the field to author different pieces of the report,” Quintana said.

“I was able to highlight the fact that from the neglect analysis, we saw that domestic violence and substance abuse were things that Arizona families are struggling with, and children are being removed from families based on those experiences. So we were able to advise the research committee that chapters on those two specific areas should be included.”

As part of its annual process, Arizona Town Hall traveled to more than 20 locations around the state, including college campuses and prisons, from Yuma to Pinetop. Every community meeting came up with a list of recommendations to improve family health, such as “make schools a hub for family services,” and “provide transportation for families to visit prisons.” One part of each town hall event was, “What I would tell Arizona’s elected leaders.” Answers to that included: “Walk the city and the streets and take the bus,” and, “Be more transparent with where our taxpayer money goes and show us tangible results.”

Every single town hall urged state leaders to give more funding to education.

Another important point that Krysik pointed out in her chapter is the changing birth rate in Arizona, which had the steepest decline in the nation, falling from 16.4 births per 1,000 population in 2006 to 13 per 1,000 in 2014. There were 102,687 births in 2007 compared with about 81,000 in 2017.

“That was one thing that surprised me and I don’t know how many people realize it,” she said.

“I don’t think we’ve fully explored what that means and where those decreases occurred. So if it’s among higher-income families, will it mean we have the same number of families with a lot of needs, or is it across the board?”

Besides Krysik, ASU experts David Schlinkert and Eric Legg contributed chapters.

Schlinkert, policy analyst for the Morrison Institute, described how Arizona has resettled more than 17,000 refugees since 2014 and how those families face additional hurdles to getting support, such as language and cultural barriers and lack of medical documentation.

Legg, an assistant professor in the School of Community Resources and Development at ASU, wrote about enrichment activities that help families thrive, such as youth sports, library story times and teen recreation programs such as robotics. Cost can be a barrier for some families, and Legg pointed out programs that can help, such as Act One, which provides fine arts experiences, and the Phoenix Public Library’s kindergarten boot camp.

Other chapters were written by experts from the University of Arizona, Northern Arizona University, the Arizona Department of Child Safety and nonprofit organizations. They cover topics such as protective factors for families, American Indian families and adverse childhood experiences, which are traumatic events such as the incarceration of a parent that lead to lifelong consequences.

The report also highlights “bright spots,” such as the decrease in teen pregnancy rates and the ASU Refugee Empowerment Project.

“A lot of times when you talk about social issues, it’s all doom and gloom,” Quintana said. “And we’re all very aware in this field that it’s important, when you can, to highlight those bright spots — collaboration and other things that are occurring. I think the general public hears more of the doom and gloom, but there is progress being made.”

She pointed to the work of the Morrison Institute, which next week will unveil a new mapping tool that highlights risks and services in rural communities in Arizona. The project will be discussed at the institute’s State of Our State event on Nov. 25.

“The goal is to identify those communities that struggle with social issues and then show the services they have available and try to identify communities that might need more,” she said.

The 112th Statewide Arizona Town Hall will be held Thursday through Saturday at the Sheraton Crescent Hotel in Phoenix and is open to the public as observers.

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Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now

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The College's Salute to Service event honors the many forms of giving back

Hailing from military and political backgrounds, the Abbott and Fernandez families demonstrate how the spirit of service spans generations


November 12, 2019

Whether it’s in the military or the community, public service comes in many forms. During an event on Nov. 8, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University celebrated two families whose legacies demonstrate the breadth of what it means to give back.

Arizona House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez spoke alongside her daughter, Lisa Fernandez, who serves as chief of staff for Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego. Fourth Class Midshipmen Rhea Abbott, First Class Midshipman Ryan Abbott and their father, Senior Chief E8 Michael Abbott, were the other family honored at the event. Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Steve Borden, who serves as director of ASU's Pat Tillman Veterans Center, was also recognized. Rhea Abbott speaks to an audience at Armstrong Hall Nov. 8. Rhea Abbott speaks with brother Ryan and father Michael to an audience at Armstrong Hall on Nov. 8. Download Full Image

Created in 2011, Salute to Service is a university-wide initiative honoring the lives and achievements of active-duty military members, veterans and their families. This year’s events centered on a “Salute to Service through service” theme, showcasing the myriad efforts made by military service members and veterans, along with those made by members of the community.

“I never saw myself being in the position I’m in now,” said Rep. Fernandez. “This is the result of being drawn to service and finding a passion for it — and today I am proud to serve, proud to give back to my community and very proud to stand here with my daughter.” 

Lisa Fernandez graduated with a degree in political science from The College in 2009. She said putting her degree toward a career in local politics was a chance to impact her community firsthand.  

“Service to me extends to those who pick up trash on the sidewalk, and to the city managers who are working every day to make the city a better place to live," she said. "One thing that is really special to me about local politics is getting to see that impact every day. Everything my mom and I do today is about serving constituents, either on the state or city level, and I feel so honored to be in that role.”

Speaking to audience members, Patrick Kenney, dean of The College, highlighted the diversity of service the two families reflected.

“We are here to celebrate military service, but also public service more broadly — here at The College we wanted to do it through these two families,” Kenney said. “The university has been working very hard to make sure this is a veteran-friendly institution. And when we ask our veterans to stand during graduation, I am always blown away by how many are among our thousands of graduates, and from every academic unit.”

The connection between academic drive, military service and tradition was a message Michael Abbott drove home, speaking about his family’s roles both at ASU and in the U.S. Navy. 

“There’s this stereotype that since I was in the Navy, my kids will be too, but that’s not the way it went for our family,” said Abbott, who retired from the U.S. Navy and returned to Arizona in 2012 after 21 years of service. “My wife and I relied on the traditions of education and determination to encourage our children to take advantage of every possible opportunity. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree from ASU when I was 43 years old, and I could not have predicted that three out of our four children would go on to go to ASU and into ROTC. But sometimes traditions aren’t made on purpose, they are born out of love.”

For Ryan Abbott, currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in engineering at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, following in his father’s military footsteps was a way to recognize a family tradition and begin to build his own. 

“When my dad retired and we moved back to Arizona, I was searching for the Navy in the desert, and I found ROTC at ASU,” he said. “Joining the military was a personal choice for both me and my sister — we joined to carry on our dad’s legacy and to continue building the life we grew up with.” 

An appreciation for family and service is also what drove Rhea Abbott to pursue a military career. But growing up on military bases, she said the support she received from those around her taught her an important lesson about another kind of service. 

“When my dad was away and I missed him, the support of student groups helped me. When military families whose kids I made friends with moved away, the support of teachers helped me feel a sense of belonging,” said Rhea, who is also studying engineering at ASU. “Neighbors opened their arms and welcomed us, and through that community support I learned to follow their example. They taught me that service is about giving back to our communities and to our country.”

A 2018-19 survey named ASU as a Military Friendly School for the ninth consecutive year. Paul LePore, associate dean for student and academic programs at The College, said The College plays an integral role in that designation by ensuring the needs of military service people and their families are met. 

“Not only does The College include students who have completed their military service and are looking to pursue the next part of their lives, we also have faculty and staff who served,” LePore said. “We have degree programs, courses and faculty research focusing on veterans, their families and the overall role the military plays in society today and historically — those are a lot of different dimensions in which The College is helping the university earn that military friendly status.”

LePore said recognizing the Fernandez and Abbott families was a timely reminder of how the spirit of service can span generations, and the event itself was an important reminder that often, true understanding begins by simply listening. 

“Listening to the stories of what people have learned in the military and the impact they made through that service helps us better understand the students coming to us as veterans,” he said. “This event also coincides with Family Weekend at ASU, so for us, choosing the speakers we did served to celebrate the connection between family and service even more.”

Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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