Laura Norton-Cruz

Laura Norton-Cruz
Location: Anchorage, Alaska Cohort Start Year: 2019 Project Topics: Business/Private Sector, Communications, Community/Civic Engagement, Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Early Childhood, Immigrants and Refugees, Public Policy, Racial Justice, Violence and Trauma Populations Served: African-American/Black, Children and Families, Immigrants and Refugees, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders (NHPI), Rural Communities, Urban Communities, Young Children (0-5 years)
Project Manager
International Data Systems, LLC

Laura works toward a world in which all children are in safe, nurturing relationships and environments; the well-being of all families and communities is prioritized; and all people can lead lives of dignity and meaning. When children experience overwhelming amounts of stress (also called toxic stress), this can change the development of their brains, bodies, and genes, and can lead to higher risk of many leading health and social problems. This is particularly true if children under stress interact with systems that are not equitable and “trauma-informed” and that exacerbate or cause toxic stress, e.g., through punitive approaches in schools, through harmful imposition of toxic masculinity, and through racial inequities in punishment. Likewise, medical, educational, justice system and other institutional approaches that alienate families contribute to developmental traumas in children. A multidisciplinary and intergenerational approach to health and justice that considers multiple kinds of oppression and many possibilities for liberation is what informs all of Laura’s work—from public health research and communications to grassroots policy advocacy and volunteering for political campaigns, to her art and writing and the parenting of her two young children.

Laura works for an Alaska Native consulting firm managing health equity and child well-being-related projects. Her CoHL Strategic Initiative is focused on child-care access and affordability, and parent and caregiver-informed policy change to improve the childcare system and decrease racial, immigration status, geographical, and language-based inequities. This initiative intersects with her advocacy in the grassroots parent and caregiver group Growing Alaskan Leaders, of which she is a co-lead.

STRATEGIC INITIATIVE: Partnership to Establish an Equitable System to Care for Alaska’s Children
Although early childhood is the most sensitive period for brain development, and childcare plays an essential role in the economy, the system in place in the United States for the care and education of young children is underfunded, full of gaps, and rife with disparities. Alaska is one of the least-affordable states for childcare in the country. Many rural communities are without any licensed care facilities. Childcare assistance funding is difficult to access, and there has been a 28 percent decline in the number of families receiving it between 2015 and 2019. My strategic initiative will use multilingual, statewide survey research to identify barriers to access and affordability of childcare and childcare assistance and explore disparities (e.g., rural vs. urban, race, language spoken at home). My strategic initiative will build on the research to create communications tools for advocacy for utilization by grassroots activist group, Growing Alaskan Leaders, and by nonprofit partners such as Thread, Alaska Children’s Trust, All Alaska Pediatric Partnership, and United Way, and by early childhood coalitions. My ultimate goal is both concrete improvement in access, affordability, and quality of care and a more participatory process to early childhood decision-making at the state level, which includes diverse parent voices.

Laura is a passionate advocate for children and families, a teacher, system changer and activist. She is also a mother, athlete, artist, community builder, gardener and wild foods harvester, and a lover of Alaska’s land and water. She focuses her work, activism, and writing on the importance of healthy and equitable child development for intergenerational and community well-being, and how to undo the familial and systemic traumas that harm us.

Click here to watch Laura’s Legacy Project video.