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Pacific Islander parents to learn how to help children 'navigate the future'

Published: Sunday, Sept. 18 2011 9:28 p.m. MDT

Former BYU Football player and currant Philadelphia sports caster Vai Sikahema (left) hugs and kisses Choir member Siona Ika and fellow Tongan as he sits in with the Tabernacle Choir Thursday, April 7, 2011 as part of a shoot for his show.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — On the Pacific Islands, elders pass down their values and expectations while working alongside their children.

That's rare when they live in the United States.

"Here, dad goes to work. He doesn't have a good paying job, so he may be working two or three jobs. It takes away from their time with the children. We're not able to pass along in the same way the values that have been a strength to our families," said Hema Katoa, a licensed clinical social worker.

That shift to Western culture is putting some Pacific Islander youth in Utah at risk.

A Pacific Islander youth in Utah, according to a survey of student health and risk prevention indicators, is far more likely to use tobacco and smoke marijuana than same aged peers. Moreover, they're more likely to have shown up to school drunk or high, more likely to have been arrested and attacked someone with the intent of seriously harming them, according to the 2009 Student Health and Risk Prevention survey.

What may be even more perplexing is that these risk factors are present among cultures that, generally speaking, have profoundly strong family ties.

"We are an anomaly. The way it usually works is, when you have high protective factors, you have low risk factors," said Katoa, who is Tongan.

The results of the SHARP report will be further examined during a program on Wednesday intended to give Pacific Islanders culturally appropriate and proven strategies to address these and other issues affecting their children and families. The Deseret News is sponsoring the event.

"Navigating the Future" will be conducted at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, 15 E. South Temple, from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. To register online, go to NavigatingTheFuture.rsvpbook.com.

Vai Sikahema, sports director for the NBC affiliate WCAU in Philadelphia and former pro and BYU football player, will give the keynote address.

Sikahema was the first Tongan to play in the National Football League and was twice named to the Pro Bowl.

Mark H. Willes, president and chief executive officer of Deseret Management Corp., will offer opening remarks. Willes was president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Hawaii Honolulu Mission from 2001-04.

The evening's events, which are for adults only, will include a light dinner to be served at 5:30 p.m. followed by an opening prayer; remarks by Willes; breakout sessions on parenting, health, education and finance, and conclude with Sikahema's address.

Katoa, who works for the Jordan School District, said the numbers in the SHARP report need to be interpreted carefully. Pacific Islanders are at risk in certain areas, but they have large extended families that are highly invested in their well-being.

He hopes that parents who attend "Navigating the Future" walk away with proven and practical strategies that can make a significant difference in a child's life, something as simple as setting aside time each night to read with their children.

"We really hope parents take it home and try it. If it doesn't work, let's take it back and try something else," he said.

Pacific Islander families have deep love for their children and they care that they receive an education. The SHARP report also points out that Pacific Islanders have high degrees of religiosity and stable families, which help insulate children from risk.

Katoa, who is Tongan, said some of the stumbling blocks that Pacific Islander youth face are tied to transitioning to American culture. "We're still trying to find our fit," he said.

"Add in factors of poverty and lack of education, and those kind of things add up."

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