Part I – Indigenous child welfare: The long emergency

Part I – Indigenous child welfare: The long emergency


Posoh! Hello, thank you for joining us today to learn
about our scoping study on Indigenous child welfare. Our scoping study addressed five research
questions. This module is part one of two. Part one will describe the problem of disparities
in Indigenous child welfare literature throughout Turtle Island, or the United States and Canada. Part two will explore the solutions. First, let me introduce you to our research
team. I’m honored to be a part of this talented
team who brings diverse perspectives and expertise. Wendy Haight is Professor and Gamble-Skogmo
Chair in Child Welfare and Youth Policy at the University of Minnesota. Educated as a developmental, cultural psychologist,
she focuses on child welfare beliefs and practices in diverse U.S. and international cultural
contexts. David Glesener is a PhD student at the University
of Minnesota, School of Social Work. In addition, he is a retired child welfare
professional with 39 years of service in child protection including 6 years as supervisor
of child welfare services to ICWA-involved families. We were all so privileged to work with our
librarian, Scott Marsalis who serves the School of Social Work on the Twin Cities Campus. Scott is a MLIS information professional with
expertise in searching bibliographic databases among other things. Finally, my name is Cary Waubanascum. I’m originally from the Menominee Reservation
located in Northeastern Wisconsin, and I am an enrolled member of the Oneida Nation of
Wisconsin and I have lived in Oneida throughout my adulthood. I began my PhD at the University of Minnesota
– Twin Cities Campus two years ago. I have 10 years of post MSW practice experience
with Tribal communities throughout Turtle Island. This scoping study addresses one of the most
pressing, sensitive, and controversal issues facing child welfare policymakers and practitioners
today: the dramatic overrepresentation of Indigenous families in North American public
child welfare systems. For consistency, we will refer to Indigenous
communities and peoples of North America, including U.S. and Canada as “Indigenous,”
unless their specific tribal, Indigenous, First Nation or Aboriginal names are specified
in the research or when referring to a specific law, such as, the Indian Child Welfare Act. In Canada, for instance, Indigenous children
comprise 52 percent of foster children under 14 years of age despite representing just
eight percent of that age group in the Canadian population. In the U.S., Indigenous children under approximately
age 17 have the highest rate of substantiated maltreatment reports and are in foster care
at a rate 3.3 times the rate for white children. These and other disparities persist in the
U.S. and Canada despite legislation designed to improve outcomes for Indigenous families. In the U.S., the federal Indian Child Welfare
Act of 1978 was passed at the request of the tribes to reduce the involvement of Indigenous
children in the child welfare system, halt the removal of Indigenous children from Indigenous
communities, and reclaim their cultures. It focuses on Indigenous family preservation
as integral to tribal sovereignty and reparative justice. It recognizes that the removal of Indigenous
children from their families is devastating not only for those families, but for Indigenous
communities as a whole. Maintaining Indigenous children in Indigenous
homes or foster homes ensures continuation of Indigenous communities for future generations. In summary, ICWA places exclusive jurisdiction
of child welfare laws and regulations on tribal lands with tribes. Off-reservation, ICWA requires tribal notification
by county or state child protection agencies of child maltreatment allegations and child
custody proceedings involving Indigenous children eligible for tribal enrollment. The law requires “active efforts” before placing
children in foster care, which is a higher standard than “reasonable efforts” used before
removing non-Indigenous children from their families. To remove Indigenous children from their families,
the law requires testimony from a qualified expert witness familiar with the child’s culture. If out-of-home placement care is necessary,
the law also specifies preferences for placements first with relatives, then members of the
child’s tribe and, lastly, another Indigenous family. Only after these placements have been considered
can a child be placed with a non-Indigenous family. Unlike Indigenous child welfare in the U.S.,
Canadian child welfare has several systems. Child welfare mandates differ across the 13
provincial/territorial areas. Each provincial system is shaped by federal,
provincial, and First Nations legislation. There is no universal definition of child
maltreatment across the Provinces. There is, however, a shared goal of protecting
children from abuse, and basic understandings of sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect,
emotional maltreatment, and exposure to interpersonal violence or substance abuse. The history of North America did not begin
with the Colonial era. It began thousands of years prior when Indigenous
people lived and thrived on “Turtle Island.” The history of Indigenous genocide and historical
trauma in North America is manifested today in many forms of oppression, violence, and
structural racism including within child welfare systems. To heal from the destruction of colonization
and genocide, and to ensure the survival and reclamation of their ways of life, many contemporary
Indigenous nations embrace the Seven Generations Philosophy. This philosophy was passed down from our ancestors
and it considers how each decision made today will affect the next seven generations and
beyond. Consistent with the Seven Generations Philosophy,
the high rates of Indigenous families involved in child welfare may be viewed as a “long
emergency.” Climate change scientists concerned with the
effects of global warming use the concept of the long emergency to refer to sustained
stress to social and ecological systems caused by multiple disasters affecting generations. For example, the aftermath of Hurricane Maria
in Puerto Rico occurring in the midst of a long term, financial crisis resulted in unmet
needs in the face of depleted resources. Indigenous people in the United States and
Canada also have endured a long emergency from systemic, pre-meditated actions to destroy
their families, cultures, lands, and spiritual belief systems beginning more than 500 years
ago with the colonization of North America by Europeans. Beginning in the 1800s and continuing well
into the 20th century, Indigenous families and children were victims of U.S. and Canadian
governments’ efforts to forcefully and brutally assimilate Indigenous people. Implementation of official policies severed
children from their culture and kinship networks through forced removal from their families. It also displaced them from their tribal homelands,
and forced them into mandatory boarding school attendance. During the U.S. boarding school era of the
late 19th through the mid-20th centuries, the U.S. government established Indian boarding
schools to force Indigenous children and youth to assimilate into European culture. The goal was to sever Indigenous children
from their families and communities via off-reservation boarding schools so that they could more easily
coerce them to adopt the ways of European culture. During this time, children were not only deprived
of the care, nurturance and protection of traditional child rearing practices, many
experienced abduction and then emotional, physical, and sexual abuse in these militaristic
schools. While some children survived this treacherous
process, many died from disease, malnutrition, and harsh conditions. The forced separation of children from their
families and communities during the U.S. boarding school era continues to affect Indigenous
families and communities today. Indigenous children in Canada also were forcibly
taken from their families. In 1920, the Canadian government mandated
that all Indigenous children of school age attend a residential school. During the height of the Residential School
System Era in the 1930s and 40s, between 90,000 and 100,000 children were institutionalized. Although most of these schools closed in the
1950s and 60s, the forcible separation of Indigenous children from their families and
communities continued during the “Sixties Scoop.” Through the late 1950s and into the 80s, thousands
of Indigenous children were “scooped” by the Canadian government from their families
and communities and adopted into predominantly white, middle class families in Canada and
the U.S. Many adoptees lost a sense of cultural identity. Their forced removal from their birth families
and communities continues to undermine adult adoptees and Indigenous communities today. The history of government oppression and genocide
has undermined Indigenous cultures and created risks for child maltreatment. Historical trauma is the intergenerational
trauma from unresolved grief and disruptions to normative, Indigenous child socialization
processes. It continues to resonate in many communities. Inadequate exposure to Indigenous parenting
role models, personal trauma histories, poverty and racism have damaged generations of Indigenous
families. This history also seriously diminished both
the capacity of many Indigenous parents to trust potentially helpful services from child
welfare agencies and staff members, and the capacity of non-Indigenous child welfare agencies
and staff to understand, evaluate and engage in effective services with Indigenous families. On the flip side we must also understand that
Native Americans survived a genocide and that there are many strengths and many nations
reclaiming their cultures or revitalizing their languages and cultures. Bussey and Lucero summarized three challenges
Indigenous families involved with child welfare face: a fear of losing their children as have
others before them, the caseworker’s lack of cultural knowledge, and being judged as
an inadequate parent based on non-Indigenous cultural values. Furthermore, they point out that European
American- based approaches to child welfare stress individualism, independence, confidentiality,
and authority through formal education. These values not only conflict with traditional
Indigenous values, they are quite similar to those that provided the foundation and
justification for assimilative U.S. Indian policy in the late 19th century, including
Indian boarding schools and the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887 that devastated Indigenous communities. From an Indigenous perspective, families are
strengthened through kinship bonds, community and tribal connections, values and traditions,
language, spirituality, and cultural practices. Through our study, we examined the current
state of the published, peer-reviewed empirical literature directly relevant to addressing
the questions to understand why disparities persist:
Our first research question: What is the current state of the literature pertaining to child
welfare with Indigenous families. We wanted to know the number of studies, number
of empirical studies, what publication they were published in, the study focus, what groups
were involved in the study, what were their data sources, and their research methods and
perspectives. We wanted to know if they were looking at
the insider perspective versus outsider perspectives. We also wanted to know why do disparities
in the involvement of Indigenous families in county, state and provincial child welfare
systems persist? Our method is primarily based on the scoping
review framework laid out by Arskey and O’Malley, incorporating some recommendations of Levac
and colleagues. A scoping study is a type of systematic review
and knowledge synthesis that maps key concepts, types of evidence, and gaps in the literature. Scoping studies are particularly useful when
considering a broad, complex topic that has not been extensively researched. Scoping studies inform practice and policy,
and provide direction for research in emerging areas. They are relatively common in medical research,
but comparatively rare in social work. The broad aim of the current study is to examine
the extent, range and characteristics of research addressing the involvement of Indigenous families
in child welfare, provide a synthesis of research findings and identify directions for future
research. We also characterize our scoping study
as “mixed method” design. We intentionally integrated quantitative and
qualitative methodologies for the primary purpose of breadth and depth. We included empirical studies and peer reviewed
journals directly related to the involvement of Indigenous families and child welfare systems. We included studies of populations from the
United States and Canada, including American Indian, Alaskan Native/Inuit, Metis and First
Nations. We comprehensively searched four online literature
databases based on relevance to the topic. We selected key words under three categories:
Native population; child welfare; and quantitative, qualitative or mixed methodology. We then reviewed and sorted the studies. As patterns in the literature emerged, articles
were repeatedly sorted until the final pool for scoping was established. Let’s begin with the first research question:
What is the current state of the literature pertaining to child welfare with indigenous
families? As you can see from this table from the year
2000 through 2017 we located a total of 245 studies relevant to our research questions. Only 37 of those studies involved original
empirical data. Throughout the 17 years of this study, 0 to
5 empirical studies were published per year. In addition, 71 percent of the studies were
published in child welfare journals with 13 percent in American Indian Studies and 13
percent in other journals. Approximately half of these studies focused
on understanding disparities, primarily in out-of-home placements, but also in kinship
adoption, the prescription of psychotropic medication to child welfare-involved children,
parents’ access to service, outcomes of adult foster alumni, use of differential response,
maltreatment substantiations and investigations. A number of other studies focused on culturally-based
child protection practices and principles within Indigenous tribes and communities. Three additional studies provided some evaluation
data on practice models with varying levels of cultural foundations. Two more studies evaluated compliance with
ICWA and one study focused specifically on the experiences of Indigenous parents providing
foster care, and one of Indigenous professionals. Only six studies focused on specific tribes. Sixty five percent of the studies used methods
and perspectives from outside of Indigenous cultures. Even if these studies included Indigenous
authors most analyzed data from the administrative records or secondary data sources collected
primarily by non-Indigenous professionals or they used instruments developed within other cultural
contexts. In contrast, 27 percent studies prioritized
the insider perspectives and experiences of Indigenous professionals, community members,
both community members and professionals, and foster parents. With the exception of assessments of 3 evaluation
studies that included both insider and outsider perspectives, the experiences of parents involved
with child welfare are notably absent. Also notably absent are the perspectives and
experiences of children and youth. Only 30 percent of these studies employed
qualitative methods, and two studies employed mixed methods with an emphasis on the quantitative
component. Most of the studies used quantitative methods,
and most of these studies used large, nationally representative databases including the National
Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-being, National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System,
the Canadian Incidence or First Nations Canadian Incidence Study. Next, I will introduce several key themes
that we found in the literature related to why disparities in the involvement of Indigenous
families in county, state and provincial child welfare systems persist. Social challenges experienced by many child
welfare-involved families are relatively more intense for Indigenous than non-indigenous
families, and these challenges may contribute to disparities in child welfare involvement. In particular, low income is associated with
findings of neglect. In Canada, child welfare involved Indigenous
families tend to be economically disadvantaged than other child welfare-involved families. Indeed, neglect is the largest category of
an investigation for Indigenous families. Using the 2008 Canadian Incident Study data,
Sinha and colleagues found that neglect only was the largest category of investigations
for Indigenous children, and the proportion of Indigenous cases that involved neglect
only was significantly higher than for non- Indigenous cases. Using the 2008 First Nations Canadian Incident
Study data, they again found that the overrepresentation of Indigenous children relative to non-Indigenous
children in investigations was particularly pronounced for neglect. In Canada, other social challenges often associated
with poverty such as housing problems, single parenting, and alcohol or other substance
abuse problems also are more intense for child welfare-involved Indigenous families. Sinha and colleagues also found that Canadian
workers identified a significantly greater percentage of investigated Indigenous than
non- Indigenous households on every caregiver or household risk factor examined except “health
issues.” Caregiver risk factors included: substance
abuse, history of foster care/group home, domestic violence, few social supports and
multiple risk factors. In addition to low income, household risk
factors were: housing problems, caregiver resource strain and multiple household risks. These Canadian findings of the relatively
intense social challenges experienced by Indigenous families involved in investigations are consistent
with those pertaining to families with children in out-of-home care. Based on their analysis of data from the 1998
Canadian Incident Study, Trocmé and colleagues attribute the overrepresentation of Indigenous
children both with substantiated cases and those in out-of-home care to disproportionate
risk factors experienced by their families. They found extremely high rates of hardships
among Indigenous families compared to other families including unstable housing, alcohol
and drug use, and intergenerational maltreatment. They found that proportionately more cases
from Indigenous families involved neglect than other families and family heads were
more often single. Canadian findings of the intense level of
social challenges experienced by Indigenous families relative to other child welfare –involved
families are consistent with available U.S. data. Based on case record review of children in
out-of-home care in a Minnesota county, Donald and colleagues found that Indigenous children
were more likely to be exposed to physical neglect than their non-Indigenous counterparts. Their families were mostly single-parent households
living in poverty. Although alcohol was a significant problem
for both Indigenous and other families, rates were significantly higher among Indigenous
families. Another theme that we found was that appropriate
services are even less available to child welfare involved Indigenous than other families. Relatively poor availability of services also
may contribute to disparities in the involvement of Indigenous families in child welfare. There also is some evidence that services
other than child welfare are even less available to child welfare-involved Indigenous than
other child welfare-involved families. Our next theme that we found was that racism
presents challenges to available child-welfare services. In addition to relatively intense service
needs combined with relatively poor access to social services other than child welfare,
there is some evidence that state, county and provincial child welfare services available
to many Indigenous families reflects racism at the individual and system levels. First, workers may weigh various risk factors
differently for Indigenous and non- Indigenous families in neglect cases. There also is some evidence that Indigenous
families’ and communities’ experiences of racism in U.S. state and county child welfare
services reinforces their distrust and disengagement from government child welfare services, a
legacy from decades of genocide and cultural repression. While this distrust is legitimate and some
government services lead to harm, some services are potentially helpful, especially when they
prioritize Indigenous culture, partnerships with Indigenous communities, and guidance
from Indigenous communities. Red Horse and colleagues surveyed 79 Indigenous
people at national conferences and conducted two talking circles with Ojibwe elders in
Minnesota and Wisconsin. Participants critiqued mainstream child welfare
practices as reflecting an ignorance of Indigenous cultural experiences. They observed that mainstream practitioners
typically do not have direct experience with healthy Indigenous families and communities. Such inexperience contributes to the development
and reinforcement of negative stereotypes about Indigenous people, ignorance of traditional
Indigenous support services and defensiveness among non-Indigenous child welfare workers. They further argued that mainstream child
welfare practices that approach Indigenous families from a deficit perspective, and emphasize
power and control, reinforce Indigenous peoples’ distrust of white social workers. As we think about our findings, they must
be contextualized within our study limitations. First, we note that scoping methodology brings
systematicity and transparency to the search process. The actual review of the literature, however,
remains an interpretative process. We induced themes from the literature that,
from our standpoints, were meaningful. Others may have perceived other themes. Second, we searched literature published in
peer reviewed journals. We did not search the grey literature, such
as, conference presentations, white papers, agency reports or dissertations. Clearly the long emergency of Indigenous child
welfare continues while many Indigenous communities plan for the next seven generations. In module 2 we will explore ways forward to
strengthen child welfare with Indigenous families.

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