Part II – Indigenous child welfare: Preparations for the next seven generations.

Part II – Indigenous child welfare: Preparations for the next seven generations.


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 2 of two modules. Part one described the problem
of disparities in Indigenous child welfare literature. Part two will explore the solutions that we found.
You met our research team in the first module. Wendy Haight, David Glesener, Scott Marsalis,
and Cary Waubanascum, that’s me, welcoming you to module 2.
Our study addresses one of the most pressing issues facing child welfare policy makers
and practitioners today: the dramatic overrepresentation of Indigenous families in North American public
child welfare systems. As we described in module one, Indigenous
children experience high levels of disparities in US and Canadian child welfare systems.
These disparities result from hundreds of years of government sponsored genocide and
continued oppression. Indigenous child welfare is a long emergency caused by sustained stress
to Indigenous social, cultural, and ecological systems.
Disparities persist despite the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act in the US in
1978. In module 1 we examined reasons for persisting
disparities in Indigenous child welfare that were present in the literature. In summary,
these reasons include: social challenges experienced by many child
welfare-involved families are more intense for Indigenous families; appropriate services
are even less available for child welfare-involved Indigenous than other families; racism presents
challenges to available child welfare services; racism in child welfare services can reinforce
preexisting distrust and disengagement; and, inadequate implementation of the Indian Child
Welfare Act. We approached our study sensitized by writings
and multiple conversations with Indigenous elders from Ojibwe tribes in Minnesota including
the Fond du lac tribe. For decades, Indigenous elders and scholars have been practicing,
explicating, and advocating for culturally-based child welfare practices to improve services
to struggling Indigenous families. We also approach this scoping study sensitized
by concepts from developmental cultural psychology, specifically, “universalism without uniformity”.
Certain human challenges, such as caring for the young and elderly, family conflict and
child maltreatment, are common across cultural groups worldwide. The historical and cultural
contexts of these common challenges, however, vary widely. For example, the historical trauma
experienced by Indigenous peoples. Thus, how they are understood and approached is culturally
nuanced (“without uniformity”). Understanding such cultural nuances necessary to avoid
homogenizing families from diverse cultural communities including diverse Indigenous cultures.
It is also critical to provide social services that make sense and are sustainable within
diverse Indigenous cultural communities. An understanding of “universalism without uniformity”
is foundational for social workers to engage effectively with diverse client systems including
for non-Indigenous social workers to implement culturally based services with Indigenous
communities. Through our study, we examined the current
state of the published, peer-reviewed empirical literature directly relevant to addressing
the research questions for solutions: What are culturally-based child protection
beliefs, practices, and programs within Indigenous communities?
What is the evidence regarding the effectiveness of culturally-based child welfare programs?
And, what are the challenges to the widespread implementation of such culturally-based programs?
To quickly review our methodology, we primarily used the scoping review framework laid out
by Arskey and O’Malley. A scoping study systematically reviews the literature, typically
in a newly emerging or under researched area of study. The purposes are to identify key
concepts, the main sources and types of available evidence, and gaps in our understanding.
We included empirical studies in peer-reviewed journals directly related to the involvement
of Indigenous families in 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 excluded methodological papers and dissertations.
I will introduce several key themes that we found in the literature based on our third
question related to culturally-based beliefs, practices and programs.
A number of empirical studies contained data relevant to understanding cultural beliefs
and child protection practices within tribes. There is some evidence suggesting a need for
unique policies and practices for Indigenous people. For instance, in their analysis of
the U.S. national foster care data for Indigenous, African American and Hispanic children, Lawler
and colleagues’ found that an independent construct was operating for Indigenous disparities.
In this section, we turn to the cultural beliefs and practices within tribal communities for
models of such policies and practices for reducing disparities and strengthening formal
child welfare services to Indigenous families. There is some evidence that within Indigenous
tribes and communities, children are viewed as embedded within extended families and tribes
who are responsible for their care. In Halverson and colleagues’ qualitative study of Indigenous
foster parents, participants considered the children within their care to be their kin,
even if they were not biological relatives. These participants contextualized their caregiving
within a cultural-historical context involving the forced removal of Indigenous children
from their homes, especially during the boarding school era. They described the importance
of socializing Indigenous foster children through Indigenous practices as part of healing
from such historical trauma. Another characteristic of Indigenous beliefs
and child protection practices is a non-coercive, strengths- and community–based orientation
to removing barriers to healthy functioning and healing from past traumas. Rousseau conducted
a focus group with nine Indigenous professionals and in-depth audio recorded interviews with
22 others working within the British Columbia Ministry of Children and Family Development.
In contrast to North American government-run child welfare services, which typically focus
on diagnosing and treating family deficits and compelling behavioral change, Indigenous
professionals described their management and practice as demonstrating strong collective
values and a deep respect for community protocols. Rather than exerting expert authority and
power, the orientation they described was one of sharing power with individuals and
providing advocacy and support to remove barriers to healthy functioning.
Our fourth question explored the evidence regarding the effectiveness of culturally-based
child welfare programs. Several studies contained empirical evidence
regarding the effectiveness of culturally-based or culturally-sensitive programs. Indigenous
scholars have been advocating for, developing and implementing culturally-based child welfare
practices for decades. Some recent research includes empirical examinations of child welfare
practices with Indigenous families that are culturally-based or culturally-adapted. We
consider approaches that are culturally-based, at minimum, to recognize the impact of historical
context including historical trauma on families, consider children’s extended families and
tribes/communities as critical resources for their care, and to be non-coercive, strengths-
and community-based. Culturally-adapted approaches emphasize cultural competence and sensitivity
in the delivery of approaches originally designed for other contexts, or apply approaches designed
in other contexts that are based on culturally-similar beliefs.
Lucero and Bussey present an evaluation of a collaborative and trauma-informed practice
model for urban Indigenous child welfare. Established in 2000, the Denver Indian Family
Resource Center is private, non-profit, and community-based. As part of the Colorado Indian
Child Welfare Act taskforce, it partners with child welfare systems in seven counties in
the Denver metro area to reduce disparities and prevent the break-up of Indigenous families.
Its Family Preservation Model was developed over a 10-year period as a practice model
for Indigenous families. The model incorporates components such as improving the cultural
responsiveness of providers, encouraging partnerships, and otherwise supporting ICWA compliance.
It also incorporates direct practice components including team decision-making, intensive
case management and treatment services. In Iowa, Richardson evaluated a specialized
Native American program within the Iowa Department of Human Services. The program focuses on
community outreach, prevention and intervention with Indigenous children and families at risk
of involvement in the child welfare system. It aims to improve cultural competence in
the delivery of services, increase attention to Indian Child Welfare Act, reduce caseloads,
increase available Indigenous foster homes and place greater emphasis on relatives and
community networks as resources. Workers received training and developed the capacity to assist
families through a more culturally competent, strengths-based approaches to promoting resiliency
within families and utilizing family team meetings.
Lucero and colleagues evaluated the cultural fit of an approach for a practice model development
for tribal child welfare agencies. Three tribal agencies used Business Process Mapping, or
BPM, as a tool to develop culturally-based tribal child welfare practice models. BPM
is a highly structured and detailed process that involves the staff working collaboratively
to define and document each step of their practice from case referral and intake, to
assessment, service delivery and case resolution, with the assistance of an outside facilitator.
In summary, tribal agency members considered BPM to be a “mainstream” intervention,
but found it to be useful in creating models reflecting child welfare practice in tribal
cultural contexts. They also indicated that future adaptation of the BPM for use in tribal
settings should help tribes to better articulate cultural values and norms, as well as differences
between tribal and mainstream child welfare approaches.
And, finally, Chaffin and colleagues compared recidivism rates and client satisfaction ratings
of a subgroup of 354 Indigenous parents in Oklahoma to the larger sample of parents receiving
SafeCare. SafeCare is a highly structured behavioral skills training model delivered
as one component of a broader home visiting service. This model has been found to be more
effective than home visiting services, as usual, including in reducing recidivism of
child maltreatment. Six-year recidivism reduction for Indigenous subsample was equivalent to
the larger sample, and overall client satisfaction. Finally, our fifth question explored the challenges
to widespread implementation of culturally-based programs.
Several studies contained empirical data relevant to understanding the challenges to implementing
culturally-based or culturally-adapted county, state and provincial child welfare services.
Clearly, concerns about disparities in the involvement of Indigenous families have been
voiced for decades. Likewise, Indigenous scholars and professionals have been describing and
implementing culturally appropriate services to Indigenous families for decades. Furthermore,
available empirical data suggests that culturally based county and state child welfare services
may be effective. There appear, however to be a variety of obstacles to their widespread
implementation including inadequate allocation of resources to agencies serving high numbers
of Indigenous families, and agency-level factors that impede culturally sensitive child welfare
practices. There is some evidence that state-level factors,
specifically, the failure to fully comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act, impede
culturally-sensitive child welfare practices leading to poorer outcomes for Indigenous
families. The Indian Child Welfare Act mandated that certain steps be taken by states when
intervening with Indigenous families, but the federal government failed to put a formal
monitoring system in place. Hence, compliance has been a problem. Indeed, the limited empirical
research of the Indian Child Welfare Act compliance published in peer-reviewed journals reflects
somewhat mixed results. Limb and colleagues conducted case record reviews of 49 ICWA-eligible
children in out-of-home care and surveyed 78 caseworkers and 16 tribal social workers
in a southwest state. State workers reported limited knowledge of many ICWA requirements,
but nonetheless, 83 percent of Indigenous children were placed according to preferences
outlined by ICWA. Both state and tribal workers reported a high level of state-tribal cooperation
in working with Indigenous families. Although this southwestern state demonstrated
relatively good ICWA compliance, the situation nationwide seems decidedly more mixed. Limb
and Brown conducted a nationwide, content analysis of the ICWA section within Title
IV-E Child and Family Service Plans of 43 states and the District of Columbia and interviewed
11 children and families, administrators, and eight state officials. They found that 75
percent of states had conferred with tribes and tribal organizations in the development
of their CFSPs, and most of those that did not were in states without federally recognized
tribes. They were, however, particularly concerned with whether or not three, minimum ICWA reporting
requirements were met by CFSPs: one, Indigenous children were identified, two, tribes were
notified, and three, preference was given to Indigenous caregivers when determining
out-of-home or permanent placements for Indigenous children. They found that only 34 percent
of states had plans to identify Indigenous children, 27 percent had specific measures
to notify the child’s tribe and 41 percent demonstrated a preference for Indigenous caregivers
when determining out-of-home or permanent placements. Perhaps most concerning, 52 percent
of CFSPs did not include any of the three required specific measures.
Given the sheer number of articles published in child welfare, relatively little empirical
research has focused on Indigenous child welfare. More empirical research is needed to understand
the reasons for disparities in the involvement of Indigenous families in child welfare. Also,
left out of the research were the voices of Indigenous parents and children.
In order to understand the child welfare experiences of Indigenous people, it is necessary to implement
research methods that are understandable within the cultural contexts of specific Indigenous
communities and methodologies that can convey Indigenous perspectives. In addition, many
Indigenous people and communities are protective of their traditional and ceremonial practices
and beliefs. In many cases, non-Indigenous research methods are inappropriate to conduct
research in these areas. Furthermore, Indigenous people have experienced abuse and misrepresentation
at the hands of outside researchers. There is, however, a growing literature on Indigenous
epistemology, world view, and methodologies. Indigenous research methods that stem from
Indigenous knowledge create a path for accurate representation and interpretation of the experiences
of Indigenous people and communities. The use of such methodologies for understanding
child welfare within Indigenous communities is reflected in some recent dissertations.
For example, Cameron’s 2010 dissertation used methods of inquiry into how experiences with
child welfare affected the personal and social identities of Anishinabe participants. This
included the “Aboriginal Circle paradigm.” In addition, Neckoway’s 2011 dissertation
explored Ojibwe parenting and responses to family challenges that included a modified
“Talking Circle” format. Let’s return to the concepts of universalism
without uniformity, we see two types of broad implications from our scoping study: those
generally applicable to strengthening child welfare for all families, and those specific
to Indigenous families. Child maltreatment is a common and persistent
problem across diverse cultural contexts. The focus of our study is Indigenous families,
but we would be re-miss if we did not point out the value of a cultural perspective for
strengthening government run child welfare systems for all families. Attention to child
welfare systems operating in diverse cultural contexts, including Indigenous communities,
can help us to identify taken-for-granted beliefs and practices within mainstream systems,
and perhaps, think differently and more creatively about improving those systems. Indigenous
ways draw our attention to the potential of less coercive, and more extended family-,
community- and strength-based approaches broadly relevant to reforming poorly functioning
child welfare systems. For example, some non- Indigenous, child welfare-involved parents
and professionals have criticized the existing U.S. child welfare system as adversarial,
punitive, shame based, under-resourced, and racist. They explained that their experiences
within the system compounded their challenges including engaging in potentially beneficial
services, or practicing in a manner consistent with their professional ethics and personal
morals. Making change to this complex county, state
and provincial child welfare systems is clearly daunting, but it is possible. While it is
never appropriate to simply transplant cultural practices from one cultural community to another,
attention to diverse child welfare systems can stimulate ideas for changing existing,
poorly functioning systems. In particular, there are government–run child welfare systems
that, similar to Indigenous approaches reviewed in this scoping study, are minimally coercive,
and extended family-, strengths- and community-based. For example, shortly after devolution, Scotland
implemented Getting it Right for Every Child, a government program that provided a new child
welfare framework that emphasized relationships between local service providers, the immediate
community and vulnerable families; and the responsibilities of local communities for
caring for all children. Japan offers yet another model where the legal system rarely
becomes involved in cases of child maltreatment. Professionals “look with long eyes” at
struggling families. They focus on developing and sustaining relationships with parents,
who may need support for extended periods of time or in the future, and ensuring that
children in out-of-home-care are well-integrated into their communities. Critical study of
such diverse cultural cases can stimulate new ways of thinking and approaches to government-run
child welfare systems, as well as forecasting some of the potential challenges and strategies
for establishing meaningful systems change. The scoped studies we reviewed have specific
implications for culturally based child welfare with Indigenous families. We began this paper
by emphasizing the importance of understanding Indigenous child welfare with historical
contexts. To conclude, we have come to view current
disparities in the involvement of Indigenous families in child welfare as a manifestation
of a “long emergency,” that is, the sustained depletion of social and environmental resources,
resulting from centuries of colonial oppression and government-sponsored genocide of Indigenous
people. In contrast to a single disaster where relief can be expected from outside sources,
in the long emergency, solutions must draw upon and strengthen the healthy, functioning
systems that remain strong within these affected communities. In the case of child welfare
with Indigenous families, our scoping study suggests that a promising path forward is
for county, state and provincial child welfare professionals to look to Indigenous child
welfare beliefs and practices for models of culturally appropriate policies and practices.
Some promising initial research in Colorado and Iowa, is consistent with the practices
advocated for and employed by Indigenous leaders. It suggests that partnerships between government-run
child welfare agencies and tribal agencies or communities can reduce disparities in the
involvement of Indigenous families in county, state and provincial child welfare systems
through culturally based interventions that consider the child as embedded within an extended
family and community, are strengths-based and community focused.
At the same time, the scoped studies also suggest that there are a number of interrelated,
systems-level challenges to the widespread, scaled-up implementation of such programs.
Challenges that must be addressed include the inadequate allocation of resources to
child welfare systems providing services to Indigenous families, agency- level characteristics
such as large size and inflexibility in service provision, and state-level factors especially
the failure to comply with ICWA mandates. Applying the concept of the long emergency
within the context of the Seven Generations Philosophy to Indigenous communities underscores
the complex, mutually dependent relationships between child welfare reform and cultural
revitalization. Child welfare practice centered around Indigenous cultures and resources within
tribes is one of the cornerstones for reclaiming and maintaining thriving, sustainable Indigenous
nations that have been decimated by genocide, stolen and exploited lands, abrogation of
treaties, displacement, boarding schools, assimilation, annihilation of languages, federal
policies and poverty. At the same time, children need well-functioning families and communities
to thrive and continue Indigenous nations into the next seven generations and beyond.
Simply put, child welfare reform is necessary for reclaiming and maintaining healthy Indigenous
communities, and cultural revitalization is necessary to successful child welfare reform.
The solutions to disparities pursued in the scoped studies are based primarily on supports
to county, state and provincial child welfare systems. A notable gap in the literature is
the systematic examination of the capacity building needs at the tribal or Indigenous
community level, and how addressing such needs can strengthen Indigenous families. I would like to thank you for joining me for
module two. Wywenin. Have a nice day.

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