Academic journal article Child Welfare

A Collaborative and Trauma-Informed Practice Model for Urban Indian Child Welfare

Academic journal article Child Welfare

A Collaborative and Trauma-Informed Practice Model for Urban Indian Child Welfare

Article excerpt

Preventing the breakup of the American Indian family is the fundamental goal of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). However, few models exist to provide CPS workers and other practitioners with effective and practical strategies to help achieve this goal. This article presents a collaborative and trauma-informed family preservation practice model for Indian Child Welfare services with urban-based American Indian families. The model encompasses both systemic and direct practice efforts that assist families facing multiple challenges in creating a nurturing and more stable family life. System-level interventions improve the cultural responsiveness of providers, encourage partnerships between CPS and community-based providers, and support ICWA compliance. Direct practice interventions, in the form of intensive case management and treatment services, help parents/caregivers become more capable of meeting their own and their children's needs by addressing challenges such as substance abuse, trauma and other mental health challenges, domestic violence, and housing instability. Evaluation of the practice model suggests that it shows promise in preventing out-of-home placement of Native children, while at the same time improving parental capacity, family safety, child well-being, and family environment.

Working with urban American Indian (also referred to herein as "Native") families with child welfare issues requires that Child Protective Services (CPS) workers possess a commitment to family engagement and preservation, while utilizing case management skills, knowledge of Native history, and a trauma-informed approach. This article presents a child welfare intervention model for urban Native families based on a decade of service provision (comprising family preservation, reunification, and ICWA advocacy services) to more than 1,000 Native families by the community-based Denver Indian Family Resource Center (DIFRC), which works collaboratively with public child welfare agencies in the Denver metropolitan area. Evaluation of the model and its discussion in this article focuses on its use with families receiving family preservation services in two targeted programs (a total of 72 families).

The vast majority of American Indians now reside in urban areas (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004); thus, an urban Indian is an individual who lives in either a large U.S. metropolitan area or a smaller city or town rather than on a reservation or in a tribal community. The challenges faced by American Indian families living in cities may include environmental problems such as housing insecurity, unemployment, and criminal justice system involvement, in addition to clinical issues such as untreated mental illness, substance use, and severe trauma histories. This combination, coupled with cultural and worldview differences, may make it difficult for workers to know where to begin in an Indian Child Welfare case (Lucero, 2007). However, DIFRC's model has demonstrated that certain practice interventions can help multi-problem families develop skills, create a nurturing family life, and regain hope.

Historical Context

The troubled history of American Indian families in the child welfare system is intimately linked to the painful history of Federal Indian Policy and accompanying actions that destroyed community and family ties. By the end of the nineteenth century, Indian tribes had been decimated and displaced by war, disease, and federal policies, and thousands of children had been removed to distant boarding schools whose goals were to sever family and tribal ties and educate Native children in the ways of the dominant white culture (Adams, 1995; Hoxie, 1989).

During the twentieth century, policies and practices continued to break up families and erode the well-being of American Indians. Despite the protests of Native parents, family members, and tribes, by mid-century the Indian Adoption Project-a joint effort of the Child Welfare League of America and the Bureau of Indian Affairs-had resulted in a widespread adoption of Native infants to white families (Cross, Earle, 6c Simmons, 2000; George, 1997). …

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