University of North Dakota Makes Native American Child Welfare a Priority
Even though Native Americans make up only about 5% of the population in North Dakota, nearly 40% of children in foster care in the state are from that group, says a recent study by the North Dakota Department of Human Services. There’s a clear threat to Native American child welfare in the state, and the University of North Dakota (UND) Department of Social Work in Grand Forks is out to help.
The University of North Dakota social work program has initiatives to support Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) implementation, improve the foster care system and expand the Native American child welfare workforce through a National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI) grant.
Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Strategy
One means of combating the foster care “disproportionality” for indigenous children has been through a five-year, $2.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help improve implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which was established in 1978 to protect Native children in the child welfare system and expand tribal jurisdiction.
Pictured: 2017 ICWA implementation grantee meeting in Duluth, Minn.: Dr. Carenlee Barkdull, University of North Dakota professor; Lead Investigator Dr. Melanie Sage, University at Buffalo professor; Harmony Bercier, North Dakota ICWA Implementation Partnership Grant project manager and ICWA trainer; Jessi Leneaugh, Native American Training Institute ICWA partnership trainer; Avery Davies, ICWA and NCWWI grant coordinator; and Heather Traynor, North Dakota Court Improvement Project coordinator.
Dr. Melanie Sage, the social work professor who obtained this ICWA Implementation Partnership Grant in 2016, had laid the groundwork for it through a small state grant to help the North Dakota Supreme Court understand the reasons for the disproportionality. An audit of state court records, she says, found widespread noncompliance with ICWA, such as not prioritizing the placement of kids with relatives, and rarely having a “qualified expert witness” — a designated individual knowledgeable about standards for Native American well-being — at hearings.
The large ICWA grant project, now extended for a year, has gone beyond court records to help tie together all the foster care players: tribal courts, tribal ICWA agencies, state child welfare offices and state courts. Says Sage, “We can’t intervene on this issue without involving all those other systems, too, and that’s what we were able to do in that bigger grant.” A few years into the grant, Sage moved to the University at Buffalo, but remains lead investigator even though the grant-funded activities stayed in North Dakota (in other words, lots of Zoom calls).
Image: The latest NCWWI project involving MHA Nation emphasizes “Magithu” — the Hidatsa term for harvest — symbolizing growth in effective child welfare practices.
Now, Harmony L. Bercier, a former trainer with UND’s Children & Family Services Training Center and an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, handles on-the-ground project management responsibilities in North Dakota. She supports both ICWA implementation and training. Aside from dramatically enhancing the use of the qualified expert witness in proceedings, Bercier says, one of the program’s most important accomplishments has been improving communication between state and tribal partners.
But how can you dramatically enhance Native American child welfare without growing the workforce? That’s where a more recent five-year, $650,000 grant from the federal Children’s Bureau’s National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI) comes in. It helps the tribal social services agency at MHA (Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara) Nation in the western part of North Dakota expand and train its workforce, says UND professor Carenlee Barkdull. “It also involves scholarships for students, who will do their internships in a tribal social services agency and commit to do their payback for that tuition support at a tribal social services agency in North Dakota.”
One such student is Cedar Dancing Bull (pictured), who’s getting her BSSW and works as a foster care case manager at MHA Nation Social Services. Her duties include taking children to doctor’s appointments, making sure they’re in school, and, most importantly, helping parents reunify with their children. Having a bachelor’s degree (in environmental science) from a tribal school, Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College, helped her get accepted into the UND degree program.
Among her courses have been “Generalist Practice With Individuals and Families” and “Generalist Practice With Treatment and Task Groups,” says Dancing Bull. “Those were the ones that helped me understand how I would be able to work with clients, how I would be able to help clients and do the daily tasks of working with families.”
NCWWI-funded UND graduates have included the current director of MHA Nation Social Services (the lead agency for the NCWWI grant), and the director of MHA Nation Child Safety Center, who is also a member of North Dakota Gov. Doug Burghum’s Children’s Cabinet.
Only the Beginning
Still, the need for improvement and workforce building in Native American child welfare extends far beyond North Dakota. Barkdull is a co-author of "The CSWE Statement of Accountability and Reconciliation for Harms Done to Indigenous and Tribal People," whose lead author is Dr. Hilary N. Weaver, a colleague of Sage’s at the University at Buffalo and the incoming board chair of the Council on Social Work Education.
Says Barkdull, “There are Native people in every state and in every child welfare system. So social work educators need to care about this, wherever they are.”
Relaxing at Lake Sakakawea: The first post-COVID get-together of MHA Nation Social Services and NCWWI partners University of North Dakota Department of Social Work and the Native American Training Institute, in July 2021
Northern Arizona University: MSW Gains Traction
Dr. Natalie Randolph, LCSW, MSW, coordinator and assistant clinical professor, talks about the social work department’s strong online presence, four-year-old MSW program, and brand-new MSW advanced generalist practice course.
It seems your courses are predominantly online.
Yes. Most of our programs are available online, which provides a lot of flexibility for students, because students are navigating a lot right now, whether it’s family obligations, work obligations, and, of course, they’ve got their internship as a component of their fieldwork. The only in-person program we’ve offered lately has been an advanced-standing program based out of Flagstaff.
Overall, how would you distinguish your MSW program from others?
One thing is the [varied] backgrounds of our professors. We’ve all worked in different realms in social work and offer different perspectives, whether on the macro, mezzo or micro level. So, students with an advanced generalist degree are going to be prepared to take on any role in the profession. And because we are a smaller program, there’s a lot more individualized attention that our students are able to receive.
Our MSW program also offers peer support through peer editors, who help fellow students enhance their writing abilities — catching grammatical errors, assisting with APA formatting, and making sure they hit all the key points in completing an assignment.
Any new courses recently?
Numerous Native American tribes reside in Arizona, so we looked into how to teach students about different tribal practices and holistic healing opportunities, and instill cultural competence in serving these diverse populations in our communities. And now a new course, “Advanced Generalist Social Work Practice with Native American Nations,” will be up and running this fall.
University of Maryland: New Website Supports LGBTQ+ Children, Families
Nearly six years ago, the Institute for Innovation and Implementation at the University of Maryland School of Social Work in Baltimore got a $10 million grant from the federal Children’s Bureau. Its purpose: to enable collaboration with child welfare organizations across the country to develop, implement and evaluate foster care programs for LGBTQ+ youths and their families. Now a new website will help explain, promote and advance the work.
LGBTQ+ kids are vastly over-represented in the foster care system, to their detriment in health outcomes, says Dr. Angela Weeks, DBA, MPA, director of the institute’s National SOGIE (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression) Center, which works with national organizations like the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. Adds Principal Investigator Dr. Marlene Matarese, “We are here to help systems develop approaches to ensuring LGBTQ+ youth can stay with their families and in their communities, and to help families learn to support and affirm their LGBTQ+ youth.” Through the grant, the center, along with four partner child welfare agencies, developed and implemented a total of 15 programs. Now, in the grant’s final year, the website (sogiecenter.org) will disseminate this information to the public and systems-of-care leaders.
But it’s more than a clearinghouse. The website is meant to be a one-stop shop not only for information but for training and other implementation support. For example, interested child care organizations should have policies and programs in place dedicated to the LGBTQ+ population, says Weeks. “So, what we’re hoping to provide is a more comprehensive approach to organizational change for serving LGBTQ+ young people and their families.”