Confab focuses on child care for Native children

By Shondiin Silversmith
Navajo Times

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla., April 17, 2014

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Hundreds of child care workers and advocates gathered at the 32nd annual Protecting our Child National American Indian Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect to further develop their understanding of child care through workshops, keynotes, exhibits and discussion groups.

Over 800 people attended the event hosted by the National Indian Child Welfare Association, and according to conference staff that is the highest number in history.

"NICWA is dedicated to the well-being of American Indian children and families," said Executive Director Terry Cross, Seneca.

According to NICWA's website they are a private, nonprofit,Êmembership organizationÊbased in Portland, Ore. The membership include tribes, individuals Ñ both Indian and non-Indian Ñ and private organizations from around the United States.

Cross said that NICWA works to address the issues of child abuse and neglect throughÊfour major areas -- training, research, public policy, and community development.

NICWA also works to support compliance with theÊIndian Child Welfare Act of 1978, which seeks to keep American Indian children with American Indian families.

Cross said the most recent help they provided was helping a tribe develop an evaluation for their child care programs that is based on their cultural needs.

"The staff of NICWA is really dedicated to this work. It's really about the people that make it possible," Cross said, adding that they have "seen over the years a great increase in the number of quality of services the tribes are able to provide."

"They are one organization that can do the work and has done the work," said Carlette Randall, Oglala Lakota, a senior Native American specialist from Pine Ridge, S.D. "NICWA is an organization that helps tribes work on the ICWA issues to protect their children from being adopted out. It's important for them to help tribes with developing their tribal welfare systems and always being updated on what's the latest on ICWA.

"It's a culturally relevant organization and that makes it a good recourse," she added, "because they are the only organization of its kind."

For Tribal Assistance for Needy Families worker Patrice Bass from the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, the conference is a way for people to get the resources they need because "there is more services and technical assistance out there. I think that our social services case workers should keep up with training."

Alaska Native LouAnn Benson said that she thinks the services that NICWA offers is awesome because if she ever has an issue related to child welfare she can call them up for help.

"I think more people need to take advantage of what they offer," Benson added.


The conference lasted four days and featured several guest speakers in the field of child care as well as in-depth workshops.

"This conference is really a time for people who work in this field to come together and learn more about how to work with families, how to prevent child abuse and neglect," Cross said.

Each day of the conference featured panel discussions and dozens of hour-long workshops. A few of those workshops included effective support services for adoptive, foster, and kinship families; targeting prevention services to high-risk TANF families; establishing effective governance for tribal child welfare programming; and what happens to children when they are brought into care.

"There are way too many children in our communities that are not taken care of adequately or are even harmed at the hands of their family and friends," Cross added. "We know that that problem exists in our community and we know that there are people in every community that want to change that."

Cross added that the conference was not only a way for attendees to get the training but also to give them some recognition for the work that they do because this type of work is "very emotionally draining..."

The conference was able to offer them some "rest from that really stressful environment they are in and make sure they go home with some very valuable information about how to do their jobs more effectively," Cross added.

Many tribes only have one or two caseworkers working in child care. The more relationships you can build in a place like this the easier it is to pick up the phone and consult with a peer.

Randall said that anyone who works with Native children needs to come to the conference because it will show them different ways to work with them.

Randall added she enjoys the NICWA conference because of the networking available and she learns from other tribes on what they are doing with their child welfare programs.

"It's sharing ideas on how to better the programs," Randall said.

For more information: www.nicwa.org.

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