MIAMI BEACH — The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) made its way to Miami Beach from Dec. 5-7 to train employees from the Seminole Tribe of Florida and others
throughout the nation about the importance of Indian child welfare.
The training focused on the history and regulation of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and Positive Indian Parenting (PIP), a topic focused on preparing child welfare workers to train Native American and Alaska Native parents on how to better parent their children while maintaining cultural practices. ICWA Specialist Shanna Knight and Family Engagement Specialist Barbara Gladue led the sessions.
In Understanding ICWA, Knight provided attendees with a comprehensive overview of the act’s history, current child welfare system and court processes, appropriate times to use ICWA, the role of the tribe, what happens when children are removed from their homes, voluntary placements, what happens after parents terminate their rights, and recent ICWA cases and challenges. PIP topics included the philosophy of family services, values and beliefs of family preservation services, how to implement PIP tactics in various types of families, substance and alcohol abuse issues, and how to support children and other family members in times of need.
While the trainings specified different aspects of Tribal children, the overall message was the same: Native American families require a Native American perspective and understanding. Knight’s perspective comes from her extensive research and advocating for Native American rights throughout the U.S., as well as her husband’s indigenous roots. Gladue on the other hand, has a more personal connection, as her grandmother was one of the children sent to a federally-organized boarding school that housed Native American children. At the school, she explained students were abused for speaking any language other than English, had all of their goods from home taken away and many times, were kept from their families until they were 18. Just a few years ago, she even found that more than 100 priests, nuns and other school personnel were arrested for sexual abuse.
She said that this kind of trauma impacts individuals at such a deep level that it passes on from generation to generation. Both trainings explained how traumatic experiences subconsciously affect how an individual thinks, acts and speaks, and those effects can take an unforgiving toll when children are born.
“When people experience trauma, it impacts them at the molecular level,” Gladue said.
Shamika Beasley, the advocacy administrator for STOF, is one of nine Seminole Tribe of Florida employees who attended the NICWA training. She explained that going to trainings such as this better equips Tribal employees to handle family issues that may occur in or out of the Tribe. In her role, she oversees the Tribe’s advocacy program across the reservations and works with children and families to better Tribal children’s environments.
“It’s important for me to be updated on what’s going on, as far as it relates to ICWA nationwide,” she explained. “I try to get some kind of ideas and strategies that I can use working with the Seminole Tribe and the Florida Department of Children and Families program.”
Some of these ideas and strategies include blending traditional values with modern skills to effectively parent children and training tactics to use when dealing with non-Tribal agencies.
Along with taking the information back for her own cases, Beasley also uses the information when she trains other teams. Part of her role within the tribe is traveling to DCF agencies and training their departments on how to better handle situations involving Tribal children. She said that learning more about the regulations and laws surrounding ICWA, as well as its history, helps her and others better advocate for their clients.
The government adopted the ICWA in 1978 after children’s advocates found that in the 1970s, more than 92 percent of American Indian children adopted in California were placed with non-Native families. Many of those children had no access to or even knowledge of their tribal ancestry and communities. Moreover, the number of American Indian children in the foster care system was more than double the number of non-American Indian children. Advocates created ICWA to help prevent future heritage losses and mandate that whenever a Native child is removed from his or her home, child welfare workers must actively attempt to place him or her with extended family, a tribal member or a Native American/Alaska Native foster home.
“The more I understand the historical information the better I am to present to state workers so they can understand why the Indian Child Welfare Act is really needed,” she said. “You can’t advocate for something you don’t know much about.”