United Tribes Says Every Child Sacred

May 15th, 1998 | By | Category: 9-4: Pre- K-12 Education, Tribal College News

United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, N.D., has begun a five-year demonstration project to implement a strategic mental health plan for Native American children in the state. The project is designed to keep children in their families and communities when possible instead of having them shipped off to Youth Correction Centers, the North Dakota State Hospital, and foster care. Although Native American children comprise only 7 percent of the children in the state of North Dakota, they represent over 33 percent of the children in foster care, the State Hospital, and the Youth Correctional Center.

“We want to repatriate our children,” says Susan Paulson, director of the program. The state has lacked community-based services and cooperation amongst agencies. “We end up spending all this money and alienating the children more,” Paulson (Hidatsa/Arikara) says. The program uses a “wrap-around intervention” process, which is centered on the strengths of the child and family. The agencies collaborate with the family to meet the needs of the child, utilizing both the formal and informal support provided by trusted people within the extended family and community. For example, a favorite uncle may agree to visit a troubled young man daily. The program relies upon Native American structures such as clanship, tiospaye, and other familial systems to support families. Support teams never include more than 50 percent professionals.

The program is based upon the philosophy that every child is sacred. “It is the teaching of our ancestors to embrace each child in unconditional love and caring and to enable them to become what they were intended to be by the Creator,” the philosophy statement says. The Center for Mental Health Services in the Department of Health and Human Services provides funding. Sacred Child is one of only three Native programs funded for this purpose in the nation.

Paulson also directs the Native American Children and Family Services Training Institute at Sitting Bull College, which will do all the training. The institute has developed a culturally competent training manual for foster parents by “Indian-izing” the state training.

The program will result in a statewide strategic Native American plan for children’s mental health. It involves the four tribal governments in North Dakota, the state government, Indian Health Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and other non-profits working with Native children and families. Every phase of the program will involve research and evaluation. For more information, contact Sacred Child Project, UTTC, 3315 University Dr., Building 30, Bismarck N.D. 58504 or phone (701) 255-3285 ext. 385.


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