PORTLAND, Ore. - A lasting legacy of colonialism and economic disparity among American Indian tribes has been the disproportionate numbers of American Indian/Alaska Native children living in foster care.
While comprising 1 percent of the total child population, American Indian children represented 2 percent of the children in foster care, according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services September 2003 report.
Empowering tribal communities to develop their own culturally competent solutions for child welfare has been the work of the National Indian Child Welfare Association. A centerpiece of its technical training and informational outreach has been hosting a national conference for tribal social workers, child welfare advocates, clinicians and tribal members called ''Protecting Our Children: National American Indian Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect.'' This year's conference is adding a commemorative experience for attendees.
''Our conference celebrates 25 years of work to reduce child maltreatment and to restore the values of our culture that hold our children as sacred beings, gifts of the Creator, to be treated with respect and reverence. The conference theme reminds us that children obtain the best services when the adults in their lives work together,'' said NICWA Executive Director Terry Cross.
This year's conference theme, ''Touchstones of Hope for Indigenous Children, Youth and Families,'' directs a focus on strategies for improving outcomes for Indian children and families and continues the dialogues begun at a 2005 child welfare conference in Niagara Falls concerning Canadian and American indigenous peoples. The conference will be held April 15 - 18 at the Sheraton Oklahoma City Hotel in Oklahoma.
The conference also brings together tribal leaders, American Indian youth attendees, IHS clinical staff, adults who have been adopted and non-Indian child welfare advocates. Registration information is now available online with a lowered registration rate until March 30.
Several hundred attendees are expected for the conference. Workshop presentations include such topics as children's mental health, customary adoption, government policy and child welfare, compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act and the use of culture in Indian child/family programs.
''Our conference is about holding up our successes, about promising new work that is emerging, and about celebrating our achievements and our potential,'' said Cross.
A national nonprofit, NICWA is the most comprehensive source of information on American Indian child welfare and works on behalf of Indian children and families. NICWA provides public policy, research, advocacy, information, training and community development services to a broad national audience, which includes state child welfare agencies, organizations and professionals interested in the field of Indian child welfare. For more information, visit www.nicwa.org or call (503) 222-4044.