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Suicide prevention 'toolkit' boosted by grant award

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PORTLAND, Ore. - The National Indian Child Welfare Association has been awarded $24,625 from the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation to support the development and dissemination of ''Ensuring the Seventh Generation: Youth Suicide Prevention Toolkit'' for tribal child welfare mental health programs focused on victims of abuse, children in out-of-home care, and witnesses of violence.

The toolkit will be a resource modeled after the American Indian and Alaska Native Summit on Suicide Prevention, Intervention and Healing, held Sept. 25 - 27 in San Diego. Representing both tribal and urban Indian communities, 46 participants representing seven tribal delegations participated in workshops and presentations ''designed to create or enhance a policy initiative related to youth suicide prevention aimed at supporting long-term, effective change,'' according to Matt Morton, Squaxin Island and NICWA senior program director.

The summit was organized by NICWA; the Child, Adolescent and Family Branch of the Center for Mental Health Services; the National Congress of American Indians; the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; the National Technical Assistance Center for Children's Mental Health at the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development; the Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health; Indian Country Child Trauma Center; IHS; the National Indian Health Board; and One Sky Center.

Morton also noted that many tribal child welfare workers have not received specific training on youth suicide. The toolkit should help protect Native youth in the child welfare system who may be at risk for suicide by educating tribal child welfare workers on the warning signs of suicide, risk and protective factors, suicide prevention and intervention methods, and when professional mental health services should be sought.

''This toolkit will be a great follow-up to the summit and allow us to leverage many of the lessons learned there,'' said NICWA Executive Director Terry Cross, Seneca. ''We are also pleased to be able to target this work to an especially vulnerable population.''

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NICWA is focused on the needs of American Indian/Alaska Native youth in the child welfare system who are at risk for suicide. Children who experience abuse and neglect are at a higher risk for depression, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007. Abused and neglected children are 25 percent more likely to experience mental health problems, according to the Child Welfare League of America. With suicide rates rising in Indian communities and the presence of high suicide risk factors, Native youth in the child welfare system are particularly vulnerable.

Morton is the project director for the toolkit and Brad Dennis is the lead author. Dennis is the Native American cultural specialist for Project Respond, a program of Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare in Portland. Project Respond assists clients with immediate mental health issues and crisis situations. A senior member of Project Respond, he conducts culturally competent mental health assessments and direct crisis intervention and provides culturally competent trainings to clinicians. Additional staff people who are working on the toolkit are Dolores Jimerson, Seneca and the director of community development at NICWA; Cross; and other community development staff.

A yearlong project, the tool kit will be available in December 2008. An initial distribution of 300 copies will be made to tribal child welfare programs across the country. The child welfare programs and agencies that receive the toolkit will be selected on the criteria of need and by expressed interest; contact Matt Morton at NICWA for more information. Updates will be added to the NICWA Web site.

The American Legion Child Welfare Foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of children and was created to provide other nonprofit organizations with a means to educate the public about issues that affect children. Since 1954, the foundation has awarded more than $9 million to organizations that contribute to the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs of children.

NICWA is a national nonprofit organization and 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, state child welfare agencies, and other organizations, agencies and professionals interested in the field of Indian child welfare. For more information, call (503) 222-4044 or visit www.nicwa.org.