“Like a harvest, our children are the seeds. Once we plant them, we need to care for them all season – we need to be packing the soil to help them establish strong roots and protect them from the wind. We do this every day because it is our responsibility. The moment we stop caring for them, the world consumes them.”
For many Native American tribes, the above sentiment reflects the paramount importance they place on caring for children in their communities. Continuing long-held Native traditions is central to preserving their cultural identities. Losing these traditions and the connection future generations feel that rich history is a real concern when Native American children are removed from their families.
Currently in Arizona, 7.9 percent of children in out-of-home care are Native American. When children are removed from their families, if a home is not available within their tribe or even a different tribe, they are placed in a shelter or group home, potentially losing that daily connection with their community.
There is a real need to identify, train and license more foster and adoptive parents within Native American families. This need is especially great in Maricopa County where the majority of these children (63 percent) reside.
Child Crisis Arizona collaborated with eight other organizations to coordinate an event intended to raise awareness of this need. Held at Native American Connections Urban Living 2 in the heart of Downtown Phoenix, “Caring for Our Kin…What You Need to Know” provided an opportunity to inform Native kinship caregivers of their options to secure the safety of the children in their care.
Janel Striped Wolf, tribal liaison for Native American Connections is familiar with stories about Native American children in the foster care system. She entered foster care at a young age and was placed in a home with Caucasian parents.
“Living in the home of this family disrupted ties to my culture and language,” said Janel, who completed a master’s program in American Indian Studies at Arizona State University. “I found my work at Native American Connections helped to reconnect ties to my Native American identity. It’s a lifelong process.” Like Janel, other Native children raised without a connection to tribal families may end up longing for that heritage.
Caring for Our Kin marked the beginning of an important conversation in Maricopa County. Organizers hope to inspire agencies to work collaboratively to prepare more Native American foster and adoptive homes and, ultimately, find loving homes for children within the Native American communities.