National Child Welfare Association

American Indian Children and Families

mother and son - photo by Kristin Beadleboy and family - photo by Kristin Beadlefeeding baby - photo by Kristin Beadlethree girls - photo by Kristy Alberty

Preservation of American Indian culture starts with protection of our most precious resources -- American Indian children and families. Only when our children and families are healthy and happy can there be harmony in our world.

Problems Facing American Indian Children and Families

Today, 5.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) live in the United States—making up 1.7 percent of the total population. The AI/AN population is young, with 31.6 percent under the age of 18, compared with 24 percent of the total population (SOURCE: 2010, Census). There are alarming statistics on AI/AN youth in almost every risk area:

  • American Indian children have the third highest rate of victimization at 11.6 per 1,000 children of the same race or ethnicity. In 2009, 7,335 AI/AN children were victims of child maltreatment (SOURCE: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010).
  • American Indian/Alaska Natives have the highest rate of poverty of any other racial group in the nation. In 2009, data tells us that the poverty rate of AI/AN alone peoples was 27.3%, almost twice the national poverty rate of 14.2. (SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, 2009).
  • In 2006, suicide was the leading cause of death for AI/AN males ages 10-14.
    For AI/AN young adults ages 15 to 24, one-fifth of them died by suicide in that same year. (SOURCE: U.S. Department of Health a nd Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control, 2010.
  • A 2006 study found that, compared to other groups, AI/AN youth have more serious problems with mental health disorders. Specifically, AI/AN youth have higher rates of anxiety, substance abuse, and depression. (SOURCE: Olson, L.M. & Wahab, S.; 2006 American Indians and Suicide: A Neglected Area of Research).
  • Alcohol-use disorders were more likely among American Indian youths than other racial groups. In 2007, 8.5% of all AI/AN youth were struggling with an alcohol use disorder compared to 5.8% of the general use population. (SOURCE: Office of Applied Studies, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration).
  • The AI/AN youth population is more affected by gang involvement than any other racial population. 15% of AI/AN youth are involved with gangs compared to 8% of Latino youth and 6% of African American youth nationally. (SOURCE: Glesmann, C., Krisberg, B.A., & Marchionna, S. National Council on Crime and Deliquency, 2009).

NICWA Makes a Difference

NICWA is the only national American Indian organization, either public or private, that is focused on child abuse and neglect issues that impact American Indian children and families. NICWA helps tribes provide community-based, culturally appropriate services that help American Indian children grow up safe, healthy, and spiritually strong—free from abuse, neglect, sexual exploitation, and the damaging effects of substance abuse. NICWA programs have touched almost all of the 566 federally recognized tribes in the United States, and these programs have improved the lives of tens of thousands of American Indian children.