American Indian and Alaska Native Children More Likely to Live in Grandfamilies and Face Heightened Challenges with Limited Supports

New tool elevates cultural strengths and helps organizations better support families

(Washington, DC)—Compared to all other racial or ethnic groups in the United States, American Indian and Alaska Native children are more likely to live in grandfamilies (aka grandparents and other relatives raising grandchildren, kinship care). These children are dramatically overrepresented both in kinship foster care and in grandfamilies who live outside the formal foster care system. The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest crisis to disproportionately impact Native peoples, and more grandfamilies are coming together every day as a result.

There is a long and proud tradition of extended family relationships and kinship care in Native cultures, and the disproportionate number of American Indian and Alaska Native grandfamilies reflect that strength.

“Cousins may refer to one another as brother and sister. Aunts and uncles may be called mom and dad. Within this kinship structure, there are many potential caregivers and natural supports,” as Sarah Kastelic, Executive Director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) said.

But the substantial overrepresentation of Native children in foster care also reflects racial and cultural biases, racism, and lack of understanding of their strengths. The systems that have been put in place do not build on these attributes. Instead, American Indians and Alaska Natives must navigate the many silos that impact grandfamilies—such as child welfare, aging, education, and housing— seeking culturally appropriate services. As dual citizens of the United States and their sovereign tribe, and residents of the state in which they live, the systems of supports accessible to Native peoples are complex and often fragmented.

“Generations United is proud to be working with NICWA to provide the first resource to help agencies and organizations best serve Native grandfamilies,” said Donna M. Butts, Executive Director of Generations United. “Together, our goal is to transform foster care and address systemic racism by giving mainstream helpers a greater cultural understanding of American Indian and Alaska Native grandfamilies.”

The new toolkit provides concrete tools to encourage culturally appropriate services including:
• Cultural context on the historical trauma and other negative effects suffered by American Indians and Alaska Natives separated from their tribes and culture for centuries
• The benefits and strengths of preserving and restoring cultural identity
• Practice and policy recommendations for addressing systemic racism and biases that limit existing supports to Native grandfamilies and the children they raise

The partners are also proud to release a parallel toolkit to government agencies and nonprofits to address systemic racism and better serve African American grandfamilies in culturally appropriate ways.

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About NICWA: The National Indian Child Welfare Association works to support the safety, health, and spiritual strength of Native children along the broad continuum of their lives. NICWA promotes building tribal capacity to prevent child abuse and neglect through positive systems change at the state, federal, and tribal level. For more information, visit www.nicwa.org

About Generations United: www.gu.org