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October 2004Vol. 5, No. 8Tribal Independent Living Curriculum

Independent living programs across the country provide valuable services to help ease the transition into adulthood for youth in foster care. However, services designed to help tribal youth meet their unique cultural needs as they transition have traditionally been limited or nonexistent. In response to this gap in services, the University of Oklahoma National Resource Center for Youth Services (NRCYS) received a grant from the Children's Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in fiscal year 2000 to develop and evaluate a competency-based training curriculum to strengthen the intervention skills of tribal and public agency child welfare staff working with older tribal youth transitioning to adulthood.

Development of this curriculum was a collaborative effort led by the University of Oklahoma, NRCYS, including the National Indian Child Welfare Association, New Mexico Child Youth and Family Department, Oklahoma Department of Human Services, New Mexico Indian Child Welfare Association, tribal Elders, and tribal youth. Tribal involvement was critical in identifying the needs of older tribal youth and in overcoming anticipated challenges, such as the incompatibility of some independent living principles with traditional Native American values and practices. Tribal involvement included:

  • A Project Advisory Group and Tribal Competency Work Group comprised of youth, adult tribal representatives, and Indian child welfare practitioners representing the 57 federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma and New Mexico (including both reservation and nonreservation tribes)
  • Focus groups with tribal adults and youth
  • Tribal host sites to pilot the curriculum

The resulting curriculum is based on a set of four core principles that emerged from the literature review and focus groups: youth development philosophy, collaboration, cultural competency, and lifelong connections. The interactive and experiential curriculum includes the following competencies:

  • Adolescent development
  • Positive youth development
  • Tribal identity
  • Federal and social policy
  • Community and tribal resources
  • Assessment and goal planning
  • Life skills instruction

To date, a total of 301 tribal and nontribal child welfare staff in Oklahoma and New Mexico have participated in trainings or train-the-trainer sessions. Evaluation results show the curriculum is effective in increasing worker competency in tested areas. NRCYS will continue to deliver the training upon request to individual tribes and at State, national, and tribal conferences and roundtables after the grant has ended. Staff completing the train-the-trainer sessions also have committed to providing two additional trainings each to help further disseminate the curriculum.

It is expected that other States and tribes will be able to adapt the curriculum, and that this process will encourage further collaboration between tribal and State child welfare agencies to more effectively serve tribal youth. The project's final report and the curriculum will be available on the NRCYS website (

For more information, contact:

Peter Correia III, M.S.W., Director
National Resource Center for Youth Services
University of Oklahoma-Tulsa Schusterman Center
4502 E 41st Street
Building 4 West
Tulsa, OK 74135-2512
Phone: (918) 660-3700
Fax: (918) 660-3737

Note: This program was funded by the Children's Bureau, Grant #90-CT-0065. This article is part of a series highlighting successful Children's Bureau Discretionary Grant-funded projects around the country, emerging from official Children's Bureau site visits.

Related Item

A monograph on The John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, Tribal Approaches to Transition, is available on the NRCYS website at (PDF - 633 KB).