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Dec/Jan 2009Vol. 9, No. 10Community-Based Services for Tribal Families

Oppression, separation, and forced relocation of Indian families through the generations have had a crippling effect on many traditional Indian family values and parenting strategies that used to be passed down through the generations. As a result, many American Indian parents today face such stressors as unemployment, depression, and substance use, which impact their ability to nurture and support their children. In response to these families' needs, the Cahuilla Band of Mission Indians developed and implemented a community-based program to strengthen families and prevent child abuse and neglect.

Project staff adapted the Incredible Years evidence-based parenting program to create a culturally competent program that incorporates the inherent strengths of American Indian culture. The program emphasizes cross-Tribal values and encourages a "circle of support" approach to raising children. Parents are taught to use a combination of traditional child-rearing strategies informed by their cultural and spiritual traditions, along with modern-day parenting strategies.

The program includes community-based services as well as in-home services targeted to families at risk for child abuse or neglect. The community-based program is offered on a weekly basis at a local community center and is open to all interested families. Activities include:

  • An academic group for school-age children (ages 5-10)
  • Cultural activities for both children and parents
  • A parent group for improving parenting skills, marital relationships, and cultural connections
  • Storytelling for children (ages 2-10) during parent groups

The in-home services teach families the same skills as the community-based classes using an adapted version of the group materials. Case management also is provided for 6 months to follow up with families and connect them with community resources as needed.

The program, which has served 52 parents and 46 children, has received high parental satisfaction ratings. Preliminary evaluations show decreases in children's aggressive behavior and increases in the use of positive parenting practices. Program staff found that recruitment efforts are most successful at powwows, and a powerful incentive for families' participation is the incorporation of cultural activities and language classes into the program.

Partnerships with the local Indian Child and Family Services (ICFS) and with nearby courts and public child welfare agencies have been critical to the success of the program. By educating local professionals about the different Tribes in their community and the culturally competent services that are available to American Indian families, program staff have improved their relationships with local agencies and courts, resulting in more referrals to the program.

Indian Child and Family Services and the Torres Martinez Tribal TANF program have committed resources to continue with the SPIRIT parenting program. In addition, the project director has given several presentations to child abuse councils and individuals interested in child abuse prevention in Tribal communities.

For more information, contact the project director:
Renda Dionne, Ph.D.
Cahuilla Band of Indians
31805 HWY 79 South #552
Temecula, CA 92592

Cahuilla Tribal Family Resource Room is funded by the Children's Bureau, Grant 90CA1732, under the Children's Bureau Priority Area: Grants to Tribes, Tribal Organizations, and Migrant Programs for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention Programs. This article is part of a series highlighting successful Children's Bureau grant-funded projects around the country, emerging from Children's Bureau site visits.