• October 2008
  • Vol. 9, No. 8

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Developing Relationships to Find Resource Families for Indian Children

Since 2003, the Recruiting Rural Parents for Indian Children (RRPIC) project has been building relationships with Tribes, Indian families, counties, and courts in California in an effort to identify foster and permanent families for Indian children in foster care. The project's approach is based on the premise that Tribes and families know best about what they and their children need. By building relationships with Tribes and those who work with them, project staff have been able to learn about the foster care needs of specific Tribes and families and to provide support by recruiting Indian resource families.

Funded by the Children's Bureau, the 5-year project began with a full year of relationship building, information sharing, and outreach by RRPIC staff. Family recruitment, which began in the second year, was tailored for each Tribal community and included:

  • Attendance at social events
  • Presentations at Tribal councils
  • Direct contact with families referred by Tribes, self-referred, or known to the recruiter

Two Native American recruiters—one Native American serving the northern counties and one who was part of the Native community for many years in the southern counties served by the project—conducted outreach and recruitment tasks. They also served as important allies for interested parents before, during, and after placement of a child. In the past, Indian families usually had not been asked to serve as resource families for children in foster care, so few families knew about the licensing requirements or process. The RRPIC recruiters were able to explain issues such as fingerprinting for background checks and the type of agency available to work with the family (e.g., Tribal, county, or a private agency). In addition, the project was able to fund some needed items that, in the past, might have prevented a family from receiving a license. For instance, some families needed a State waiver to serve their foster child the wild game and fish that are traditional fare for their family and Tribe.

The RRPIC project faced a number of larger challenges in finding foster and permanent families for Indian children in California. These included:

  • The unique circumstances and requirements of specific Tribes
  • The rural location of many Tribes, Rancherias, and reservations
  • Inadequate funding and dedicated programming for family recruitment
  • Historical mistrust between Tribes and outside agencies

The project's deliberate focus on building relationships and persistence in following up with contacts helped to resolve some of these issues. Other helpful project components included:

  • Staff who were dedicated solely to family recruitment, licensing/certification, and placement support
  • The creation of advisory boards composed of Native American members
  • Using recruiters to collect information needed by evaluators
  • Careful tracking of families and alerts to recruiters when a family needed contact

As the RRPIC project draws to a close, early results support the project's relationship-building approach. As of March 2008, 16 families had been certified/licensed, and 33 children had been placed. More than 60 families consented to move forward with licensing/certification, and more are still in process. Also, a number of steps have been taken to ensure the sustainability of this recruitment approach. In northern California, the RRPIC worked with a foster family agency that will continue this work. In southern California, the Indian Tribe consortium that served as the advisory board is in the process of becoming a foster family agency and, in the meantime, is affiliated with an agency that will continue recruitment.

Reflecting on the project's progress during the last 5 years, Project Director Susan Quash-Mah commented, "We feel that it's respectful to put forth a large effort with families because we’re asking them to make a large commitment when they take in a child. And while our model takes time, we get results!"

For more information, contact rrpic@qwestoffice.net.

Many thanks to Susan Quash-Mah, M.A., Project Director, and Deb Johnson-Shelton, Ph.D., Project Evaluator, for providing the information for this article.

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