The Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) at The Aspen Institute introduced its first-ever online roundtable, Generation Indigenous (Gen-I), to further its reach in garnering the opinions of its stakeholders. In the resulting first annual report, titled The State of Native Youth and released in 2016, close to 700 youth aged 25 and younger answered questions about their top priorities and the resources they believe would help them succeed. Among the issues addressed were those related to the systems involving youth, including child welfare and juvenile justice, and the importance of maintaining cultural connections.
In comparison to other races and ethnicities, Native children have had the highest representation within the foster care system since 2009. Native children are placed in the system at just above one and a half times what is expected when considering their population size. In Alaska, for example, a 2007 report found that nearly half of the children in foster care were Native, though Native children only made up 20 percent of the state’s child population. Further, when compared with their white peers, Native children are incarcerated nearly four times as much and are 1.5 times more likely to receive out-of-home placement.
Separation in the child welfare system happens when children are placed in non-Native homes and are no longer connected to their culture and practices. They experience a lack of reinforcement of tribal identities, and distance from family and tribal members. Where a recent study attributes positive behavior within a tribal community to having a sense of cultural identity, the loss of such a connection proves detrimental to Native children placed in non-Native homes.
Native youth have continued to convey the need for the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), passed in 1978, to be bolstered due to its inconsistent application by state courts and agencies.
In 2016, the Bureau of Indian Affairs declared a new rule aiming to strengthen the consistent implementation of ICWA, as doing so would mean greater stability in Native communities. For Native children, this would mean placement with either extended family or ICWA-favored homes, with the ultimate goal being to maintain cultural identity and connectedness to family members, tribes, and cultural practices.
Another issue facing Native youth, the report says, is the lack of access to quality education. A report from 2013 by the Indian Law and Order Commission (ILOC) stated that in recent years, no federal funds have been allocated for education within detention facilities. Consequently, Native children who are incarcerated in federal juvenile detention centers due to committing misdemeanors on tribal land go without any instruction or services at all. Sixty percent of youth surveyed felt that such resources should also be available in the juvenile justice system, among other culturally supportive services.
The Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children Act, newly signed into law, is in place to examine and address the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, among others, and to understand their influence on Native youth, according to the report.
Access the full report here here.