"My dream job is to help preserve families and provide children with a safe environment, allowing them to thrive." --- Dean Edstrom, MSW Child Welfare Scholar
|Students in the Child Welfare Program (l-r): Back Row: Charles Obije, Cynthia Seguin, Anjenette Dreiling, Heather Giancola, Kirsten Jensen, Daisy Mundt, Dean Edstrom, Courtney Rauschenbach, and Eric Bakke. Middle Two: Muskadee Montano (staff) and Lily Wagner. Seated: Carolyn Mueller, Erin Wojceichowski, Sarah Kyllander, Karleen Katchmark, and Anne Lasky. Not shown: Randy Bryant, Brenda Caya, Hannah Gurno, Lisa Haberling, Lisa Humphrey, Daisy Mundt, Anne Marie Poole, Courtney Rauschenbach, Christine Stark, Lisa Stark, and Frances Zogaa.|
The Need for Child Welfare Specialists
For decades, across the United States, American Indian children in child welfare cases were removed from their homes, taken off their reservations, and placed in the homes of nontribal members. “Children were forced to leave their communities and their culture,” said Rose Robinson, a community program specialist with the Center. Robinson, an enrolled member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, has over 30 years of experience working on tribal child welfare issues.
Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978 to change the practice of placing children in nontribal situations. Now the law states that nearly all American Indian children who are taken out of their homes by social services officials are required to be placed with relatives or other tribal members. “Situations are complicated” said Karen Nichols, associate director of the Center. “Even though the law changed decades ago, it is not being fully implemented and many courts, tribes, and agencies can still use assistance from UMD’s program and its graduates to keep American Indian families together.”
Kirsten Jensen from Brainerd, Minn., agrees. "I currently work in child protection," she said. "Being involved in child welfare is not always an easy thing for families." She see the importance of finding the resources people need in order to preserve or reunify their families and helping them utilize their personal strengths to ensure the safety of the children. "I believe that by building positive relationships with families, I can help to elicit change," she said.
The MSW Program
The Center and the Child Welfare Stipend program are part of the greater MSW program. Overall, the MSW program prepares students to become “advanced generalist” practice personnel, working in clinical, administration, and community settings. All students benefit from its special commitment to American Indians in its course content, its strong linkages to the American Indian community, and the expertise of its faculty in serving culturally and socially diverse populations. In addition to funding, the Child Welfare Stipend program offers educational opportunities for students focusing on child welfare practice.
Heather Giancola, from Esko, Minn., took advantage of one of those educational opportunities. She attended the 2012 Summer Institute in American Indian Child Welfare in Walker, Minn., and there met Larry Jourdain, a well-known healer and cultural leader from southern Canada. "Being a part of this cultural experience was really life changing for me," she said. "Many of the cultural and spiritual practices I learned about there are strongly based in connectedness, kindness, and respect. It was a chance to immerse myself in another culture and increase my understanding of indigenous people."
The Child Welfare Scholars Program
The Center supports an average of 25 students per year with stipends through the Title IV-E Child Welfare Training Project, a contract between the University and the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Typically, about 25 percent of the Child Welfare Scholars each year are American Indian. The Center helps support students with stipends ranging from $6,000 to $10,000. Students agree to a payback obligation where they work in a public or tribal child welfare setting for the same amount of time they received stipend funding. This spring, eight Child Welfare Scholars will graduate from the MSW program. Their goal is to join over 200 alumni from the program who are working in professions which help promote human well-being and advance social justice with a focus on working with American Indian and rural communities. The funding provides for the support of current students, recruitment of new students and development of curriculum, particularly relating to tribal child welfare. The Center also partners with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe to allow child welfare staff to pursue a Masters degree in Social Work while remaining employed by the Band.
Dean Edstrom, from Palo, on Minnesota's Iron Range, said he looks forward to using the skills he learned in the MSW program. "When we look at history, we know that some social workers, due to their cultural incompetence, have done harm to people. The UMD MSW taught me about culturally competent social work and cultural humility." Edstrom is looking for employment in child protection services. He said he has learned to look for strengths in people by "separating the actions and behaviors from the individual." He said, "My dream job is to help preserve families and provide children with a safe environment, allowing them to thrive."
Grants and MSW Students
Five grants, funding eight tribal child welfare projects, have expanded the ability of the Center to reach more students, child welfare practitioners, and communities. Several projects have been funded through the Casey Family Programs. Through one grant, the QUICWA Court Monitoring Project, two MSW students have been trained to monitor American Indian child welfare cases in St. Louis County using a checklist under development in Minnesota. The other four grants, Matrix for American Indian Child Welfare Services, Qualified Expert Witness Handbook and Training, Leech Lake Child Welfare Practice Model, and Leech Lake Child Welfare Workforce Training, don’t have much direct student participation. However, all of information gleaned from the funded initiatives is integrated into student learning through their coursework or other means.
Bree Bussey, community program coordinator with the Center said, “Our cultural competency training is an asset for our graduates and students. It guides decisions about meeting the needs of children and preserving the family.”