Art submitted by Terrance Paul, a Yakama Nation Tribal member.

August 26, 2020

Indigenous Children, Youth, and Families Conference educates, inspires

More than 400 DCYF staff, caregivers, Tribal partners and legal professionals gathered over two days at the first Indigenous Children, Youth, and Families Conference to learn and share ideas around Indigenous family wellness.

The event was held Aug. 11 and 12 via Zoom and offered the opportunity for hundreds to hear from subject matter experts in the fields of early learning, child welfare, ICWA and more. Session topics were gathered over months of meetings and relationship-building through the planning committee, which brought together a variety of perspectives and voices from inside DCYF as well as external stakeholders.

The event was concepted as bringing together various existing DCYF summits and conferences in the same field, and then expanding it to reach broader audiences.

The first day kicked off with a sweeping introduction from DCYF Office of Tribal Relations Director Tleena Ives, who welcomed the audience in two languages. Ives took the group on a journey through multiple cultures, sharing video submissions, songs and speeches from members of the community.

The morning session began with a presentation on Language Revitalization from Melody Redbird-Post and Lisa Ojibway, who covered an overview of Tribal language revitalization efforts in educational settings, as well as cultural and linguistic responsiveness to support children’s identity development to strengthen resilience.

Next, Drs. Vickie Ybarra, DCYF’s Director of the Office of Innovation, Alignment and Accountability, and Angelique Day, an associate professor at University of Washington, took the group through the work DCYF has done in partnering with Tribes to learn what prevention practices are embraced in tribal communities, and how it has contracted with a native researcher to conduct the evidentiary review process in preparation for approval for FFPSA funding.

The final morning session was presented by the team from Squaxin’s Outdoor Preschool, a much-anticipated look into its state-licensed program. They discussed how they incorporate nature play into activities and took a look at a typical day in the life of a little learner.

After lunch, attendees had the opportunity to choose between four concurrent breakout sessions, which took a more targeted look at specific topics. Sessions included the LOVIT Way PEP, a dive into the program evaluation tool; an overview of kinship supports in Washington state; a primer on active efforts; and a look at ICWA in 2020.

The day concluded with two sessions focusing on well-being. Jan Ward-Olmstead presented a look at Healthy Seven Generations, which emphasized home visiting as a best practice to support healthy moms, babies and families. It highlighted the partnership between the Department of Children, Youth, and Families and the American Indian Health Commission to address root causes and to ensure culturally appropriate strategies are integrated into systems that support American Indian and Alaska Native health and well-being.

Author Monique Gray Smith’s keynote ended the day with a message of resilience and inspiration, taking the audience through various stories filled with personal experience as well as data. She shared from her books as well as the cultural resilience model “The Four Blankets of Resiliency,” which she developed.

Day Two started with another high-profile speaker, Justice Raquel Montoya-Lewis, the first enrolled member of any tribe to sit on a state supreme court. Justice Montoya-Lewis shared her personal journey through stories and gave insight into what the Washington State Supreme Court does and how it functions, and what she has learned from her appointment.

She was followed by Dr. Sarah Kastelic, the executive director of NICWA, who brought in a data-filled presentation on Disproportionality in Placement. She discussed why American Indian and Alaska Native children and families are overrepresented in many state foster care systems, and factors that contribute to this disproportionate representation and what can states do about it.

After lunch, attendees again broke out into smaller groups, choosing from sessions on supporting ICWA courts; legal ethics and ICWA; and Learning in Places, a look at the possibilities of engaging in forms of place-based education.

To close out the event, two speakers represented the much-valued youth voice, the engagement of which was a top goal of the planning committee. Jackie Malstrom gave a research- and story-filled presentation on Two Spirit, diving into the historical context of Indigenous LGBTQ2S+ people in the United States and their relationship to the child welfare system. She was followed by Charles Adkins, the Mockingbird Everett Chapter Leader for Youth Programs, who shared his personal perspective from experiences with support services for homeless youth and the child welfare system, and how he dealt with barriers. The audience was highly engaged in Q&A for these sessions, getting deeper and asking for elaboration to learn more.

DCYF’s Tleena Ives brought everything together at the end, summarizing the experience and sharing her own favorite moments. She gave gracious thank yous to everyone involved, and left attendees with a sense of community that even the virtual execution could not stand in the way of.

If you are interested in viewing any of these presentations, please visit our Tribal Staff Resources page here.


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