Federal grant supports UND and partners in work to improve services to Native American children

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News Article

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College of Nursing & Professional Disciplines


UND Social Work receives $2.4-million collaborative award to enhance Indian Child Welfare Act implementation

The University of North Dakota Department of Social Work has received a $2.4-million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to support implementation and evaluation of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in North Dakota over the next five years.

UND is partnering in this grant with the Children and Family Services Training Center, the North Dakota Supreme Court, the North Dakota Bureau of Indian Affairs, the North Dakota Division of Children and Family Services, the Native American Training Institute, the Spirit Lake Nation and the Standing Rock Nation. The CFSTC is housed in the UND Department of Social Work; the Center provides training for all child welfare workers across the state and will develop new training on best practices in ICWA implementation.

“This partnership is a result of an active community of stakeholders dedicated to improving the lives of American Indian families through relationship-building and evaluation of current policies and practices,” said Melanie Sage, project director and a member of the UND Social Work faculty. Social Work is part of the UND College of Nursing & Professional Disciplines.

“Our goal is to bridge systems to increase collaboration and reduce bureaucracy, and these funds will allow us to assess and streamline the ways that our tribal and public systems communicate to meet ICWA implementation goals and best serve American Indian families,” Sage said.

Sage also notes that the North Dakota Supreme Court, in partnership with UND Social Work, is the first in the country to systematically assess every ICWA case that reaches the court. Moreover, the ND Supreme Court has used the Department of Social Work’s ICWA evaluation to build a court improvement plan and provide judicial training.

About the North Dakota ICWA Partnership:

The North Dakota ICWA Partnership will support interagency communication and best practices in the implementation of new ICWA guidelines to ensure improved outcomes for American Indian children and families involved with the child welfare system. This project builds upon a unique three year research agreement between the North Dakota Supreme Court and the Department of Social Work.

Through that agreement, ICWA cases were audited to discern current practice strengths and areas that need attention. The newly funded partnership will identify policy and practice gaps in North Dakota and produce replicable tools that will be disseminated nationally to support successful implementation of new ICWA guidelines.

About the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978:

The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 is a federal law that seeks to keep American Indian children with their families. This legislation was a response to the disproportionately high number of Native children being removed from their communities. It offers protections that include tribal involvement in situations where American Indian children are removed from their communities, active efforts to reunite families safely and expectations of culturally-informed services.

Over the last several years, the North Dakota Supreme Court has invested in evaluation and training to improve the court’s adherence to ICWA legislation. This grant brings together other system stakeholders to mutually engage in these efforts.

About the Administration for Children and Families:

The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) is a federal division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The programs provide financial assistance to public and non-profit programs that meet the needs of children and families, including welfare, child support, adoption, foster care and child abuse. ACF’s mission is to provide national leadership and create opportunities for families to lead economically and socially productive lives, to help children develop into healthy adults and to support communities to become more prosperous and supportive of their members.