Social Services calls for more foster care families in Ignacio

According to the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) children are overrepresented in the child welfare system, especially in foster care. The month of May is National Foster Care month and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s Division of Social Services would like to renew their commitment to the youth in our community and acknowledge those who help children and youth in foster care find permanent homes and connections.  

Morgan Olsson, Foster Care Coordinator for the Division of Social Services is committed to raising awareness for the urgent need for foster care families here in the community. According to NICWA there is supported research regarding the importance of the extended family, community, and cultural context for the wellbeing of AI/AN children and youth, “Every day in Colorado, approximately 11 youth/teens enter the foster care system,” said Olsson. This number does not always stay the same here on the Southern Ute reservation, and sometimes those number vary greatly. Olsson added, “It’s important that we have enough tribal members licensed as foster families to keep the child(ren) in the community with a family who create a sense of comfort with the cultural traditions in which they are accustomed.” Along with culture it is important to keep the children in the community so the family can work on parental visitation while obtaining the skills needed for reunification.  

According to research, it is advantageous for AI/AN youth to be raised with a distinct cultural identity. Culture is protective factor in mental health for Native adults and adolescents. Historical trauma, genocide and forced assimilation policies are unique circumstances that set AI/AN apart from other ethnic groups, therefore these types of traumas resonate in genes across generations. An essential component to alleviate this trauma is through helping Native youth identify with their cultural background and feel pride in belonging to that group.  

The Southern Ute Division of Social Services is putting out a call to members of the community during Foster Care Month to become involved in the foster care system. To date, the Southern Ute Tribe is in desperate need of foster care families for Tribal youth of all ages, “there are many options for individuals and families interested in foster care and we work with the individual or family to see what the best fit for them will be,” said Olsson.  

Emergency foster care, respite foster care and traditional foster care are some of the options available to people through the division. Emergency foster parents provide a safe place for the child(ren) while DSS works to find relatives or traditional foster families. These traditional foster families are available to care for the child(ren) for the duration of the case. Respite foster care provides short term care for other foster families when they need a break or have something come up where they are unavailable to care for the foster children.  

There are implications for our youth if there are not enough foster care families in our community. If extended families are not an appropriate placement, the division will look outside of the community and county for other licensed foster care homes. “This can disrupt the frequency of visitation with parents as well as the child’s ties to their traditional values and community which provides a sense of security,” said Olsson. Studies show that identification with a particular cultural background and a secure sense of cultural identity is associated with higher self-esteem and better educational attainment.  

Olsson disclosed that people don’t need to be perfect to be a perfect foster parent, “while foster care can be challenging at times, the reward of providing a safe, stable and nurturing home environment to a child in need far outweighs the challenges.”  

One foster care family agreed to speak under anonymity for this article regarding their experience in the foster care system for the Division of Social Services. “The time we had with our foster child was healing, it seemed like connecting with them healed a part of me I didn’t even know I needed. None of my experiences have been the same but that’s the best part, being able to make that child’s life a little better with love my family gives is amazing.” Finding out the number of licensed foster care families in the community was so low has made her family overwhelmingly sad for our tribal youth, “we live in a such a small community that people do not see the major trauma our youth still face on a day-to-day basis…we do not take the time to emotionally connect with each other anymore.”  

Olsson is asking that interested people reach out to her to discuss the certification process and learn about the one-one-one support provided to foster parents. If you would like more information on how you can help our tribal youth by becoming a foster caregiver, please contact Ms. Olsson at the Southern Ute Division of Social Services at (970) 563-2330. 

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