Native Americans in Philanthropy sits at the crossroads of the largely non-Native philanthropic sector and tribal communities. We are at the center of a network of various partner organizations and grassroots initiatives and that places us in a unique position to strengthen the connections between Indigenous communities and nonprofit leaders.
In the spirit of fostering connections and in honor of International Day of Families on May 15, we’d like to take this moment and uplift the work of Casey Family Programs, the nation’s largest operating foundation focused on safely reducing the need for foster care in the United States. Their mission is to provide and improve – and ultimately prevent the need for – foster care.
Founded in 1966, Casey Family Programs works in all 50 states but it’s their long history of working with tribal nations across North America to improve the well-being of Native children and families that has caught our attention.
Their Indian Child Welfare Program works on national and tribal initiatives that aim to strengthen tribal nations’ capacity to keep children healthy, safe and connected with their families, communities and cultures. Casey Family Programs emphasizes compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a federal law that protects American Indian/Alaska Native children from being removed or displaced from their families and/or cultures. Their work in Indian Country is focused on partnering with Indigenous tribes to support the development and administration of effective and culturally responsive child welfare services.
In 2018, Casey Family Programs developed the “Preserving Connections” resource in partnership with the University of Denver that focuses on best strategies for recruiting and retaining tribal foster families for Indigenous children. The infographic poster gives a detailed look at the four essential strategy areas for effective recruitment and retention of ICWA-preferred caregivers.
One of those ICWA-preferred caregivers is Autumn Adams (Yakama), the recipient of the Kinship Caregiver Award. Autumn is an alumnus of foster care and was awarded guardianship of her two younger siblings to keep her family together and maintain their cultural heritage and teachings. The Kinship Caregiver Award is one of many Casey Excellence for Children Awards (CECA) that recognize the accomplishments of leaders, especially those with lived experiences in the child welfare system.
Casey Family Programs retained its focus on their mission even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic with their special report, “Building Communities Of Hope: Creating a Better Future For Children And Families In A Time Of Crisis”. They devoted their “Family Strength” section to the MHA Nation’s organized response to COVID-19 and how it revolved on the tribe’s greatest strength – family. “No matter the challenge being faced, family is every community’s most valuable asset.”
One of Casey Family Programs’ most recent initiatives focuses on another issue that affects Native children and teens. “CULTURE FORWARD: A Strengths and Culture Based Tool to Protect Our Native Youth from Suicide” was developed in partnership with the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health. Two years was spent listening to Native voices from across the country and scanning Indigenous literature to gather tribally-driven, evidence- and practice-based solutions to prevent youth suicide.
These are just a few of the ways that Casey Family Programs supports Native children and families in Indian Country. We’re inspired by their work, and we hope other organizations look to them as an example of how to implement a philanthropic mission with an intersectional framework.