Providers hope trauma legislation will help native children in foster care

By Jeremy Loudenback

Recent federal legislation put forward by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Al Franken (D-MN) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) proposes to address the issue of childhood trauma through the creation of a federal trauma task force.

The Trauma-Informed Care for Children and Families Act would gather federal officials and members of tribal agencies to create a set of best practices and training to help create a better way to identify and support children and families that have experienced trauma.

In North Dakota, the home state for co-sponsor Heitkamp, advocates are hoping that the bill can have an impact on addressing the needs of Native American children who disproportionately enter the state’s foster care system. According to one report, Native American youth deal with post-traumatic stress disorder at a rate of 22 percent, three times the national average and at the same level as Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.

At PATH North Dakota, a non-profit child and family services agency, a trauma-informed approach means helping Native American children address historical trauma, as well as contemporary adverse experiences faced by children in foster care.

Jodi Duttenhefer and Heather Simonich, operations directors at PATH, recently talked with The Chronicle of Social Change about the new legislation, the importance of collecting data on the adverse childhood experiences of youth in its treatment foster care program and how the tribal community at Standing Rock is thinking about child trauma.

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