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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Sept. 14, 2007

Joint press release

Contact:
Susan Morgan, DHSS, (907) 269-4996, Cell (907) 632-6107
James LaBelle Jr., CITC, (907) 793-3145
Greg Wilkinson, DHSS, (907)269-7285, Cell (907) 382-7032

JOINT MEDIA RELEASE -- Three agencies join forces to address disparity in numbers of Native children in state care

New unit receives five-year federal grant to focus on preserving Alaska Native families

(Anchorage, AK)— An Alaska tribe, a tribal organization and the state’s child protection agency have formed an unprecedented partnership to provide help and resources for Alaska Native families and children before they come in contact with the child protection system, and to preserve families so Alaska Native children won’t ever have to come into state care.

Alaska Native children in Anchorage are 14 times more likely than non-Native children to be involved with the state’s child protection agency, according to statistics compiled by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. The statistics show that more than 60 percent of children currently in the legal custody of the state and placed in out-of-home care are Alaska Native children, despite being about 10 percent of the area’s total child population.

To combat this disparity, the state’s Office of Children’s Services, Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC), and the Native Village of Eklutna have partnered to create an Alaska Native Family Preservation Unit. The unit will share authority and decision making, working exclusively with Alaska Native families. It expects to serve 180 families its first year, and 240 for each of the following four years.

Cook Inlet Tribal Council, on behalf of the partnership, sought funding through a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the amount of $2.5 million over five years. The funding was successfully secured this month, and now the work begins to hire workers from each of the organizations. Ideally, the Alaska Native Family Preservation Unit will begin working — and preserving families — early in 2008.

The unit will consist of six workers — two each from the Office of Children’s Services, Cook Inlet Tribal Council and the Native Village of Eklutna — plus a supervisor. The goal will be to provide early intervention services for those Alaska Native families most at risk for further involvement with the child protection system — before out-of-home placement is necessary.

James LaBelle Jr., Child Welfare Liaison for Cook Inlet Tribal Council, states the unit will fill an important gap in current services, by providing culturally-grounded interventions to address the myriad causes of children coming into state care. Interventions include screening for substance abuse, linking to behavioral health providers, family counseling, developmental assessments, as well as home and community-based support.

“Not a lot of work is done at the outset with families when they are first seen in the system, when the level of need does not warrant out-of-home care,” LaBelle said. “Unfortunately, when they come back through the system, the needs are often greater.”

This level of collaboration between state and tribal entities may be unique in the country, according to the team that originated the idea.

“This is going to be a model of collaboration,” said Travis Erickson, Children’s Services Manager. “It’s not being done anywhere else that we know of.”

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