NAYA’s suite of foster care programs uplift Native youth and foster families

NAYA’s suite of foster care programs uplift Native youth and foster families

An integral part of NAYA’s Foster Care Services is helping youth stay connected to their culture while in care. Indigenous youth are deserving of a sense of belonging, and our programs aim to firmly establish feelings of self-worth. May is Foster Care Awareness Month, so it’s the perfect time to highlight our culturally appropriate individual- and family-based support services. 

First, some hard truths. In Oregon, there are more than 8,000 children in the state’s foster care system today; 4.5 percent are Native American. Research shows that Native children are far more likely to be removed from their homes at first contact with child welfare agencies than White children in similar circumstances. Mistaking poverty for neglect plays into that negative trend. Being removed from their homes is traumatic for the children, because it disconnects them from loved ones, friends, school, and more.  

NAYA’s Foster Care Services offers four distinct programs that help ensure Native youth live in homes that provide stability and a place to practice culture and connection to community. We can help families identify and access community resources that fit their needs and goals. 

Foster Care Support, a Portland Children’s Levy-funded program, which helps youth in state and tribal foster care systems by way of fun community-based events. The Cultural Arts Enrichment Group, carried out virtually over the past two years due to COVID-19, invites youth and their parents to hang out and take part in activities such as beading, drawing, and painting. Sibling Family Enrichment Visit Nights fall under this program, too, and all staff are trained in Positive Indian Parenting—a training class that draws on the strengths of historic Indigenous child-rearing practices and blends traditional values with contemporary skills—as a frame of reference to best support families.  

KEEP is a partnership with Oregon Social Learning Center. Staff provide parenting skills to foster parents caring for Native youth across the state. This free service takes place in a cohort model over 16 weeks, and participants receive  $25 per household for each 90-minute session they attend. KEEP is a support group, not a class! The connections participants gain can alleviate feelings of seclusion while staff keep culture at the forefront. Watch our new video highlighting this amazing program.  

“What we did literally (with KEEP) was incorporate NAYA’s mission and core values throughout the entire curriculum, to get into the living rooms of these foster parents who are parenting Native youth, to help lessen the trauma on the foster youth. Some foster parents have never had any cultural information or any training around cultural differences. This is an opportunity to provide that knowledge to foster parents in a structured way,” said NAYA Foster Care Manager Elisha Big Back.  

Pathways to Adulthood Independent Living Program is a Department of Human Services-funded initiative designed to provide life skills for foster youth, 16–21 years old, to transition out of care. A provider meets with youth monthly to work on life goals around education, employment, peer and family support, healthy relationships, housing, health, transportation, parenting skills, and much more. Youth need to be referred by a DHS caseworker, but NAYA can help them with the process! 

Lastly, NAYA offers Parenting in 2 Worlds, a 10-week, culturally-specific and collaborative group that provides biological families with information and resources to keep their children safely in their homes. The group learns together using lessons that build on existing parenting skills. Once the curriculum is completed, parents can access an additional six additional months of family support through case management.  

All these programs can be life changing. Desiree Taylor, a NAYA staff member, participated in KEEP and decided to become more deeply involved. Now, as a KEEP group leader and program recruiter, she’s helping families flourish.   

“It gave me the part that I thought was missing from my life, the culture. When I found out NAYA’s KEEP program had Native values woven into it, I knew it was for me. Because of historical trauma, it’s very important to me that my son knows his culture. We know, when we live our values and beliefs, we honor our ancestors,” Taylor said.