Children in Native American communities are no strangers to abuse. With today’s focus on bullying in all its permutations, including social media, it is easy to forget that the abuse of children has been around for longer than one would wish and has taken many forms, particularly in the home.
Definitions of Abuse
In order to examine how these problems are perpetuated in Native American communities, it might be advised to first look at the different definitions of abuse.
The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act breaks down and defines abuse as follows (Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway article on State Statutes (https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubpdfs/define.pdf):
• Physical Abuse.
Any nonaccidental physical injury to the child” and can include striking, kicking, burning, or biting the child, or any action that results in a physical impairment of the child.
• Sexual Abuse.
The employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or the rape, and in cases of caretaker or interfamilial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children.
And was amended in 2015 by the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act to include
A child shall be considered a victim of “child abuse and neglect” and of “sexual abuse” if the child is identified, by a State or local agency employee of the State or locality involved, as being a victim of sex trafficking (as defined in § 103(10) of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (22 U.S.C. 7102)) or a victim of severe forms of trafficking in persons described in § 103(9)(A).4.
The failure of a parent or other person with responsibility for the child to provide needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision to the degree that the child’s health, safety, and well-being are threatened with harm.
Injury to the psychological capacity or emotional stability of the child as evidenced by observable or substantial change in behavior, emotional response, or cognition and injury as evidenced by anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or aggressive behavior.
Specific Challenges for the Native American Community in Its Role of Preventing, Reporting, and Treating Abuse
Because of their unique history and entwinement in working with Federal agencies and within their own tribes, Native American communities face unique challenges. What’s more, the diversity of each of the communities lends to their own understanding of how to interpret and handle abuse. Concerns include access to culturally based training and technical assistance, improving federal assistance programs, improving the tracking and sharing of data across service areas and across states, developing agendas that respond to identified risk factors, developing effective tribal-state agreements, developing relationships to create tribally-sponsored child advocacy centers, increasing funding for child protection and multi-disciplinary teams, revising the BIA-IHS Memorandum of Understanding to reflect current recommended practices, funding grant provisions of the Indian Child Protection and Family Violence Prevention Act, increasing the set-aside under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act for tribal community-based child abuse prevention grants, working with federal agencies to provide a more balanced federal child welfare finance system to fund tribal in-home and family support services, establishing a Native Children’s Trust Fund for tribes, negotiating agreements with states so as to fine tune jurisdiction and service responsibilities, and working with the Federal government to pass legislation to define tribal authority to prosecute child abuse of Native American children by non-Indian perpetrators. (Source: National Indian Child Welfare Association, “American Indian/Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence in the Home” testimony of Dr. Sarah L. Kastelic, Deputy Director, December 9th, 2013).
Identifying the Risk Factors
Until then, how can we, as acting service providers and caregivers, work to improve our communities and prevent further abuse? Perhaps a good place to start is to be able to identify the common signs of each form of abuse and then to have a look at the ways that Native American communities are different, thus better informing our work.
According to The American Society for the Positive Care of Children, these are the indicators affiliated with the different forms of child abuse (NOTE: more detailed and highly recommended information, including behavioral indicators, is available at https://americanspcc.org/child-sexual-abuse/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMImJea1bmS2gIVDkR-Ch100AzIEAAYAyAAEgLVfPD_BwE ):
Bruises to buttocks, back, genitals, and face (may include an imprint of a body part, such as a hand, or an implement for abuse, such as a belt)
Abrasions and lacerations with particular attention to location and count.
Burns, with particular attention to location and characteristics
Abusive head injuries and head traumas may result in an unconscious or unresponsive child
For damage to internal organs, look for abdominal distension, blood in the urine, vomiting and abdominal pain
Unexplained fractures, especially back rib fractures. Also look for multiple lesions and in different stages of healing.
Redness, rashness, and swelling in the genitalia area
Chronic stomach pains or headaches
Sexual language and behavior that is not age-appropriate
Lacking in medical or dental care
Sleepiness or hunger
Evidence of poor supervision
Unsanitary conditions in the home
Heating, plumbing, sleeping quarters are below what is normally tolerated
Food preparation areas, nutritional and food storage choices are substandard
Exhibits the following behaviors—withdrawn, clingy, depressed, apathetic, exaggerated fearfulness, overly rigid conforming to instructions from adult authorities,
Shows signs of sleep, eating, or speech disorders
Repetitive movement, rocking, whining, picking at scabs
Bed wetting and fecal soiling
Inordinate attention to detail
Little or no physical or verbal communication with others
Makes unusual comments such as “Mommy always tells me I’m bad.”
Please bear in mind that this is not an all-inclusive list, and just as each child is unique, so may be their symptoms, including behavioral indicators. It is important for those in social services and caretakers to development of the unusual, and not easily pass off an indicator for something less, until further consideration and evaluation is rendered.
As previously stated in the article, there is much more that we can improve on at the Federal, state, and tribal levels. In spite of these concerns, there are some things that have shown to be of great value in delivering on child abuse prevention, protection, and treatment objectives:
• Children’s Advocacy Centers. In child-friendly locations, these centers are one-stop locations for interviews by multi-disciplinary teams, thus lessening the trauma of multiple interviews in multiple locations. Children who come to these locations are twice as likely to receive targeted medical exams and referrals for mental health treatment. Furthermore, the centers are evaluated by The National Children’s Alliance for cultural competency, forensic interviews, victim advocacy, medical evaluation, mental health services, case review, case tracking, organization, and child-centered setting.
• Multi-disciplinary Teams. When successful, these teams illustrate community ownership and involvement, are able to resource funds to support their functions, have established clear
protocols for operations, have been adequately trained, are accountable, and have a sense of commitment.
• Community Input and Activism. In those Native American communities with the most success, there is a strong policy infrastructure (e.g., intergovernmental or interagency agreements), so that all tribes know their roles and responsibilities, as it relates to their relationship to child welfare services. What’s more, there is a trend toward more community involvement and in such cases, programs are shown to have higher rates of success. Much of this is due to the unique understandings as it relates to teachings, customs, and traditions.
• Collaborative Relationships. There has been more success when there is collaboration with governmental entities, particularly as it relates to acquiring funding to provide prevention and treatment services.
• Desire to Keep Family Relationships Intact. It is the desire of service providers to Native American communities to keep families together where possible. In this way, children have more of a sense of belonging as well as a better sense of identity.
• Working Together to Take Advantage of Funding Opportunities. Many efficiencies can be created through the aligning with those within a program or between agencies so has to take advantage of funding opportunities with those that have similar goals and/or activities.
• Child Abuse Prevention Curriculum for the Schools. The National Indian Child Welfare Association helps tribes to develop effective programs utilizing cultural resources. In addition to providing a curriculum to be used in primary and secondary school settings, they also provide onsite technical assistance.
• In-Home Services. In maintaining familial relationships, these services help to reduce stress created by placing children in out-of-home care.
• Indian Country Child Trauma Centers. Designed for children and their families, these centers have their foundation in using culture in the development of effective interventions.
• American Indian Life Skills Development Curriculum. An evidence-based suicide prevention program, it uniquely serves youth with risk factors.
• Native Aspirations Program. Provides resources and training to tribal communities to help prevent violence, bullying, and suicide.
Is there something working in your community? We’d like to hear from you. Please send your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org