The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Special Issues for American Indian/Alaskan Native Trainees

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 4:30 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 103A Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Nancy Dickinson, PhD, Project Director, National Child Welfare Workforce Institute, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Suzanne Cross, Phd, Associate Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Virginia Whitekiller, Associate Professor, Northeastern State University, Tahlequah, OK
Anna deGuzman, MS, Research Assistant, University of Denver, Denver, CO

In 2011 additional resources were invested in five programs focused on AI/AN students, a part of CB initiatives focusing on tribal child welfare. Research questions:

  • What unique challenges/additional supports do AI/AN trainees identify?
  • What agency factors influence AI/AN graduates?
  • How do AI/AN trainees compare to other traineeship students?


  • Qualitative methods: Interviews with 23 of 28 recipients and in-depth, longitudinal case studies for 3 students/programs;
  • Quantitative methods include data from the Student Stipend Inventory (SSI; baseline, annual, and follow up);
  • Analysis:
    • Qualitative: a phenomenology approach, aided by NVIVO.
    • Quantitative analyses: chi-square, t-test, factorial repeated measures ANOVA, trend analysis.


  • Primary issues relate to roles as non-traditional, often first-generation students.  Adapting to non-tribal settings was particularly difficult, especially related to learning styles, a lack of diversity in instructors and fellow students, and a lack of content on tribal issues. Lack of social support spanning multiple settings is concerning. They speak positively about support from traineeship faculty, and the particular value of a good internship.
  • AI/AN students identified a lack of financial resources, family obligations, transportation, working a full time job and responsibility as a primary caregiver as additional challenges.
  • Graduate responses were mixed as to how well their program prepared them for tribal settings, feeling that general child welfare content was useful, but the lack of ICWA and tribal content was problematic. Additionally supervisors see them as more proactive and engaged with families, and most express satisfaction with the work itself.
  • Graduates with positive work experiences report positive social support and agency climate. For those struggling with difficult organizational climates, satisfaction with work is mixed.
  • Power to detect small differences between AI/AN students and others is limited by current sample size. Preliminary analyses find no significant differences on most measures from the SSI.
  • AI/AN students report significant lower competency levels at baseline, t(13.03) = 2.35, p = .035. While all students reported a statistically significant increase in mean competency scores from baseline to annual, F(1, 132) = 60.31, p < .001, η2 = .31, AI/AN students reported statistically significantly lower competency scores in comparison to non-tribal students over time, F(1, 132) = 4.98, p = .027, η2 = .04.
  • Sample size is too small to test for repeated measures from baseline to follow-up, therefore an exploratory trend analysis was conducted to look at pattern of competency changes over time. For tribal students, the trend is linear, F(1, 40) = 11.84, p = .001, η2 = .21 with competency gains continuing across all three time points.  For other students, the initial positive linear trend, F(1, 547) = 63.83, p < .001, η2 = .10 is combined with a downward bend, F(1, 547) = 18.22, p < .001, η2 = .03.


AI/AN students face particular challenges in programs and transition to tribal work environments. They do not differ from peers on most measures, however their competency gains may be more persistent over time.  Discussion will center on strategies for preparing trainees for tribal practice.