Methods: Nine in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with Elders (ages 70-85 years) in a Native American Community. Participants were recruited through a snowball sampling method with contacts facilitated by a local social service provider. Interviews elicited participants’ views on cultural values related to adoption, cultural practices and ceremonies affiliated with adoption, family decision making about caring for children, and supports to family systems and to those who have adopted. All the interviews were audiotaped. Basic content analysis was used to code information from the interviews. A research assistant listened to all nine interviews and summarized answers to interview guide questions as she listened to the audio recordings. Another researcher then summarized those question responses as general interview themes. For inter-rater reliability, the original research assistant reviewed and verified that the themes were consistent with the information from the interview audio tapes.
Results: Themes from the qualitative analysis centered on: importance of cultural values, family support, family functioning, informal support, formal social support, and children without caregivers. Respect for elders, responsibility, hard work, honoring the culture and traditions, and learning the language were noted as expectations of all Tribe members. If a child’s parents cannot care for the child, the maternal side of the family is asked to take the child, the paternal side of the family is consulted next, and finally, a member of the Tribe is found to care for the child. Unlike Western models of parenting, caregiving of children is viewed as a communal responsibility and it is expected for children to be cared for by relatives. Elders in the tribe believe that the government should not step in and care for a child outside of the tribe. Terminating parental rights is highly opposed by the tribe as there are many “mothers” and “fathers” a child has based on their family connections. Thus, adoption is not often practiced as a child welfare permanency option due to Native cultural beliefs.
Conclusions/Implications: Tribal communities have a clear sense that the child is a part of the community and the care of the child is to be decided by family members, especially Elders, with cultural values and practices guiding the decision making. These findings were used to make cultural adaptations to the Family Group Decision Making model that include tribal values related to interconnectedness of families and a shared responsibility of caring for children. In identifying relatives to participate in conferences, a tribal kinship chart is used rather than a western family genogram and prayers are said before conferences.