Abstract: Indigenous Connectedness As a Framework for Relational Healing within Alaska Native Child Welfare (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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150P Indigenous Connectedness As a Framework for Relational Healing within Alaska Native Child Welfare

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Jessica Ullrich, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Washington, UAA, Anchorage, AK
Background and Purpose: In Alaska, 60% of the children in out-of-home care are Alaska Native/American Indian. While we have learned about trauma and trauma-informed care, the rates of child removal have remained high. A missing element is guidance on helping Indigenous people, families, and communities recover and heal so we can prevent future child maltreatment. An Indigenous Connectedness Framework was developed to identify core concepts of Indigenous child wellbeing, which included environmental, intergenerational, community, family, and spiritual connectedness. To better understand how we can improve outcomes for Alaska Native children in the child welfare system, this framework was tested and built upon.

Methods: This study used qualitative Indigenous research methodologies that centralized relationship as a conduit of knowledge transmission, involved continuous reflexivity, and engaged in an ethic to directly benefit the participants and community. A total of 9 Alaska Native foster care alumni and 16 caregivers were interviewed. A deductive and inductive process of directed content analysis was used for initial coding and Indigenous storying was used to understand and interpret the data.

Results: Many of the knowledge bearers expressed the need to heal a relational wound that was caused and is perpetuated by a disconnect of Indigenous people from children, siblings Elders, the land, spirit, language, culture, stories, community, family and most importantly- ourselves. The knowledge bearers also discussed the ways they have engaged in relational healing through building trust, maintaining connectedness and keeping their spirit strong. Connection to land and place is a major component of relational healing because it is part of our collective Alaska Native Elders’ instruction of knowing who you are and where you come from, which is central to the Indigenous Connectedness Framework.

Conclusion and Implications: As a matter of social justice, we need to examine how and where relational wounding is happening in child welfare so that the ongoing trauma and relational wounding can cease for children who have already been through so much. This study has implications for the safety interventions that are currently used in child welfare. It is unsafe for a child to be disconnected from everyone, everything and every place they know. Shifting efforts to supporting relational healing, continuity and connectedness is worthwhile and crucial to breaking the cycle of trauma and relational wounding.