FIJ Quarterly - Fall 2022 Edition

rights. They have a right to not answer questions, their right to confidentiality, what your expectations professionally are, and just being really transparent and open with them.” This statement summarizes the principles and importance of developmental jurisprudence in practice. Authentic engagement with youth in court proceedings can become the way that a youth in care gets to gain skills that their non-fostered peers may learn in less bureaucratic settings. However, regardless of the setting, all youth must have moments to make decisions and, most importantly, make mistakes when it comes to the blossoming adult life that they have ahead. One of the challenges, in some instances, is keeping youths safe when they express their wishes, as it could put them in need of protection. “I remember expressing myself once and it wasn't held in confidence. It was related to my mother and, even now thinking about it, I would've been very nervous or scared of the retaliation had I voiced that I didn't want to be with my mother. So, that was another obstacle. So I don't even know how that would've changed how I was heard, but I do wish I had some kind of proof that says this is what I wanted, some notes somewhere. And I think that's why I petitioned. I asked, I didn't petition. I asked for my records and I didn't receive them, so I wasn't sure.” A tribal CW administrator also commented that expressed wishes could be expressed concerns about a youth’s safety. “That’s a good way to tip you off, that you don’t want to see your mom or dad, that something’s going on.” Sometimes, not wanting to do something is an indicator that a youth’s personal radar and assessment of safety is working well, and the worker or official should take that seriously enough to investigate the circumstances. Not taking expressed wishes seriously enough could actually have deleterious developmental consequences in addition to safety. As seen in the prior literature cited above, not engaging

Key barriers to engagement in court proceedings identified in the literature included the youth’s ability to self-advocate, their access to information, their age (younger youths were less frequently consulted), CPS’ view of the youth, and the health of their relationship with their social worker and/or legal representative. 23 These barriers can easily be overcome when child welfare agencies and courts take the time to authentically engage youth. Tribal courts provide promising lessons learned on how other court systems could better engage youth in meaningful ways around expressing their wishes in best interest determinations. ______________ 13 Hochman, G., Hochman, A., & Jennifer, M. (n.d.). Voices from the Inside: Foster Care . Retrieved August 5, 2022, from 14 Block, S. D., Oran, H., Oran, D., Baumrind, N., & Goodman, G. S. (2010). Abused and neglected children in court: Knowledge and attitudes. Child Abuse & Neglect, 34(9), 659–670. chiabu.2010.02.003 15 Ponciano, L. (2013). The voices of youth in foster care: A participant action research study. Action Research, 11 (4), 322–336. 16 Fox, A., & Berrick, J. D. (2007). A Response to No One Ever Asked Us: A Review of Children’s Experiences in Out-of-Home Care. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal , 24(1), 23–51. 006-0057-6 17 Block et al., 2010 18 Khoury, A. (2006). Seen and heard: Involving children in dependency court. American Bar Association Child Law Practice , 25 (10). 145-155. wp-content/uploads/2014/12/cinc_article.pdf 19 Weisz, V., Wingrove, T., Beal, S. J., & Faith-Slaker, A. (2011). Children’s participation in foster care hearings. Child Abuse & Neglect , 35(4), 267–272. https://doi. org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2010.12.007 20 Kriz, K., & Roundtree-Swain, D. (2017). “We are merchandise on a conveyer belt”: How young adults in the public child protection system perceive their participation in decisions about their care. Children and Youth Services Review , 78.doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2017.05.001 21 Thomas, N., & Percy-Smith, B. (2012). ‘It’s about changing services and building relationships’: Evaluating the development of Children in Care Councils: Children in Care Councils. Child & Family Social Work , 17(4), 487–496. 22 O’Keefe, V.M., Fish, J., Maudrie, T.L., Hunter, A.M., Tai Rakena, H.G., Ullrich, J.S., Clifford, C., Crawford, A., Brockie, T., Walls, M., Haroz, E.E., Cwik, M., Rumbaugh Whitesell, N., & Barlow, A. (2022). Centering indigenous knowledge and worldviews: Applying the indigenist ecological systems model to youth mental health and wellness research and programs. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health , 19 (10). 6271. 23 Kriz & Roundtree-Swain, 2017

youth in decisions about their care is robbing them of key developmental milestones around autonomy and self-esteem. Given the overwork of tribal workers and court officials (which everyone who participated in the interviews also talked about), being able to assess the reality and trustworthiness of a youth’s expressed wishes can provide another set of eyes and ears in a case. Youths’ stories of their histories, times in care, current situations, and possible futures become not only important information for a case but may also provide a path forward through a case as the tension between best interests and expressed wishes is negotiated. “I feel like best interest of the child could be a rallying point, and I think that's intended … if you have somebody that's skilled in facilitating, you have somebody that's representing a child... And so all the people that love this child, like who loves this child the most - if we can get them around a table, we can come up with some really good ideas about what's in the best interest of this child. So it touches on making sure that you talk to the youth and encourage them to engage in the court hearings and that you're getting in touch with youth before important hearings such as the disposition and the permanency hearings so that you have a good sense of what your stance is going to be for best interests. … if you let them kind of lead that way and you know they kind of figured out themselves well, maybe that won't work… and then we can guide them that way, but they need to feel like they're kind of not in charge, but they're at least walking beside you… I think kind of some things that we were talking about before, being a part of the meetings and making recommendations about what they think is going to be in their best interest and make them successful because what we think may not all necessarily be what they think and we want them to make those decisions so they feel committed to them, and they're successful in their endeavors. So I think that's the

biggest one for me when they can identify that they need support and what that looks like for them.” The expression of best interests, expressed wishes, and developmental capacity does not have to be a sticking point of legal philosophy in a case; the tension between them can be an important point of assessment, decision- making, and mediation to move cases forward and promote the development and autonomy of a system-involved court adolescent. Discussion True, authentic engagement experiences of youth in care, are mixed; however, these interviews suggest that authentic youth engagement may be more of an option for youth supervised by tribal courts than those who experience court proceedings in state and county courts. There is widespread literature indicating the lack of communication and information youth receive about their cases while in care, 13,14 the lack of control they have about decisions related to their life, 15,16 and a lack of opportunities to attend and/or be heard in court hearings. 17,18 All of this is happening while general practice is, at least ideologically, moving towards the theoretical consensus that youth should, in some way, be involved in decisions about their care. Researchers have found that attending dependency court hearings was not emotionally detrimental to youth, and, even further, those who were included reported feeling more positive feelings towards their court process. 19 Additionally, the inclusion of youth in court decisions about their care has been found to increase feelings of independence and pride, allows them the opportunity develop the abilities to self-advocate, and increases their self-esteem. 20,21 Indigenous worldviews apply strengths-based approaches that align with more holistic concepts of health and wellness; indigenous youth development and well-being occur through strengths-based relationships with those that are responsible for overseeing their child welfare cases (tribal child welfare social service agencies and courts). This approach not only promotes indigenous youth health and mental health but ripples out across the entire child and family system to promote community well-being. 22

56 | FIJ Quarterly | Fall 2022

FIJ Quarterly | Fall 2022 | 57

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