FIJ Quarterly - Summer 2022 Edition

Authentic Engagement and Equitable Partnerships with Youth and Families with Lived Expertise Decisions that affect the lives of youth and families who are system-involved should include their voices in every step of the process in a way that creates equitable power-sharing and elevates their concerns. For far too long, engaging youth and families in decision-making has been an afterthought or has been in a tokenized capacity. Being sure that lived experience is valued also includes being willing to challenge outdated ways of thinking and operating, being flexible, meeting youth and families where they are at (including meeting at times and locations that are convenient and accessible), and being intentional about how youth and families are engaged in the work. In addition, youth and families with lived expertise should always be compensated for their time and talents. Protect and Fully Enforce the Indian Child Welfare Act The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which was passed to address the “alarmingly high” rate of removal of Native children by the state, has been called “the most ignored federal law ever,” and, currently, its constitutionality is being questioned in a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. 51 In light of this, specific state-level ICWA statutes are all the more critical to protect the rights of Tribes and Native children and families. In 2015, Nebraska passed a model state ICWA statute 52 and is also fortunate in the recent establishment of a unique nonprofit coalition of tribes and stakeholders, the Nebraska Indian Child Welfare Coalition (NICWC), which has, among other things, strengthened relationships between DHHS, juvenile courts, and tribes. 53 These and additional efforts should be considered in other states. Conclusion When we look ahead at the next 20 years in Nebraska and nationally, our hope is for a further transformation that is almost unrecognizable from where we started. While we still have a ways to go, Nebraska now has a shared vision for a re-imagined and community-owned child and family well-being system that acknowledges systemic trauma, honors family bonds, seeks to meet families’ true needs, and is accessible to them in their communities, within their cultural contexts. ______________ 51 25 USC § 1901 (1978); Eveleth, Sherri. “Overview of the ICWA: The Most Ignored Federal Law Ever,” The Nebraska Lawyer , August 2005; Haaland v. Brackeen (U.S. Supreme Court Docket No. 21-380; formerly Brackeen v. Bernhardt and Brackeen v. Zinke ). 52 Nebraska Legislative Bill 566 (2015) codified at Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-1501 et seq. 53 Nebraska Indian Child Welfare Coalition. Accessed 1 May 2022. _________________________ Jennifer Skala is the Senior Vice President and Jennifer Wallage is the Youth and Parent Partnership Coordinator at the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation. Dr. Alger M. Studstill, Jr. is the Deputy Director of Protection and Safety and Emily Kluver is the Community-Based Prevention Administrator for the Children & Family Services Division at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. Sarah Helvey is the Child Welfare Director and Schalisha Walker is the Child Welfare Program Coordinator at Nebraska Appleseed.

116 | FIJ Quarterly | Summer 2022

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