Cherokee Nation ICW serves children with new programs

BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
Former Reporter
08/11/2017 08:45 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
A cultural classroom displaying colors, shapes and animals in the Cherokee language is part of the Cherokee Children’s Cultural Connection or 4C program, one of two new programs the Cherokee Nation’s Indian Child Welfare created after getting two federal grants. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
The Cherokee Children’s Cultural Connection or 4C program has computer stations equipped with Skype webcams for Indian Child Welfare children to have video conversations with Cherokee National Treasures if they cannot meet in person. Pairing children with Cherokee National Treasures is part of 4C’s art therapy curriculum. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
When children enter Cherokee Children’s Cultural Connection’s cultural classroom they must recite Cherokee Attributes, which teach Cherokee values and builds self-esteem through repetitive speech. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Ruth Shade, Indian Child Welfare parenting paraprofessional, came to ICW from the Cherokee Nation’s Education Services and is now in charge of teaching children Cherokee culture, history and government. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – With two new programs, the Cherokee Nation’s Indian Child Welfare is expanding its efforts to assist children and reunite Cherokee families.

“What the law requires for an Indian child through the Indian Child Welfare Act is active efforts in order to try and reunite a family,” ICW Executive Director Nikki Baker Limore said. “I tell my workers, ‘we’re going to go to extreme efforts. We’re going to go as far as we can to provide these parents opportunity to reunite with these children.’”

The desire to go above and beyond led ICW officials to apply for two Victims of Crime Act of 1984 grants. The first was approved in September 2016 and used to create the Cherokee Children’s Cultural Connection program, or 4C. In April it began accepting children ages 4 to 18, giving them an educational and cultural foundation to build upon while in foster care and later in life.

Activities include canine and equine therapy, as well as time in a cultural classroom where children complete activities that teach them Cherokee colors, numbers and history.

“What I do is instill Cherokee culture and history into the children that come into our care,” Ruth Shade, ICW parenting paraprofessional, said. “They may not know anything at all, or some that do, they might not know they’re already living it.”

4C has also partnered with The Spider Gallery to provide children art therapy. For children wanting to learn a specific medium, such as bow making or basket weaving, 4C officials will put them in touch with a Cherokee National Treasure to get expert knowledge either in person or via Skype. The program has slow, fast and medium tracks depending on how long ICW workers think the case might take.

“When our children come into our care, sometimes we can really work their case plan, and if they’re only with us a certain amount of time we put them in our classroom and with our horses in equine, and they can do an eight-week course,” Shade said. “If some of our kids stay with us until they actually age out, we can work with them. We can structure the curriculum and therapy around that.”

The second grant created the Safe Babies program, which will begin accepting children from 0 to 3 years old in October.

“We wrote a grant called Safe Babies, and what it does it tries to go over and above to get those parents active in those babies lives because what recent statistics and data will tell you is children zero to 3 (years) do suffer trauma when they’re removed,” Limore said. “They’ve figured out it does just as much damage to small babies as it does to the older children who are able to explain it to you.”

ICW has created an apartment-type setup across the street from its offices with hopes that parents will spend more time with their children and increase the likelihood of reunification.

“Our goal is to have those parents come in and instead of just getting to see their children an hour or two a week, we want them to come in keep them all day while a worker sits right outside the hall,” Limore said. “We’ll help teach them how to care for that child if they’re a new parent, but we hope that instills better bonding and in turn, because they’re better bonded with the child, maybe they’ll work harder on fixing the issues that they have and then the child will thrive.”

Limore said while ICW children receive counseling, most do not get “concentrated services” to help cope with being taken from their homes and hopes the programs will fill the void.

“Through all of our teachings we just hope we instill in them what it is to be Cherokee so they become a stronger person, so they can overcome the trauma they’ve endured,” she said.

For more information, visit www.cherokeekids.org.

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