This research addresses one of the most pressing and controversial issues facing child welfare policymakers and practitioners today: the dramatic overrepresentation of Indigenous families in North American public child welfare systems. Effective, inclusive education is one necessary component of efforts to reduce such disparities. Yet recruiting students from various cultural communities to the field and educating white social work students and professionals to practice in culturally responsive ways are ongoing challenges. In this ethnography, we examine an apparently successful model of inclusive education: the Center for Regional and Tribal Child Welfare Studies (the Center) at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, School of Social Work. For over a decade, the Center has graduated Indigenous and non-Indigenous child welfare workers with MSWs now practicing within tribal communities, as well as provided continuing education for child welfare professionals. At the Center, Indigenous scholars and social workers, tribal leaders and their allies design and sustain a model of honoring and integrating Indigenous worldviews with Western social work. Experiential learning – engaging the “heart and head” – is a cornerstone of the Center's educational practices. Students and professional colleagues are approached with a “good heart” as “relatives” with positive intentions. They learn about the spirituality, language, culture and history of Indigenous people. The strengths-based curriculum also includes challenging content on the legacy of genocide and historical trauma on Indigenous families and communities, as well as contemporary laws and policies such as the Indian Child Welfare Act. The educational worldview and practices of the Center provide understanding for social work, generally, and child welfare, specifically, that supports effective practice and policy within diverse communities.
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- Child welfare