The Center for Regional and Tribal Child Welfare studies: Systems change through a relational Anishinaabe worldview

Wendy Haight, Cary Waubanascum, David Glesener, Priscilla Day, Brenda Bussey, Karen Nichols

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The dramatic overrepresentation of Indigenous families in North American governmental child welfare systems remains one of the most pressing and neglected issues facing Tribal Nations, child welfare policymakers and practitioners today. This paper is the third in a series of three papers (Authors) presenting an ethnographic study of the Center for Regional and Tribal Child Welfare Studies in the Department of Social Work, University of Minnesota – Duluth. The current paper focuses on the perspectives of the Center's staff and allies, which is grounded in an Anishinaabe worldview, on the process of systems change in child welfare. It draws upon in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 13 participants with diverse roles and extended relationships with the Center. Participants provided knowledge and wisdom on how to create and sustain trusting, collaborative relationships within sovereign Tribal Nations, county and state child welfare systems. They described how Center staff members are then able to create bridges (mesosystems) across Indigenous communities and child welfare systems with the trust built within each of those systems. These mesosystems are sustained over time through continued opportunities for engagement and collaboration. These processes are illustrated through several case exemplars of change affected by the Center, tribes and their collaborators: state legislation to strengthen ICWA, implementation of statewide continuing education for child welfare professionals, and an innovative ICWA court. The primary barrier to system change noted by participants is structural racism. Advice for those motivated to support systems change includes establishing close links with Indigenous communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105601
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
StatePublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to acknowledge the Indigenous elders and Indigenous and ally social work professionals who graciously shared their stories and wisdom. We look to them for guidance as we continue our work to protect our children and Indigenous cultures into the next seven generations. In addition, we were honored to work in partnership with Priscilla Day, Brenda Bussey, and Karen Nichols from the Center for Regional and Tribal Child Welfare at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. This report was made possible through funding from the Gamble-Skogmo endowment of the University of Minnesota, School of Social Work.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd


  • Child welfare
  • Disparities
  • ICWA
  • Indigenous
  • Systems change


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