MINNEAPOLIS - A unique program in south Minneapolis is finding success helping American Indian boys in long-term foster care. The director of the Healing Spirit program for boys, Kirk Crow Shoe, says the group home they operate takes in teens with a history of running away, skipping school and runs-ins with police. Many have been placed in multiple foster-care situations without success.
"They go into these homes and they're not making it. They're not connecting; they're not getting their needs met, so then they go back to the emergency shelter. They wait for yet another placement; they go to another placement, then they disrupt from that placement. Healing Spirit was developed as an answer to this particular problem."
At Healing Spirit, Crow Shoe explains, the focus is not just on school and living skills, but also on the sacred Native American culture, which he calls a significant part of helping the kids believe in themselves.
What makes Healing Spirit effective, Crow Shoe says, is that the teen boys are overseen by staff members who share the same Native American background.
"Many of them have been in long-term foster care themselves. They struggled greatly in their upbringings, and as adults they have the heart to give back to the community. The kids know that they've been in their shoes, as well, so there's an immediate sense of respect that's paid to one another in that relationship."
It is key for the troubled teens to connect with their culture and community and feel a sense of family - particularly in a system in which they've been shuffled from one place to another, Crow Shoe adds.
"These kids, after a period of time, they feel like they're throwaways and they're very broken kids. Because we understand that and because many of us have lived that life, they know that we are going to be more patient, more generous - and we're not going to give up on them quite so easily."
Since Healing Spirit was founded in 2003, the average length of stay has grown to around 2.5 years, and most boys now stay until they "age out." Crow Shoe says with that success, the program has generated interest from across the country.
"Because we have done as well as we have over the years, there are other communities that are interested in what we're doing; and as such, we then shared our model at the National Indian Child Welfare Act conferences."
A similar foster home for girls opens in south Minneapolis in January. American Indians make up just over one-percent of Minnesota's population, but account for 12 percent of the children in the state foster care system.
More information is available at http://diw.gmcc.org/programs.php.
Public News Service - MN » December , 2011