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4 Questions for Aj Goins

Senior Federal Policy Analyst, Oregon Department of Human Services

Please provide a little background on the Native communities in Oregon and their relationship/involvement with the state child welfare system.

There are nine federally recognized tribes in Oregon. In the Oregon child welfare system, there has been longstanding disparity and inequity in tribal child welfare cases, and the disproportionality rate is still unacceptable, even after years of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and state ICWA legislation.

There have been longstanding working relationships with the Tribes as far as the shared work of child welfare, through the Department’s Office of Tribal Affairs as well as an ICWA Advisory Committee. There are also local Regional ICWA Specialists who serve as consultants and liaisons in Indian child welfare cases. The depth and success of these relationships has ebbed and flowed over the years.

Functionally, each of the nine tribes in Oregon has entered into grant agreements with ODHS to receive money for child welfare and prevention services. The state of Oregon also has authorized resources for building systems of care and servicing families in need through other grant awards. These grants are renewed biannually, when the legislature finalizes the Oregon budget.

Five tribes in Oregon -- the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Klamath Tribe, Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, and Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs -- have also entered into Title IV-E Agreements with the State of Oregon and claim quarterly reimbursements for their child welfare foster care programs. 


How did the importance of Indigenized Motivational Interviewing come to your attention?

In 2018, a change in federal legislation under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act (the Family First Prevention Services Act) allows states and tribes to claim reimbursement for child welfare cases before a child enters care. The child needs to meet a state definition of candidacy (at imminent risk of removal from the home) and must receive services that are approved by the Prevention Clearinghouse as an Evidence- Based Practice (EBP).

In Oregon, the approved Prevention Plan included Motivational Interviewing, which was the one EBP that held interest in the tribes in Oregon. That began the pursuit of MI training that was culturally informed and held meaning for Native ways of being and doing. Kevin Simmons began researching Native MI trainers and came upon Dr. Kathyleen Tomlin. The three of us met and thus began our journey together. The first trainings were held in Grand Ronde, but over the past 15 months or so we have offered training to Native staff in all of the confederated Tribes in Oregon, as well as to staff from the Office of Tribal Affairs. We were also invited to the Lummi Nation last fall and are currently in conversation with folks in northern California.


What are you hoping to achieve/accomplish with this training program?

As Native staff and practitioners become proficient in MI, we hope to provide additional skills and tools to serve Native families in tribal communities, keep families together, and improve child/family well-being and promote healing. We hope this training and the follow-up coaching, consultation, and skill development tools that this work can provide Native workers with more effective tools to use in their helping relationships with families.


Is there anything else you want people to know about this initiative?

Because of the change in federal law in 2018, the use of evidence-based practices can offer tribes the opportunity to claim reimbursement for those families served under the Family First Prevention Services Act criteria. 


One additional provision of the federal law is that programs must demonstrate that they are using an EBP to fidelity, or faithfulness to the practice. That is why we are currently working as an MI team and will partner with interested tribes in Oregon to develop a fidelity tool or process that can demonstrate that proficiency and can show the positive outcomes for families (families are engaged and involved in their case plan, families stay together, or when reunified, children do not return to foster care).


I think this project is unique in the US right now. I do not know of any other state that has engaged with Tribes in this type of collective partnership.

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