Stephanie Autumn, a member of the Hopi Nation and Director of EDC’s newly-funded Tribal Youth Program (TYP), speaks about her work with reservation and urban American Indian communities. Autumn, who brings over 25 years of experience in developing education programs for American Indian students, is among a growing number of people within EDC’s Health and Human Development Programs (HHD) who are working to improve the health of American Indian youth.
What are some of the health problems affecting tribal youth?
Even though American Indian youth are a small part of the U.S. population, they experience mental health and substance abuse problems at an alarming rate—suicide, alcohol, and drug abuse are all extremely prevalent health issues among American Indian youth. Many of these young people are also engaged in crime-related activities and are involved in the juvenile justice system as a result. We also know that most youth aren’t being treated by the formal mental health or social service system. This lack of treatment means there is a tremendous urgency to identify ways to help connect American Indian youth to mental health services and other formal and informal support systems.
Why are American Indian youth disconnected from treatment? What are some of the barriers they face in accessing support services?
American Indians are one of the most invisible groups in the U.S. Over time, many tribes were forced to move from their ancestral homelands to some of the most isolated settings in this country—places that are known for their unbelievable lack of access to educational, economic, and other health-promoting resources.
But even without access problems many other barriers often exist. Mental health issues are rarely discussed in many tribes—there’s just an enormous amount of shame that prevents people from talking openly about these issues. Waitlists for services are also quite common, which means that youth have to wait weeks to get an appointment.
Tell me about the Tribal Youth Program and how it is addressing the needs of American Indian youth?
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Tribal Youth Program grants provide tribal communities with an opportunity to increase alcohol and drug prevention and intervention services to tribal youth, improve juvenile tribal court systems, and increase access to mental health services and programs. We are currently working with grantees from 23 states that cover over 90 different tribes and are partnering with a team of technical assistance specialists from Indian Country and the National Tribal Justice Resource Center.
Tribal Youth grantees are working with their tribal governments, communities, and elders to reduce the risk factors that affect American Indian youth and influence behaviors that lead to juvenile delinquency, crime, alcohol and drug abuse, and a lack of connection to their tribal values. Through our Tribal Youth Program Training and Technical Assistance Center, which is also funded by OJJDP, we hope to create a new model of training and technical assistance that will respond specifically to the needs of the Tribal Youth Program grantees and the communities they serve.
What specific services will the TYP Training and Technical Assistance Center program provide?
We work with these agencies across several areas, including capacity building, strategic planning, program implementation and evaluation, and also assist them to identify ways to sustain their services. We offer consultations on opportunities, challenges, and progress through e-mails, phone calls, and site visits. We provide peer-to-peer training, including teleconferences and Web-based discussions.
Originally published on February 1, 2008