UKB ICW marks Child Abuse, Prevention Awareness Month
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
EDITOR, GIDUWA CHEROKEE NEWS
TAHLEQUAH – For the second year in a row, the Indian Child Welfare Department at the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians is officially marking the month of April as Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month.
Legislation honoring the cause was officially passed via unanimous consent of the UKB Tribal Council in April 2021, with UKB ICW holding its first Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Day on April 9, 2021.
“When we asked the Council to pass the resolution, we just wanted to remind everyone that we’re here and we do have an Indian Child Welfare Department that is looking out for our children,” said Roxana Wilden, UKB ICW director. “Their decision to pass that resolution just shows that Council stands behind what we do.”
For more than two decades, UKB ICW has been working on behalf of Keetoowah children and their families in cases involving abuse, neglect and adoption in accordance with the Indian Child Welfare Act.
ICWA is a federal law enacted in 1978 that works to protect tribal children in custody cases from being separated from their families and tribal communities and placed into non-Indian homes. It does so by setting minimum standards between tribes and the state about the handling of such cases, including a first preference for willing and capable tribal relatives.
The UKB ICW program and its social workers advocate for children within the 14 counties and nationwide, answering inquiries, working with state workers and courts to secure safe and healthy homes. This is done either by reuniting children with their parents or by finding Keetoowah foster and adoptive homes.
“All the work we do is because we want our Keetoowah kids to be loved and to be safe,” said Wilden. “Sometimes the unfortunate part of this job is checking on children where there are reports of abuse or neglect. When someone calls us to report those things, we call the Oklahoma Child Abuse Hotline so we can get the referral from the state. Once that happens, then we can start working.”
The UKB ICW Department currently operates with a staff of five and has an attorney and prosecutor for child abuse cases.
“We do talk with the kids before placing them and we educate them about their rights,” said Wilden. “We also offer counseling for them at Echota Behavioral Health, because sometimes abuse isn’t always physical, but mental. A lot of times these kids don’t want to talk to us because we’re their caseworker. Some will, but it’s like they’re suspicious of what we’re going to do with the information. So it’s better for them to go talk to somebody else where they can establish that trust beforehand.”
The services at Echota Behavioral Health are also not limited to children alone.
“The kids are going to be my priority, but those kids need their parents. Sometimes in order to help a child, you have to help the whole family,” said Wilden. “We have partnered with the tribe’s Echota Behavioral Health Center and sent parents to parenting classes, anger management, rehab or to just general counseling, just so they can get the extra help.”
Several UKB departments have also stepped in to assist UKB ICW including Health and Human Services, the Henry Lee Doublehead Childcare Development Center, Lighthorse, UKB Housing and Environmental Services.
“It’s nice because the whole tribe is behind us,” said Wilden. “On the birthday or Christmas presents we give to our kids, we always write, ‘love from your UKB family.’ I want these kids, whenever they leave the system, I want them to know and to feel without a doubt that we love them. We don’t have a history without our elders, but we don’t have a future without our kids.”
Those interested in fostering are encouraged to reach out to the department.
“We’re always looking for Keetoowah foster homes. Keetoowahs have their own traditions, their own culture. We want that handed on to our children, so I think it’s more beneficial for
them to be in Keetoowah homes. You don’t have to be married to foster or adopt. You can be single, you can be gay. I don’t care as long as the child is safe and loved.”
Wilden also asked potential foster and adoptive homes to consider kids of all ages.
“Sometimes people just want babies and that’s good, raising a baby from the very beginning. But at the same time, we have so many teenagers that just need some guidance. I know that sometimes they get into trouble, but at the same time, they have a lot of goodness inside them. It just takes somebody to want to find it and bring it out.”
The UKB ICW Department will next play host to the 14th Annual Completing the Circle Event, an Indigenous cultural awareness event for foster families. It will take place on Saturday, May 21 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the UKB Celebration Grounds located at 18300 W. Keetoowah Circle in Tahlequah.
Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m., with the opening ceremony following at 9:30 a.m. Those who attend are eligible for six hours of training credits and travel can be paid for Department of Human Services foster families.
For additional questions about the event, please contact Kelly Tannehill at Kelly.Tannehill@okdhs.org, via phone at 918-232-8289 or contact Shawn Shirley at Shawn.Shirley@okdhs.org, or via phone at 580-761-5731.
If you suspect abuse or neglect, call the Oklahoma Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-522-3511 or the UKB ICW office at 918-871-2809.