The American Indian Strengthening Families Program

In the Family Talking Circle, Joseph, a Shawnee American Indian father breaks down in tears and holds his 7 year old daughter, who has just disclosed that her major fear is that her father will die and leave her because of his drinking and driving. He went into treatment the next day.

This American Indian SFP program curriculum was developed on a CSAP Children of Substance Abusing Parents (COSAPs) grant headed by Dr. Collette Evans at Idaho State University She has a doctoral degree from the University of Utah and studied with Dr. Kumpfer. The cultural modifications of SFP were made and tested at Fort Hall on the Shoshone-Bannock Indian reservation. The program follows the basic format of SFP, but added culturally-specific elements that matched the objectives of the sessions. For instance, the opening was changed to a prayer or smudge by tribal elder to call for the blessings of the Creator on the group. The Family Meetings were changed to Family Talking Circles with a talking stick passed to the speaker to assure only one person speaks at a time. The parent and children's sessions were also conducted as Talking Circles. Flute and drum music was added to the stress management session for the parents and kids as well as the graduations. Stories were changed and new ones added to be more culturally sensitive as was examples of parenting practices. The trainers had to ask parents to share, because individuals are not supposed to stand out or answer questions right away, but it was ok to respond if asked to by name. Recruitment was slow and difficult. Gaining trust by the tribe takes time. Maintaining qualified staff is also a problem in Indian community with people moving to other places.

More than eight American Indian tribes or urban communities in Oklahoma, Minnesota, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Iowa, Alaska, and New Mexico are implementing the American Indian SFP version on Center for Substance Abuse (CSAP) grants and making more local tribal modifications. The results of these family strengthening initiative grants are due in the fall of 2001. The two year grants were mainly feasibility pilot studies, although they were mandated to use standardized outcome measures for the CSAP cross-site study.

Dr. Les Witbeck and June Smith at Iowa State University have also developed an 8-session culturally-specific SFP for Ojibway Indian families in Iowa and Wisconsin on a NIDA grant. The 5 year results (Witbeck & Smith, 2001) of this randomized control design was presented at the Society for Prevention Research annual conference this year. The researchers reported improvements in precursor risk and protective factors, but no significant improvements in substance abuse. The researchers suggest that cutting the SFP sessions from 14 to 8 may have weakened program. They are planning to lengthen the program and return the focus to behavioral skills training. This program developed special materials for their program, including a family board game being marketed by the tribe.

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