Seminole Tribe of Florida, Family Services Department
This is one of 31 program profiles that appears in Support Matters, Lessons from the Field on Services for Adoptive, Foster, and Kinship Care Families (PDF – 2 MB), published March 2015.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida provides ongoing support to children and youth in out-of-home care and their caregivers, including initial assessments; ongoing case management; health, behavioral, and educational support for children and youth; and parenting classes.
- Children and youth who are not living with their birth parents and who have an open case with the Florida Department of Children and Families. These children and youth are sometimes in formal foster care placements or permanent guardianships. Most are in the care of relatives.
- Each year, the Seminole Tribe serves about 70 to 100 children and youth.
Theory of Change
By providing comprehensive wraparound services delivered by culturally responsive staff, the Seminole Tribe of Florida can keep children and youth safe within their tribe.
Services are provided by the Family Preservation Program of the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Family Services Department. The tribe serves six reservations in six counties, with staff in each county. Efforts are coordinated with both the state and county child welfare departments and the local private Community Based Care agency.
Role of Public Child Welfare Agency
- Services are provided by the tribe’s Family Services Department.
- The Florida Department of Children and Families and local public child welfare agencies refer eligible children and youth and remain engaged in the case.
Key Service Components
When a Seminole child or youth is under child protective services investigation, the Family Services Department provides the full continuum of care — from investigation, to home study of a potential family, to ongoing work with the child, the birth parents, and the new caregivers. Children and youth who are in out-of-home care, and their caregivers, receive wraparound services including:
- Assessments — When a child or youth enters care, the Family Services Department conducts bio-psycho-social assessments for older children and youth, and collaborates with the tribe’s Children’s Center for Diagnostics and Therapy, which conducts developmental assessments for younger children to identify any challenges and need for ongoing services.
- Children’s services — If a child or youth has service needs, the Family Services Department teams with the Seminole Tribe’s Education Department and Health Department to provide responsive services, such as psychiatric care; counseling and other mental health services; behavioral health services; speech therapy; occupational therapy; and educational support such as transferring records, updating individualized education programs; and supporting learning disabilities. Depending on the child’s needs, services can be provided in the home. For example, if the family is struggling with a child’s challenging behavior, a behavioral therapist can work with the child and family at home.
- Enhanced case management — In addition to the county or private agency’s required once-a-month visits, Family Preservation staff visit families two to three times per month. During these visits, caseworkers discuss children’s and youth’s needs, seek solutions to any issues, help caregivers understand and set boundaries with birth parents, and make referrals for needed services. The child or youth will have the same worker from investigation through the home study until the case is closed so there is a strong relationship between both the child and the worker and the family and the worker. Caseloads are very small, with each worker serving only four or five families at a time. If a child exits care to a permanent guardianship, caseworkers will continue to visit periodically to offer support and services.
- Parenting classes — Caregivers have the opportunity to attend training using the National Indian Child Welfare Association’s Positive Indian Parenting curriculum, which provides culturally grounded and responsive parenting skills. In-home sessions have been added to the curriculum to help families implement the skills learned in classroom sessions. These classes are offered on all six reservations.
Families are connected with the Family Preservation program by state, county, or private agencies when a child abuse or neglect report involves a Seminole child or youth. The Family Services Department’s Family Preservation Program then makes contact with the child’s or youth’s caregivers and birth parents.
The program has 12 staff spread over the six different reservations served:
- 10 social workers — most with bachelor’s degrees in social work (or a related degree); some with master’s degrees
- 2 administrative staff
All new staff members receive training on the Indian Child Welfare Act. Staff receive ongoing training on key issues such as ethics, boundaries, family engagement, and risk assessment, and one-on-one supervision and education. Staff also attend one major conference each year, such as the National Indian Child Welfare Association’s annual conference.
Evaluation and Outcomes
The Seminole Tribe uses electronic records to track children’s placement status, placement moves and stability, and the length of time children remain in the system. The tribe is very successful at keeping Seminole children and youth in the tribe — placing them with relatives, clan relatives, or other tribal members.
The tribe also does cost-benefit analysis of the services it offers. For example, in the past it was outsourcing the work now done by the Family Services Department’s child psychologist. The analysis showed that, given the high demand for services, it would be more cost effective for the tribe to offer those services itself.
The support services are an integral part of the overall department services so a specific budget cannot be identified.
All services are funded using tribal funds designated to the Family Services Department, with a small amount of funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Partnerships Required or Recommended
- The Seminole Tribe partners closely with the Florida Department of Children and Families, as well as local child welfare departments and the private Community Based Care agency assigned to the child or youth. Children remain on the other government’s caseload while also receiving services from the Seminole Tribe Family Services Department.
- Because the tribe does not yet have its own tribal court, Family Services Department staff work closely with court personnel at the state dependency courts to ensure referral of Seminole children and adherence to the Indian Child Welfare Act.
- Within the tribe, the Family Services Department partners closely with the Education Department, the Health Department, the Seminole Police Department, the Seminole Preschool, and tribal schools to ensure seamless services for children, youth, and their families.
- Because they serve children on six reservations in six counties, there are many and varied government-to-government relationships to maintain — staff must work with state, local, and private agency staff as well as the state courts.
- As the program has grown over time, the Family Services Department is seeking to become more formal without adding too many unnecessary complications or complexities.
Background and Future Directions
The Seminole Tribe is in the process of replacing its existing electronic records system with a new electronic records system to improve data gathering and analysis. The tribe is also in the process of developing a mandatory training for Native foster parents and relative caregivers that will provide information about children’s issues and how caregivers can assess and respond to problems.
Kristi Hill, family preservation administrator, Family Services
Department, Seminole Tribe of Florida: 954-965-1314
Kristi Hill, interview, March 26, 2014.