Native Village
Youth and Education news
Volume 3  February 2012 

Healing Native Spirits in MN Long-Term Foster Care
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DIW Basketball TournamentMinnesota: American Indians make up just over 1% of Minnesota's population. However, they make up 12% of the children in the foster care system.
The Healing Spirit program is now helping some of those American Indian boys in long-term foster care.
Located in Minneapolis, Healing Spirit is a group home for teens with a history of running away, skipping school and run-ins with police. Many have been placed in multiple foster-care situations without success.
"They go into these homes and they're not making it," said Kirk Crow Shoe, Healing Spirit's director.  "They're not connecting; they're not getting their needs met, so then they go back to the emergency shelter. They wait for yet another placement; they go to another placement, then they disrupt from that placement. Healing Spirit was developed as an answer to this particular problem."
Healing Spirit's focus on school and living skills is grounded on the sacred Native American culture.  What makes the program effective, Crow Shoe says, is that the young men are overseen by staff members with same Native American background.

"Many of them have been in long-term foster care themselves. They struggled greatly in their upbringings, and as adults they have the heart to give back to the community. The kids know that they've been in their shoes, as well, so there's an immediate sense of respect that's paid to one another in that relationship."

It is key for Native teens to connect with their culture and community and feel a sense of family. This is especially true for troubled kids who have been shuffled from one place to another.

"These kids, after a period of time, they feel like they're throwaways and they're very broken kids," Crow Shoe said. "Because we understand that and because many of us have lived that life, they know that we are going to be more patient, more generous - and we're not going to give up on them quite so easily."

Since Healing Spirit was founded in 2003, the average length of stay has grown to around 2.5 years. Most boys now stay until they "age out."
Crow Shoe says Healing Spirit's success has generated interest from across the country.

"Because we have done as well as we have over the years, there are other communities that are interested in what we're doing; and as such, we then shared our model at the National Indian Child Welfare Act conferences," he said.

A similar foster home for girls opened in January.

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