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Using Evidence as a Guide to Better Serve Native Youth

Here’s a first look at some of the progress Federal agencies have made by taking a coordinated, cross-agency approach to better serve Native youth:

To build a government that works smarter, better, and more efficiently for the American people, we need to have a clear understanding of our progress. Collecting data, creating goals, and monitoring the success of the Federal Government initiatives helps guide our decisions and reliably assess our programs. It shows where interventions work and should be expanded, and where they do not and should be rethought. It uses evidence – not stale assumptions – as a guide to better serve communities.

Few places are more important to achieve success than improving services for American Indian and Alaska Native youth. As the President has said, “Together, we can make sure that every Native young person is treated like a valuable member not only of your nation, but of the American family -- that every Native young person gets an equal shot at the American Dream.” One step in delivering on this commitment is better coordinating and measuring how we serve Native youth. And in 2015, we took significant steps to strengthen our efforts in this area.

As a part of the Administration’s Generation Indigenous initiative, Federal agencies put the focus on six key priorities that required urgent interagency work: 1) Improve Educational Outcomes and Life Outcomes for Native Youth; 2) Increase Access to Quality Teacher Housing; 3) Improve Access to the Internet; 4) Support the Implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA); 5) Reduce Teen Suicide; and 6) Increase Tribal Control of Criminal Justice.

Federal agencies continue to work with the White House Council on Native American Affairs and the Office of Management and Budget to establish metrics and collect data in each of these areas, and some of the results are already in. With this initial data, we now have an early look into the areas Federal agencies are succeeding in by taking a coordinated, cross-agency approach to better serve Native youth, as well as the challenges that remain.

Today, we’re excited to share this early data from three key areas:

Supporting the Implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) seeks to keep American Indian children with American Indian families in response to the alarmingly high number of Indian children that were being removed from their homes by both public and private agencies. The intent of ICWA was to "protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families.” The implementation of ICWA requires support for tribal and state courts, social workers and foster care. Agencies are focused on programs that support building capacity and the programmatic support necessary to implement ICWA.

In order to understand how ICWA is being implemented, it is necessary to track whether the reporting requirements of ICWA are being met. The Department of the Interior (DOI) is tracking progress by monitoring the percentage of tribes that submit the Indian Child Welfare Quarterly and Annual Report. Out of 365 tribes that receive ICWA funding, 19 percent submitted an annual report in the 4th quarter of FY 2015. By FY 2016, that number was 78 percent. In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is tracking the number of states that report final adoption decrees to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), starting from a baseline of 18 states as of September 2014.

Improving Tribal Control of Criminal Justice

Tribal Nations are in the best position to address the unique needs of their communities. Increasing tribal control facilitates culturally-based solutions that incorporate tribal laws and priorities. Agencies are emphasizing investments that give tribes the tools they need to establish and maintain effective justice systems.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is measuring progress by reviewing federally-funded, tribally-controlled programs to track the percentage of tribal youth who demonstrate improvement in targeted behaviors like school attendance, substance abuse and avoiding gang activity. DOJ reported that 70 percent of youth in these programs showed improvement in FY 2014, and that number increased to 73 percent in FY 2015. DOJ also found that in federally-funded, tribally-controlled programs, the portion of native youth who offend and/or reoffend fell from 24 percent in FY 2014 to 13 percent in FY 2015.

Increasing Access to Quality Teacher Housing

Improving the availability and condition of teacher housing is essential for tribes and the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) to attract and retain more high-quality teachers in Indian country. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is tracking the number of tribal grantees who use HUD funds to build or repair teacher housing, with the first update expected in December 2016. In addition, the BIA is tracking the facility condition of teacher quarters at BIE-funded schools, with a goal of improving the percentage maintained in good condition from a baseline of 24 percent in June 2015.

Next Steps

Improving the lives of Native youth requires progress in all of these areas, progress that will only occur with the sustained and coordinated efforts of Federal agencies, tribes, and state and local partners. The initial progress shows what is possible when Federal agencies, tribes, and other partners focus their resources and attention with the help of smart data. These metrics, however, also indicate the significant work that remains to truly meet the Nation’s obligation to Native youth. We’ll continue to work with agencies to strengthen these metrics and increase the collection of data so that, together, we can better assess, and learn from, the Administration’s progress in addressing the challenges that face Native youth.