Improving the well-being of American Indian children, families and communities

American Indian populations bear a disproportionate burden from risk factors related to poor health—learn more about new programs and social supports to improve quality of life.

By Michael Lawler, PhD

American Indian (including in this publication, Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian) children, youth, families and communities are overrepresented in risk factors related to poor health and well-being (Indian Health Service, 2014). These risk factors are considered by many to be linked to historical trauma as the harrowing experiences faced by relatives and ancestors continue to affect new generations of American Indian people as unresolved loss and grief (Brave Heart & DeBruyn, 1998; Brave Heart, Elkins, Tafoya, Bird & Salvador, 2012).  

In this issue of CYF News, we aim to describe some of the health and well-being risk factors associated with American Indian children, families and communities, and provide examples of practices that support their social, emotional, physical and spiritual health. American Indian communities are engaged in the development of most of the programs described in this edition of CYF News, and the practice constructs strive to be culturally-relevant for the communities choosing to implement them. From these articles, we hope that practitioners, policy makers and all readers will learn more about American Indian communities and promising practices derived from cultural traditions and evidence-based practices.

Overview of the articles

  • Using a trauma-informed, collaborative effort that considers the effects of historical trauma, Terri Bissonette and Susan Shebby present the Menominee Model as a promising approach to improving educational trajectories of American Indian students.
  • Kathy LaPlante describes the ongoing challenges associated with the Indian Child Welfare Act and proposes an American Indian Unit model within the context of cultural identity and preservation for child welfare services involving American Indian children and families.
  • Susan Weinberger provides an overview of mentoring models in support of health and well-being that are aligned with American Indian cultural traditions and values.
  • In a review of sleep concerns for Native Hawaiian people, Allyson Gilles describes the psychosocial, health and cultural factors associated with sleep quality.

Considered together, these articles remind us of the strength and resilience of American Indian communities, and the promise of new programs and social supports for American Indian children, youth and families built from their unique cultures.


Brave Heart, M.Y.H., & De Bruyn, L. (1998). The American holocaust: Historical unresolved grief among Native American Indians. National Center for American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research Journal, 8, 56-78. 

Brave Heart, M.Y.H., Elkins, J., Tafoya, G., Bird, D., & Salvador, M. (2012). Wicasa Was’aha: Restoring the traditional strength of American Indian boys and men. American Journal of Public Health, 102, 177-183.

Indian Health Service. (2014). Disparities. Retrieved from

Author’s Bio