From the Center for Native American Youth:
On November 20, the Center for Native American Youth released its annual State of Native Youth report. The report highlights young leaders who are working hard to create a brighter future for tribal nations, the programs that help them do so, and the policy issues that impact their lives. The report also shares what we’ve learned from community meetings with youth and service providers about the priorities and solutions that matter most.
The theme of this year’s report is Native Youth Count. Throughout this year’s report, we highlight the importance of Native youth civic engagement and belonging. We also feature artwork throughout the report that was submitted as part of the annual Gen-I Creative Native Call for Art. This year’s prompt was: What does citizenship and sense of belonging mean to you?
As Native youth promote wellness in their communities and tackle serious disparities in health, education, and economic opportunity, they continue to affirm the resilience of indigenous peoples and their communities. We’re proud to present the State of Native Youth report as a resource and roadmap to help decrease barriers and increase opportunity for Native youth. If you’re interested in ways to help these amazing young leaders or have questions about the report please reach out to Nikki.Pitre@aspeninstitute.org.
Click here to read the report online. Click here to print. Click here to watch the livestream.
The 2019 State of Native Youth Report
(SNYR) is a helpful resource and enjoyable read for anyone working in the fields of prevention, intervention or court-based services for Tribal youth. The five-chapter SNYR highlights initiatives, policies, and rich stories of Tribal youth resilience in areas such as health, education, justice, and community development. Check out a few key areas in the SNYR that may be of interest for diversion programs or Tribal juvenile justice practitioners.
Mental Health and Wellness
Readers will glean much from the youth perspectives on mental health, access to treatment and prevention programs that increase opportunities for youth empowerment. The SNYR notes the need for programs and services that increase community health. We agree. The shortage of mental health services is evident in many Tribal communities across Indian Country. More specifically, there is a need for providers who understand the unique circumstances of Tribal communities and their youth. Prevention and diversion program staff often come into contact with youth who are unable to access services for referral, diagnosis, and treatment for mental health disorders. This service gap combined with other risk factors can “make tribal youths more susceptible to coming into contact with the juvenile justice system.”(1) The need for training and services to support early referral for youth with mental health issues remains evident. The focus on mental health in the SNYR is in line with recommendations
from the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice
(NCMHJJ). The Juvenile Justice Diversion for American Indian Youth Initiative of the NCMHJJ released considerations and recommendations to successfully develop, implement, and sustain a program to identify American Indian youth with behavioral health conditions and keep them from progressing deeper into the juvenile justice system. A key recommendation for justice diversion is “a continuum of services that help youth and family achieve success, and develop formal referral processes that promote engagement in services.”
Tribal Youth and Suicide Prevention
The SNYR also notes the continued concerns regarding high suicide rates among Tribal youth (2) and greater concern of youth suicide clusters in states with large populations of American Indians and Alaska Natives (3). This topic should be of great concern to all communities and particularly prevention/diversion and court staff- A 2018 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA)
report examines the topic of suicide clusters. “A suicide cluster occurs when several suicides or suicide attempts occur close together in time and/or place and are beyond what would be expected to occur by chance.”(4) Further, “suicide clusters are most prevalent among adolescents and young adults,” and “AI/AN communities face a perfect storm of factors that may contribute to the formation and spread of clusters among youth.”(5) It is more imperative than ever that prevention program staff as well as judicial system staff know and understand the risk factors related to suicidal ideation. Cross-disciplinary teams should coordinate processes to support effective referral for youth who are in distress. Existing programs should focus on increasing pro-social and protective factors within youth programs and services.
Tribal youth and adults are concerned about human trafficking. The SNYR indicates that the prevalence and disproportionate occurrence of trafficking in Tribal communities is due to a number of challenging factors, including lack of resources, trauma, lack of employment opportunities, prior abuse, substance use, and jurisdictional challenges.(6) Increased awareness for community members as well as support for individuals at-risk for trafficking is essential to inform efforts and decrease trafficking in Indian country. Youth should be protected- Developing responsive systems to support youth can include implementation of laws and policies that do not punish or re-traumatize youth victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children refers to a range of crimes and activities for the financial benefit of any person or in exchange for anything of value given or received by any person- this includes child sex trafficking.(7) The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s Specialized Services and Mentoring for Child and Youth Victims of Sex Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation
supports organizations that provide mentoring services for children and youth who are the victims of commercial exploitation and domestic sex trafficking. The goal is to provide services for youth who are most likely to end up in the juvenile justice system. With support from OJJDP, the Youth Collaboratory
has developed a free toolkit
to assist with understanding the issues of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.
 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). Suicide Clusters within American Indian and Alaska Native Communities: A review of the literature and recommendations. HHS Publication No. SMA17-5050. Rockville, MD: Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
 Id at 5.