National Child Welfare Association

Empowering Tribal Communities to Help Their Children Succeed

Greg Weems fishing with his grandson, GaremGreg Weems fishing with his
grandson, Garen

Greg Weems had already raised a family. He didn't intend to raise another. At least that's what he was prepared to say when he was called down to the police station in 1999 to talk about the son of his adopted son. The boy's parents were in trouble, and DHS wanted to put him in foster care. The police chief wanted him to stay with someone in the family.

Garen was a frightened, tense, angry three-year-old when Greg agreed to take him in until his parents got back on their feet. He didn't like to be touched or cuddled and was so afraid of strangers that he'd hide for hours if someone unfamiliar visited the home. By the second grade, Garen had worked with ten different counselors, some of whom did not return after their first visit. Although he made some progress, he also learned his way around the system. He began giving counselors the answers he thought they expected of him and sometimes refused to interact with them at all.

“She didn't push him,” Greg says. “She felt more like a partner to him than a counselor.”

In 2005, Garen and his grandfather began receiving services from Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma CARES, a tribally operated mental health program and Systems of Care grantee that provides case management, behavioral rehabilitation, and counseling to American Indian children ages 0-18. Greg noticed a difference right away. The CARES counselors were personable and personal, taking time to understand Garen's individual needs and then figuring out a way to work with him. Eileen Stout visited his home once a week for several weeks, sometimes bringing other children to help him build his capacity to trust.

“She didn't push him,” Greg says. “She felt more like a partner to him than a counselor.”

Eileen helped Garen get involved in activities through the Choctaw Nation, including a summer youth baseball camp, football camp, cultural camp, and bow and arrow and skeet shooting camps. These activities had a dramatic effect on Garen's self esteem and his ability to interact with other children.

“He's one of those children that I see the progress in,” Eileen says. His new-found trust and self-esteem have helped him at school too, where he's on the football team, has made more friends, and has improved his grades. Eileen reduced her visits to twice a month, then once a month and finally graduated Garen from the CARES program in December 2006, though she continues to check in on him periodically.

For Greg, the CARES counselors' presence and willingness to provide support have been as big a help as anything. “In those other programs, the personality match wasn't there. With CARES, it's been a 180-degree turnaround.” He's looking forward to being able to help other families in his situation by participating on an advisory board for the CARES program.

How NICWA Helped

NICWA provided technical assistance (TA) services that helped Choctaw Nation CARES get off the ground and chart a course for success. NICWA's community development specialist arranged for CARES staff to visit another systems of care program and led sustainability, cultural competency and client safety planning sessions. NICWA also helped provide training for counseling staff. These services have helped the program serve 264 American Indian children and families to date.