Circles of Care: Creating Models of Care for American Indian and Alaska Native Youth
By Rebecca A. Clay
Building resilience and reducing the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on young people in American Indian and Alaska Native tribal communities is a challenge.
Whether these young people live in urban areas or remote reservations, “Indian kids have higher rates of just about everything,” said Captain R. Andrew Hunt, M.S.W., L.I.C.S.W., a public health advisor in SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) and an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. “There are very few services available, particularly those that are culturally and linguistically competent.”
To help, Circles of Care, a SAMHSA program, is committed to change these existing conditions. Launched in 1998, the program gives tribes and urban Indian organizations 3-year grants to identify and analyze community needs systematically. The grants provide funding to develop culturally appropriate strategies that can be put into action effectively to serve young people with serious behavioral health challenges. Families of these youth also participate.
With the help of the entire community, grantees develop models of care, create new partnerships, and position themselves to obtain additional resources to help them realize plans for comprehensive and culturally appropriate behavioral health services for children, youth, and families.
Now on its fourth round of grantees, SAMHSA’s Circles of Care program currently supports eight tribes and urban Indian organizations across the country. They include the Crow Creek Sioux tribe of South Dakota, the Karuk tribe of California, the Pueblo of San Felipe in New Mexico, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, the American Indian Center of Chicago, and the Indian Center in Lincoln, NE.
See a complete list of all Circles of Care grantees, past and present.
“These grants increase the capacity and effectiveness of behavioral health systems serving American Indian and Alaska Native communities,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D. “As a result, Circles of Care grantees become equipped to reduce the gap between the need for behavioral health services and the availability of services for children, youth, and families.”
San Felipe Pueblo Circles of Care: (left to right) Front row—Christian Gering, Joseph Ansera III, D’Alan Sandoval; 2nd row—Paulina Sanchez, Lindsey Sanchez, Alicia Sandoval, Jimel Sandoval, Reshawna Sandoval, Esther Tenorio; 3rd row—Verna Valencia (orange shirt), Trivia Sanchez, Serrena Sandoval, Bernice Chavez (purple shirt), Samantha Pasena, Tia Sanchez, Gail Aguilar; 4th row—Edward Valencia (navy shirt), Darian Townsend, Bethany Garcia, Julian Valencia (cap), and Paul Valencia (at tree).
At the foundation of the Circles of Care program is the idea of creating a system of care—a coordinated network of holistic, community-based services and supports to help meet the needs of children and youth with serious mental health challenges.
To create a model system of care, Circles of Care grantees bring together the entire community—including representatives from agencies serving children and youth, tribal leaders, spiritual advisers, family members, and young people themselves. Together, they assess gaps in services and develop a plan for filling those “holes.” The goal is to create a coordinated system that is community-based, family-driven, and youth-guided.
“What they end up with is a blueprint,” said Captain Hunt, who serves as SAMHSA’s Project Officer for the Circles of Care program. “In the process, grantees build community coalitions, strengthen partnerships among child-serving agencies, and blend western and traditional approaches to care.”