Looking out for little ones

Family services staff is a small army fighting for children


Navajo Times | Donovan Quintero
The Navajo Nation Department of Family Services, which is under the Division of Social Services, protects all children under 18 living on the Navajo Nation, according to its department manager, Gladys Ambrose.

Gladys Ambrose says the Navajo Nation Department of Family Services has a saying in Diné: “Nihxí kodóó baa nitsídeikeesígíí éíya shį́į́ biká’iilwodgo dóó kodóó t’áá hxaadeet’áogo biká’iiję́ę́’go dah díí kwe’é bił haz’áníígíí be’iina’ siláago daats’í bá yá’át’ééh nidoodleeł.”

In Diné, this translates to: “We work with them because we have care for our own people. Our belief is if we care enough to help, maybe we make their living situation, their life, good once again.”

Ambrose said that creed is what keeps her and her 19 caseworkers going in covering the entire reservation, protecting their people’s children.

According to the Navajo Nation Data and Statistics website, which based their population count on the 2010 U.S. Census, there are an estimated 91,452 children under the age of 18.

These young people are under their watch and it comes at a cost, Ambrose said.

Going from one traumatic experience to another eventually takes a toll on the staff. But there’s no one to take their place so they often forgo vacation time and eat unhealthy food like soda, chips and candy.

“So they may have a full day’s work – eight hours – and they get called out and they’re out there until two or three in the morning,” she said.

In addition, Ambrose said, they’re not compensated for the hours they put in after their shift ends.

“They don’t get comp time, they don’t get double time, no time-and-a-half. So, it’s basically donated time,” she said.

According to the Navajo Nation fiscal year 2017 budget, family services operates on an annual budget of $1,219,929 out of the total budget of $82.4 million for the Division of Social Services.

But their department’s creed reminds her of why she became a social worker in the first place.

“Nihxí kodóó neilnishígíí nihxí éí doo ashiilch???dah (We’re not the ones who gave birth and life to these children),” Ambrose said in Diné. “Nihxí áádajiniiba’ éíya binahjį’ éí díí eáłchíníígíí dóó t’áádóó sáanii dóó hastóí danilį́nígíí dóó amá dóó azhé’é, acheii, análí bił nideilnish (We have care for our people’s children, so we will continue to work with the women and men, and mothers and fathers, and grandfathers and paternal grandparents on behalf of these children).”

Last year, her small staff took on 808 cases of abuse ranging from neglect to sexual and physical.

Ambrose said that did not mean they only handled cases involving 808 kids. Some of those cases were from homes involving more than one child, which she categorized as a children sibling group. In that category, they handled 603 cases.

While most of the cases were new, Ambrose said 232 cases were reoccurrences, which means family services had handled those cases once already.

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