Category: Institute

Date: January 17, 2023

Fall 2022 Report

Institute Background

The Institute is situated within New Mexico Highlands University, Facundo Valdez School of Social Work and is the first effort anywhere in the country by a school of social work to establish a program of study and development to address tribal social work needs.

Building a Program: Strategic Planning for Sustainability & Capacity-Building

The Institute developed a strategic plan in May 2021. This effort was in collaboration and support by NMHU Faculty and staff, and Native American social workers with tribal social work experience. The mission of the Institute is to educate and train social workers to effectively respond to the needs of Native American families and communities. The Vision of the Institute is for tribal nations to determine and receive the social services they need and deserve. The goals of the Institute are to increase student enrollment in the field of social work especially among native communities in New Mexico and beyond. The strategic plan is evaluated every quarter to measure progress, and identify successes and challenges.

Course Development: Increased learning opportunities with a tribal social work focus

Since the Fall semester 2020, the Institute has developed or enhanced courses that respond to the needs of tribal social work in New Mexico and beyond. Course topics include 1) Navigating Tribal Government Structures in Social Work, 2) Social Work Practices in Tribal Communities, 3) A History of the Indian Children Welfare Act, and 4) North American Perspectives and Social Work Practice. Continuing education unit (CEU) courses have also been developed and taught by Native American faculty and staff. CEU course topics include 1) A Journey: American Indian Behavioral Health Programs Building Culturally Competent Clinical Skills and Adapting Evidence-Based Treatments, 2) Data-Informed Tribal Social Work Practices, 3) Social Work Practice with Native Elders, 4) Understanding Tribal Jurisdictions in Social Work.

To date, we have engaged 217 students, social workers, and other helping professionals by offering CEU
courses and 2-credit courses. The response to CEU courses have exceeded capacity which is a testament to interest in tribal-specific topics. The Institute is continuing to work with other NMHU schools to develop courses to offer cross-training opportunities on issues affecting tribal social work.

Tribal Leadership Gathering: A need for tribal leaders input

In November 2021, the Institute held its first Tribal Leaders Gathering. This hybrid session was a discussion on the status of tribal social work in their communities and additional needs to build workforce capacity. Tribal leaders indicated some of the following needs:

• Collaboration with tribal colleges
• Establish cohorts for learning centers
• Implement behavioral and community health aide models
• Develop certificate programs that lead to BSW to MSW
• Competitive wages
• Incorporate Life Skills training in social work practice
• Increase engagement with tribal leaders
• Environmental scan of tribal communities
• Tribal resource/assets analysis
• Establish tribal resource center
• Training centers in Pueblo regions in collaboration with institutions

The Institute is responding to their stated needs in various ways and within our capacity and scope of work. A request to present to the All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG) Education Committee is pending and will provide another opportunity to update the tribal leaders about the progress of the Institute. Additional tribal council presentations will be requested by the Institute within the next 6 months.

Roundtables, Workshops, and Outreach

The Institute hosts several learning opportunities for students, social workers, and other helping
professionals. The events are offered each semester and range from 1 hour to 12 hours depending
on topics. To date, we have held 20 events.

Research: Building Resources

The Institute has a bibliography of 402 articles, books, and videos. The bibliography increases each semester and is accessible to NMHU social work students, faculty, and staff. The resources assist in increasing knowledge of tribal social work, federal/state laws, and understanding a variety of issues affecting Native American children and families. The Institute has recently added additional topic areas that include environmental justice, gender identity, Indigenous epistemologies, murdered missing Indigenous women (and girls), and federal mandates, to name a few.


The Institute has established up to 7 partnerships and collaborations with several agencies to increase learning opportunities for all stakeholders. Partnerships include UNM School of Medicine, National Tribal Trial College, Advocacy Inc., and Southwest Center for Law & Policy, to name a few.

Increasing Youth Experiences: Developing training opportunities

The Institute has researched and assessed the social work profession in New Mexico, and is seeking ways to increase youth interest. A 4-day training event is being planned to increase secondary grade level interest in the field of social work. Training topics have been developed. A potential launch is scheduled for summer 2023. The goal of the training event is to provide high school students a skills based learning opportunity in the field of social work that could result in increased enrollment in higher education institutions and workforce.



Dr. Riley is an enrolled member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe of New Mexico. She has worked in the field of social work for over 23 years and is currently the Director of the Native American Social Work Studies Institute. Her passion is working with people and teaching and learning new things.


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