Kansas Serves Native American Families

child holding hands with adults KSNAF - Kansas Serves Native American Families

The Kansas Serves Native American Families (KSNAF) project sought to improve the well-being of Native American children affected by substance use by offering a culturally integrated Strengthening Families Program (SFP) through a partnership between tribal nations, universities and child welfare agencies.  

Highlights of this collaborative initiative include:

  • Successful implementation of 10 cycles of SFP
  • A total of 55 families served, comprised of 76 adults and 106 children
  • Overall retention was nearly 75% of families
  • SFP delivery successfully transitioned from in-person to virtual during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • SFP fidelity was monitored for each group, and overall scores met or exceeded program standards for the entire period of implementation
  • Creation of a process for cultural integration to create a space for implementation and evaluation that honored and reflected Indigenous identifies, values and culture

Project Information

  • Dates: 2017-2022

  • PI: Michelle Levy

  • Co-PI: Amy Mendenhall

  • Funder: Regional Partnership Grant (RPG - Round 4) from the Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, US Department of Health and Human Services


KSNAF Vision

Working together, we support Native American parents in a way that reflects cultural strengths and values to help families to stay connected in safe and strong communities.

Working with tribal communities through respectful relationships and flexibility for tribal community ownership and sustainability of support for Native children and families.

The Strengthening Families Program (SFP) is an evidence-based prevention program for caregivers and children ages 0-17 focused on strengthening family relationships. The goal of SFP is to positively impact family bonding, communication, and parental supervision. The program is delivered through 14 two-hour sessions that include parenting, child life and family skills training. Each session begins with a family meal and the program provided transportation, child care, incentives and referrals as needed.

Cultural integration meant that we offered the SFP curriculum in a space that honored and reflected Indigenous identities, values and culture. 


All families are strong. In our program, "family" is defined by family. We welcome grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, or anyone who helps care for the children in your family to participate in SFP because we believe that ALL families grow stronger together!

Native American families are resilient. This means they often stand strong through facing systemic injustice and trauma. Systemic injustices include:

  • racism and discriminations,
  • historical trauma (injustices that happened to Natives throughout history)
  • intergenerational trauma (trauma to relatives and passed down through generations)

Trauma often leads to stress, anxiety, depression, substance use, violence, or feeling not good enough. This program can be especially helpful for families who want to overcome these challenges of systemic injustices and grow stronger together.

Families were referred from child welfare agencies, behavioral health treatment centers, courts, tribal health and social services, and other programs, such as early childhood. In addition, families signed up directly after learning about the program through word of mouth or community events.

Federal funding prioritized serving Native American families with children ages 0-17 in, or at risk of, out-of-home placement with a case plan goal of reunification or guardianship and affected by caregiver/family/community substance use.

KSNAF recruited, trained and supported Indigenous individuals to offer SFP within tribal communities and for tribal populations in other sites. Initially, the program was offered in-person on reservations and in an urban community at sites that were convenient and familiar to participants (e.g. Boys and Girls Club). During the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was adapted for virtual deliver through Zoom. In this format, families were provided with devices, signal boosters and other technology supports to facilitate participation. Virtual deliver allowed families members living in other states to participate with their local relatives. 

We conducted a local evaluation, based on project and community interests and needs to understand if our culturally integrated delivery of SFP was having the intended outcomes of positively supporting and impacting Native American children and families. The local evaluation included a process evaluation, staff and caregiver interviews, and other well-being assessments. In addition, our funder required participation in a cross-site evaluation (with other projects led by Mathematica) using specific assessments and administrative data (child welfare records).This study was approved the KU and Haskell Institutional Review Boards and was reviewed by tribal partners.

Collecting this information will help tribes and agencies to better understand and meet the needs of the families they serve and help to demonstrate the effectiveness of providing support for Native families to stay together and connected.

For more information about the evaluation, contact Dr. Amy Mendenhall at amendenhall@ku.edu.

After completing SFP adults reported:

  • significantly decreased caregiver stress
  • significantly increased empathy toward their children's needs
  • improvement in their child's hyperactivity and inattentive behavior

Of adults who completed a satisfaction survey:

  • 79% said the program helped them as a parent "a lot" or "extremely"
  • 82% said the program helped their family "a lot" or "extremely"
  • 100% would recommend the program to other families


KSNAF Resources

Social Services Map

An interactive, searchable community resource map developed by KSNAF that features resources related to employment and vocational services, financial and social support, housing and shelter, and legal services. Includes program information, eligibility criteria and contact information.

Health Map

An interactive, searchable community resource map developed by KSNAF that features resources related to mental health, financial and social support, primary care/health and substance use treatment and services. Includes program information, eligibility criteria and contact information.

SFP Implementation Guide

This guide, created by KSNAF, shares our experience offering culturally integrated SFP with tribal communities in Kansas. It describes both in-person and online implementation, including evaluation notes, a cost study and reflections/lessons learned.

Stephanie's Story video

Watch Stephanie's Story and learn how the KSNAF Strengthening Families Program helped Stephanie connect with her sons.


Michelle Levy

Michelle Levy

Project Director/Principal Investigator
Amy Mendenhall

Amy Mendenhall

Co-Investigator/Evaluation Lead
Maria Fairman

Maria Fairman

Project Coordinator
Cheryl Holmes

Cheryl Holmes

Evaluation Director
Laura Ramirez

Laura Ramirez

Faculty Consultant
Melissa Holder

Melissa Holder

Faculty Consultant