Stephanie Weldon Brings Her Indigenous Worldview to Bear on Child Welfare Challenges

Former Social Services Director of Yurok Tribe is now Social Services Director of Humboldt County Health and Human Services

Social work wasn’t an unusual calling for Stephanie Weldon, given her heritage and background. As Yurok, Tolowa, and Karuk, and an enrolled Yurok Tribal member, she says, “I’ve always been involved, and I’ve always expected to give back to the community. I was motivated by my cultural upbringing, advocacy, and public services.”

Stephanie’s involvement and commitment are reflected both personally and professionally. Raised in Klamath on the Yurok reservation, she received her Bachelor’s degree in Native American Studies with a minor in American Indian Education from Humboldt State University in 2008. As a Title IV-E Stipend Program recipient, she earned her MSW, also from Humboldt State, in 2010. “[The Stipend Program] steered me into the direction of my current work with child welfare and gave me internship opportunities,” she says. Those were at United Indian Health Services and California Department of Social Services—State Adoptions Arcata District Office.

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The mother of six Yurok children, Stephanie is passionate about developing collaborative systems that serve the most vulnerable children and families in the community in a culturally relevant and accessible way. Not surprisingly, she has been active in Tribal advocacy, cultural revitalization and preservation, and raising awareness of Tribal issues her entire life.

County and Tribal Social Services Veteran

Stephanie has been professionally involved in Humboldt County’s social services community for over 8 years, having served as the Deputy Director of Children Welfare Services and as a Social Worker Supervisor at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) prior to her current position as Director of Social Services at DHHS.

Before joining the county, she had 13 years of Tribal social services experience. From 2010 to 2013, she was the Social Services Director of the Yurok Tribe, where she was primarily responsible for the development and oversight of the Yurok Social Services Department. The department’s long list of projects included the Indian Child Welfare Program, Tribal TANF, Title IV-E development grant, juvenile intervention programs, Title IV-B, SAMHSA Circles of Care, and Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault programs.  

Today, as the Director of Social Services, Stephanie is actively involved in the development of a new practice model to improve permanency outcomes for Native American children involved in the child welfare system.

Developing such a model is no easy task. “Many of the challenges we face are shared responsibility, being in a rural community, system values, all the years of system exclusion faced by Native American children, and aligning a system to practice from a different worldview,” she says. 

Challenges Aplenty in Developing New Practice Model

“This model and way of working is for all children and families we serve. It is culturally developed from an indigenous worldview and way of thinking,” she says. But the challenges cannot be ignored, she points out, “including, and not limited to, system infrastructure, bridging cultural competence, the residual impacts of historical and generational poverty, and the trauma of Tribal families and communities.”

Having the experience of working both in the county and the Yurok Tribe, Stephanie notes, “It is challenging in that CWS is a downstream intervention, and many of the intervening needs to be earlier and up river!”

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She observes, “It is also difficult to bridge very different governments with valid historical mistrust. It is difficult training staff in a new model with constant staff turnover. Often the regulations are not in line with Tribal cultural values. Definitions of harm and danger are different between Tribes and state and county governments.”

Despite the challenges she faces in her position, Stephanie says, “I enjoy program development, working with the community to improve access and responsiveness to services,” and her commitment to serving the most vulnerable children and families in the community remains steadfast.