Native communities in North America (American Indian, Alaska Native, Canadian First Nations, and Native Hawaiian) often experience significant disparities in substance use problems, including abuse and dependence. Too many children in these communities grow up in households where substance abuse is the norm, putting early development at risk. Later, Native adolescents are at elevated risk for early substance use compared to their peers in other groups, and early use is a clear marker of risk for prolonged and problematic use. Thus, substance use in Native communities is both a potential influence on child development and a potential outcome of development gone awry. A complete literature on development in Native context cannot reasonably ignore substance use. This reality has not escaped the attention of the Native Children's Research Exchange (NCRE). Formed in 2008, NCRE has hosted two meetings (2008 and 2009) in which scholars working with Native children and adolescents have come together to review research and discuss the most pressing agendas for developmental science in Native cultures. In round-table discussions at NCRE meetings, the context of substance use and abuse has repeatedly been brought to the fore. Many NCRE scholars are themselves directly engaged in substance use research;many others recognize the implications of substance use disparities for their work and, in turn, the implications of their work for substance use intervention. One outgrowth of conversations among NCRE scholars has been the recognition that we cannot study indigenous child development in a vacuum, but must place it within the cultural, social, socioeconomic, and physical environmental contexts that shape development. Substance use is one context that characterizes the experience of many Native children. Thus, we propose to focus a set of five annual meetings on the interplay between substance use and child development in Native populations. In these meetings, we will address three specific aims: 1) Facilitate interaction and exchange of information among scholars studying child development in Native communities, with a particular focus on research on the effects of contextual substance use (e.g., parental use, substance use within the extended family and community, peer substance use) and the development of substance abuse problems in the next generation;2) foster collaborative work to advance Native child development research related to substance use;and 3) provide mentorship to researchers new to developmental research in Native communities and encourage these researchers to consider the implications of substance use disparities for their research.
Native children and adolescents in North America often grow up in contexts characterized by high levels of substance use and are at relatively greater risk than others in the U.S. for developing drug abuse problems as they move through childhood and adolescence. Better understanding of both the impact of substance use environments on child development and the developmental course of substance problems in childhood and adolescence is needed to inform optimal timing of and strategies for preventive interventions. Meetings of the Native Children's Research Exchange - a cadre of scholars from around the U.S. and Canada whose work focuses on Native child and adolescent development - represent an optimal venue for advancing research on the interrelationships between substance use and development for Native youth.