Researcher Deana Around Him and her son

Deana Around Him is a senior research scientist at Child Trends. She is also the strategic dissemination lead for the Tribal Early Childhood Research Center at the Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health at the University of Colorado School of Public Health, an adjunct faculty member at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, and a 2022 Aspen Institute Ascend Fellow.

Dr. Around Him, can you start by briefly summarizing your research activities and responsibilities with Child Trends?

At Child Trends, I lead our activities that relate to advancing the well-being of Indigenous children and families. I look for opportunities to extend Child Trends’ ongoing work to be more applicable to Indigenous populations, while also developing new work that is aligned with the needs and priorities of Indigenous Peoples. In addition, I serve in various roles (e.g., principal investigator [PI], co-PI, co-investigator, engagement/dissemination lead) for research and evaluation teams that focus on equity in home visiting, school climate, culturally based interventions and support for families, and understanding social and environmental influences on child health.

Can you tell us about your primary research interest(s)?

My primary research interest is to support the well-being of Indigenous children and families using community-based and -engaged research and evaluation approaches. Research and evaluation are important for understanding the factors that shape health and well-being and for making evidence-informed policy, program, and service decisions. Yet for too long, Indigenous voices and perspectives have been absent or limited in these spaces. I believe the key to addressing the myriad health inequities faced by Indigenous Peoples is to tap into the cultural and contextual expertise of those most impacted—Indigenous people themselves.

My professional training has afforded me skills and knowledge related to public health and the social determinants of health, maternal and child health, and research ethics. This training—combined with my lived experience as a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, a mother, and an Indigenous relative—has equipped me to work on projects across developmental periods that focus on a variety of topics, from maternal mental health and birth outcomes to early childhood development, adolescent well-being, and parenting. I often work with interdisciplinary research teams; in each project, I strive to apply my training and experience in ways that respect Tribal sovereignty and build on cultural strengths.

What sparked your interest in Indigenous child and family health research?

As a teen, I thought I wanted to support the health of Native people as a pharmacist or medical doctor. I’d never heard of public health or known anyone who had a career in research. Then, I learned about population health and prevention and intervention science in my community health courses at college. At that time, I also connected with other Native students on campus and found that, despite coming from different Tribal Nations, our family experiences and circumstances were similar in many ways. My college experiences helped me see a different path toward supporting the well-being of Native people.