Friday, December 2, 2011

Foster care in South Dakota: Federal lawyers may help SD tribes enforce ICWA

Nearly half a century after Robert F. Kennedy sent federal marshals to enforce civil rights in Mississippi, the federal government is considering taking a similar step to enforce the rights of Native American children in South Dakota to remain safely in their own homes, free from needless foster care.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is considering sending federal lawyers to South Dakota to help tribes enforce the rights of their children under the Indian Child Welfare Act.  The routine violation of those rights was exposed in a three-part NPR series in October.

BIA is considering this major enforcement action in response to a suggestion by U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA).  Moran wrote to BIA after hearing the NPR stories.   This link goes to the BIA’s full response to Moran.

BIA also plans to convene a summit early in 2012 in South Dakota bringing together all “stakeholders” including the tribes, the South Dakota Department of Social Services, the South Dakota Office of Tribal Relations and others.

It speaks volumes about the extent to which South Dakota is harming Native American children, and violating federal law, that BIA is considering such a forceful response to NPR’s excellent reporting.  And it’s good news not only for Native American children but for all South Dakota children.

As I’ve noted in a previous post to this Blog, when it comes to child welfare, South Dakota is among the worst by almost any measure.  It takes away children at one of the highest rates in the nation, it places children in the worst form of “care” – group homes and institutions – at one of the highest rates in the nation, and it tears apart Native American families at one of the highest rates in the nation.  In short, South Dakota hit the trifecta of child welfare failure.

South Dakota tears apart families at the third highest rate in the country, even when rates of child poverty are factored in.  This obscene rate of removal does nothing to keep children safe.  On the contrary, states that take away proportionately far fewer children are nationally- recognized as leaders in keeping children safe. 

Of course anything that curbs the blatant bias and the take-the-child-and-run mentality that dominate South Dakota child welfare helps Native American children avoid the enormous trauma of needless foster care.  But curbing needless removal of children also gives workers more time to find children in real danger – and that makes all South Dakota children safer.

NCCPR commends BIA for considering this bold move.  We hope they follow through.