Child-protection laws broken in SD, report saysIndian welfare directors say too many American Indian children placed in foster care with non-Indian families.
By: Kristi Eaton, The Associated Press
South Dakota has willfully violated federal law by removing too many American Indian children from their homes and placing them in foster care with non-Indian families, the state’s Indian Child Welfare Act directors said in a report they hope to send to Congress.
Six of the state’s nine directors representing each of the nine tribes in South Dakota met Thursday on the Yankton Sioux Indian Reservation to approve the report that will now go to the tribal councils for approval before being sent to Congress as soon as January.
The report is in response to a National Public Radio series last year that said the state routinely broke the Indian Child Welfare Act and disrupted the lives of hundreds of American Indian families each year. Federal law requires that American Indian children removed from homes be placed with relatives or put in foster care with other American Indian families except in unusual circumstances. After the series aired, six members of Congress wrote to Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior asking whether the NPR report was accurate and, if so, what the Bureau of Indian Affairs plans to do about it.
Federal officials said a summit would be held in South Dakota in the summer of 2012 to address concerns raised in the series, but that summit has not taken place, so the Indian Child Welfare Act directors prepared their own report to send to lawmakers.
“South Dakota for well over a decade has systematically violated the spirit and the letter of the Indian Child Welfare Act,” the directors wrote in the report. “The state appears to have done this willfully, and it may have done so at least partly to bring federal tax dollars into the state. ... We ICWA directors request that Congress put pressure on the BIA to host the summit on Native American foster care in South Dakota immediately.”
A spokeswoman for the Interior Department’s Office of Indian Affairs did not return phone and email messages seeking comment about the summit.
The federal Indian Child Welfare Act directors’ report found that while American Indian children make up 13.8 percent of the child population in South Dakota, they make up on average 56.26 percent of youth in foster care in the state. The report also found that as of July 2011, there were 440 American Indian children in family-run foster homes in South Dakota. Only 59 of those children were placed in American Indian foster homes while 39 American Indian foster homes sat empty.
The report was prepared with the Lakota People’s Law Project, a nonprofit law firm working to enforce the Indian Child Welfare Act in South Dakota.
“The point of the report is to stand in for the BIA. The BIA was supposed to provide an explicit assessment on the reporting that happened last year. The BIA did not do that,” said Daniel Paul Nelson, secretary-treasurer for the Lakota People’s Law Project. He added that a summit would not solve all the problems but would be one step to finding a solution.
The directors’ report found that NPR’s assertion that the state’s motive for removing American Indian children from their homes for financial gain is “complex.”
It found circumstantial evidence that state officials may take high numbers of American Indian foster children in custody to stimulate South Dakota’s economy because the state gets millions a year to subsidize foster care programs and receives additional money for every special-needs child it adopts out.