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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tribal STAR Response to Unwarranted Removal of Indian Children in Recent Media Coverage

Tribal STAR Response to Unwarranted Removal of Indian Children in Recent Media Coverage

Contact: Rose-Margaret Orrantia, Tribal STAR Program Manager, 619-594-8291

In response to the recent reports and media (ABC’s 20/20 and NPR) surrounding the mal-treatment of American Indian children, it should be pointed out that there are numerous recent reports[1] that illuminate that this is not an isolated phenomenon. Indian children across the country continue to be subject to inappropriate and questionable removal and placed in non-tribal foster or adoptive homes. The Indian Child Welfare Act was passed to ensure Indian children remained connected to their families and cultural heritage. ICWA was passed in 1978 and the media reports show that we are not living up to our legal and moral responsibilities.
The question is what can we do right now? Here are four directions that states, counties, and tribes may consider:

1. Use existing federal mechanisms to strengthen local response: The Federal Child and Family Services Review (2001) requires child welfare systems to engage with tribes to improve system performance. The Fostering Connections to Success Act (2008) requires that relatives and extended family members be identified for all children in the child welfare system. These mandates and other initiatives[2] can be used to strengthen cultural competence and appropriate engagement of county and state social workers when working with tribes and Native families. Simple steps such as training and communication with ICWA social workers can enhance the county and state social worker’s understanding of the prevailing cultural standards of the local tribes as required by ICWA. State and County child welfare improvement plans should include goals and objectives that increase ICWA-related training, and collaboration between states, counties, and tribes.

2. Improve proper placements and certify more AI/AN homes. Keeping a child connected to family and culture is supported by the Fostering Connections to Success Act through the identification of relatives and extended family members for possible placement. Additionally, states, counties, and tribes need to identify more American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) homes for children in care and support Tribal certification of homes. Encourage local child welfare directors and states to exercise the authority to grant exemptions when red flags occur because of old offenses. Research shows that AI/AN children who stay connected to their cultural heritage and extended families have more protective factors and exhibit more resilience than those placed with strangers while in the child welfare system.

3. Increase judicial support to effect ICWA outcomes. Courts have a key role in ensuring Native children are protected and the mandates of ICWA are followed. Courts need to require that inquiry and notice procedures are followed and ensure that tribal representation occurs at every ICWA-related hearing. We recommend that all judges and court personnel receive ICWA and cultural competency-related training in order to have a clear understanding of the historical and emotional context of the legislation.
The current reality of depleted federal and state budgets leaves little room for additional resources to serve this population. However, it is to the benefit of every state, county, and tribe to identify every AI/AN child and link them to culturally appropriate services such as Title VII Indian Education (supports mentoring, tutoring for completion of primary and secondary education, and provides cultural restoration), Tribal TANF (temporary assistance for needy families), and some Tribal health services. When tribal children are identified and linked to these services the costs are shared, diffused, and ultimately reduced. Unfortunately the current funding mechanisms provide resources based on the number of children served by the system with few options for focusing on prevention. How can we reduce the number of children in our care when our system funds jurisdictions based on children in care?

4. Prevent new cases through collaboration and active efforts. Collaboration and authentic engagement with tribes and urban tribal communities needs to occur at federal, state, and local, levels to reduce the disproportionate representation of Native children in child welfare and prevent new cases from entering the system. Once an Indian child is identified, states, counties, and tribes should begin active efforts[3] to link the child and family to services and resources that can reduce risk and prevent the case from entering the child welfare system.

There are a number of promising and model programs that demonstrate collaboration and court involvement to achieve ICWA compliance. For more information go to the following websites:
· National Resource Center for Tribes:
· National Indian Child Welfare Association:
· National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges:
· American Indian Enhancement Project of California Toolkit:

Tribal STAR is a program of the Academy for Professional Excellence, SDSU School of Social Work, funded by the State of California Department of Social Services. Since 2003 Tribal STAR has provided training and technical assistance to Southern California Counties with a mission to ensure that American Indian/Alaska Native children remain connected to culture, community and resources.
For more information go to

[1] Disproportionality Rates for Children of Color in Foster Care: National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, California Disproportionality Report, and “An Unsettling Profile” Coalition of Communities of Color: Portland Oregon State University.

[2] Family to Family, Family Finding, Client Engagement, Signs of Safety, and Active Efforts.

[3] Indian Child Welfare Act : Pub.L. 95-608, 93 Stat. 3071, enacted November 8, 1978.

Please share this with tribal officials and contact Tribal STAR for more attention.... Trace

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