Instead of going through the state court system, these cases will go through the tribal court system. Instead of state workers overseeing the cases, tribal case managers will work with families. Instead of the state licensing the foster homes, Central Council will recruit and license tribal foster homes and be reimbursed by the state for the cost of foster care placement.
“This truly is a government-to-government agreement that recognizes that tribes are uniquely and supremely and ultimately qualified to be able to meet the needs of tribal families,” said Valerie Davidson, Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner. “That’s not new. And quite frankly — if I may as an Alaska Native — we have known that for thousands of years.”
She also noted that tribal court “is just a friendlier environment.”
President Richard Peterson said Central Council has been working toward the agreement for 16 years and thanked the Office of Children’s Services for working collaboratively. He said Alaska Native families continue to work through issues stemming from historical trauma and the agreement “will begin putting our families back together.”
Central Council will start by taking just a few Juneau cases from the state. Right now, 24 Tlingit and Haida children are in foster homes, the majority of which are in Juneau, according to the Office of Children’s Services.
Francine Eddy Jones, director of Central Council’s Tribal Family & Youth Services, said it’s important to be methodical and cautious.
Jones said Central Council hopes to provide a lot of support and encouragement to families who’ve had children taken away and tribal foster families, many of whom don’t trust the state.
This is only the second such agreement between the state and a tribe. The first was with the Tanana Chiefs Conference in 2013.
• Contact reporter Lisa Phu at 523-2246 or firstname.lastname@example.org.