Delphine Red Shirt: Our children need to be kept close to home

Delphine Red Shirt. Photo by Rich Luhr / Flickr

When children are caught in the middle
By Delphine White Shirt
Native Sun News Columnist

When kids are caught in the middle of custody battles, between parents and those trying to care for them because the parent was found neglectful, these conflicts are the most heartbreaking to watch.

A couple of years after a family member died, a parent who had custody of three small children was found incapable of caring for the, then very young children, because of her own issues with substance abuse. The family member who died had been a grandparent who provided a home for the three small children.

I remember being at the funeral and the feeling of hopelessness, as I worked with tribal officials to make sure the children would be safe. Even then, the group of relatives who gathered knew that it was inevitable that the children would need protection. As we sat around a large table overlooking the prairie, we all were not sure how to proceed. We all turned to the person in charge of this particular case.

At the funeral, I saw the parent, with all three in tow, and no one left to help. What we (the group of relatives) had tried to accomplish that day, fell into place two years later. By then, the smaller infant was able to walk so; first, the tribe took custody of all three children and placed them in a foster home far from the reservation. We were told the kids were lucky to be placed together.

Around the same time period that they were in foster care, nationally, in 2014, there were approximately 415,129 children in foster care. Close to half (46 percent) were in nonrelative foster homes and over a quarter (29 percent) were in relative home. Nationally, about half (4 percent) are in foster care for less than a year. National statistics don’t reflect how many are American Indian, but one estimate is that American Indian children make up about 2 percent of the 415,129 that were in foster care in 2014, or about 8,302 children.

Once my relatives’ children were in foster care their uncle came forward and asked to be their caretaker. He and his wife took them in. A year has gone by with many new firsts for these children: first dental visits, holiday and birthday cakes and parties, and happy memories and what can be challenging for three young children without their parent they have been resilient. With pride, I keep in touch with them, sending small gifts, and cards.

Read the rest of the story on the all new Native Sun News website: When children are caught in the middle

(Delphine Red Shirt can be reached at redshirtphd@gmail.com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News