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Foster care commission seeks tribal inclusion
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Tribal governments should be given direct access to millions in federal funds to ensure American Indian and Alaska Native children receive the best foster care, a report released on Tuesday recommends.

The Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care, a non-partisan group of public officials, educators, judicial officials and other experts, endorsed a proposal tribes have been pushing for years. The panel said federal law needs to be amended to treat tribes on the same level as states when it comes to child welfare funds.

"In the name of justice we propose treating Indian children and children who live in our territories the same as every other child in the United States who seeks the protection of foster care," former Congressman Bill Frenzel, the chair of the commission, said at a press conference yesterday.

According to the commission, Native children are disproportionately represented in the foster care system. Although just 1 percent of the U.S. population, they are 2 percent of the foster care population, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Yet tribes are denied direct access to the largest source of federal funding for child welfare, the report, "Fostering the Future; Safety, Permanence and Well-Being for Children in Foster Care" notes. The restriction limits the ability of tribes "to protect and serve abused and neglected children," it states.

To correct the situation, the commission calls on Congress to include tribes in Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, an entitlement program that reimburses states for a portion of foster care costs. In the current year alone, states are expected to receive $4.8 billion in Title IV-E funds.

The equitable treatment of tribes would cost about $15 million in the first year, but could increase in future years, the commission said. The recommendation was just one of many included in the 70-page report that labeled the national foster care system a "quiet crisis."

Tribes have pushed for inclusion in the Title IV-E program for several years. The National Indian Child Welfare Association has supported proposals to gain access to this critical pot of money.

"This lack of basic permanency funding for tribal governments is the single largest impediment to helping Indian children find permanency," NICWA said in Congressional testimony.

Today, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee is hearing a bill that would open a related child welfare program to tribes through self-governance compacts. S.1696, the Department of Health and Human Services Tribal Self-Governance Amendments Act, includes Title IV-B of the Social Security Act as one of the many programs that tribes could manage. Title IV-B costs for this year are estimated at $693 million.

The commission also recommends tribes be eligible for the Safe Children, Strong Families Grant. HHS should work with tribes to develop a plan to address tribal, state and federal jurisdiction as it affects foster care, the report adds.

The 16-member Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care included Judge William A. Thorne, Jr. of the Utah Court of Appeals. Of Pomo and Coast Miwok ancestry, Thorne has served as a tribal and state judge for more than 20 years. He is the first tribal member appointed to the Utah appeals court.

Get the Report:
Executive Summary | Complete Report

Relevant Links:
Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care - http://pewfostercare.org
National Indian Child Welfare Association - http://www.nicwa.org

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