BIA to help tribes with background checks for child placements

Indian children in South Dakota. Photo from Lakota People's Law Project / Facebook

The Bureau of Indian Affairs will help tribes conduct background investigations to ensure children are being placed in safe homes.

The agency's Office of Justice Services will be on-call 24 hours a day for tribal social services agencies. They will be able to check the names of adults before placing children in a foster or temporary home.

“The BIA-OJS Purpose Code X Program will provide tribal social service agencies with the information they need to protect the children they place into care in emergency situations when parents are unable to provide for their welfare,” Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn said in a press release. “This program provides BIA law enforcement personnel with the ability to provide our social service agency partners with much-needed information to help to make sure children requiring emergency placements will be placed in safe homes.”

Members of Congress have been calling for mandatory background checks in child placement cases. Many raised concerns after a series of deaths and abuse cases on the Spirit Lake Nation in North Dakota were linked to homes where adults with criminal records were living.

The BIA's new initiative -- which Washburn said will be tested before being implemented across Indian Country -- achieves the same goal as the Native American Children's Safety Act (H.R.1168 | S.184). The bill, which awaits final action after clearing the House and the Senate in June, requires tribes to perform the checks.

"Native American children living on reservations should have all of the same protections when placed in foster care that children living off the reservation have," Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), the sponsor of the Senate version, said at the time.

Rather than wait for Congressional authorization, the BIA said it obtained approval from the National Crime Prevention and Privacy Compact Council to start conducting background checks.

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