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President Obama signs bill to protect Native children in foster care






Indian children. Photo from Lakota People's Law Project

President Barack Obama signed S.184, the Native American Children's Safety Act, into law on Friday.

The bill requires background checks of all adults in a tribal foster home. The checks must be completed before a child is placed in the home.

"A decade ago, we worked in North Dakota to ensure that all adults living in a foster home were background checked to protect the children in their care, and now we have extended that same safety net for children in tribal foster care in North Dakota and across the nation,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), who introduced S.184 in January 2015, said in a press release. “Starting today, it’s the law of the land."

The Senate passed S.184 a year ago, on June 1, 2015. A companion version, H.R.1168, cleared the House that same day in a rare act of unity on Capitol Hill.

But both chambers did not technically approve the same measure. So the House took action and passed S.184 by a voice vote on May 23.

“Native American children are more than two-and-a-half times more likely to be victims of abuse or neglect than other American children,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota), the sponsor of H.R.1168. “And, children exposed to violence are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, suffer from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic disorders. The standards in this bill mirror existing national requirements for non-tribal foster care placements, ensuring tribal children receive care at least equal to the protections afforded non-tribal children.”

According to Hoeven's office, the background checks must be undertaken by tribal social service agencies or the Bureau of Indian Affairs in those situations where the BIA acts on behalf of tribes.

The BIA has already started to help tribes with background checks in response to concerns raised by tribes and members of Congress. 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 present.

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Native American Children's Safety Act clears House and Senate (06/01)
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