At the end of October, National Public Radio aired a three-part series on Native American children in South Dakota's foster care system, which was the result of a year-long investigation. NPR's report highlighted the fact that in South Dakota:
- 700 Native children are removed from their home every year.
- They represent over 50% of the foster care system but only 15% of the state's child population.
- Nearly 90% of these kids are in non-Native care.
Is this the result of states failing to meet ICWA requirements or is ICWA failing Native children?
NPR's report talks about the role of financial incentives in placing children in out of home care and the ambiguity or subjective judgment that sometimes exists when making the decision to remove a child. There has also been a long timeline of policy change and evaluation since ICWA's enactment in 1978, with South Dakota's compliance with the law falling under scrutiny. Other evaluations of ICWA have indicated that the law is not properly funded at the federal level, creating problems for local implementation between counties and Tribal Councils.
Underfunded legislation is no stranger to disproportionality among vulnerable populations, as similar rates exist for health and academic outcomes among Native youth and other groups. This year's Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act aims to address some of these issues by ensuring states reducing foster care case loads will not lose funding, but what else should be done? Disproportionality within the foster care system is a serious problem for child welfare professionals.
The second part of this blog will address the history and future implications of these issues for Native children in out of home care.