Follow-Up: NPR Report on Native Children in Foster Care Does Not Tell Whole Story

Since posting my initial response to Part 1 of the NPR series related to Native American children and foster care, the subsequent parts of the series have been published.  Below are links to the reports.

I have received a not-insignificant amount of feedback since I published my initial response to Part 1 of the NPR report.  About 90% of it thus far has been positive.  I have received a number of thank-yous from child welfare workers and foster parents, both in and out of state, who felt demonized by the reports and were glad I was presenting the other side.  I also received a number of thanks from people who were simply looking for more information, including a college professor who had intended to use the report as part of a classroom lecture until reading my response.  The primary criticism of my analysis, which I readily admit to, has been that I do not have any personal knowledge of the facts of the Yellow Robe case. Based on this, it is argued that I cannot say for certain that the story was inaccurate.  My response to this criticism is that it is appropriate to weigh the evidence and critically analyze the story that was presented, and my knowledge of how child abuse and neglect cases are usually handled is relevant to that analysis.  While it is theoretically possible that multiple laws were blatantly disregarded and virtually none of the usual practices were adhered to during the year and a half the Yellow Robe children were in State custody, it is far more likely that the report is one-sided and missing a lot of relevant facts.

It also seems that the NPR reports have garnered a fair amount of attention within the State.  The public radio program Dakota Midday will discuss some of these issues on October 31st and November 1st with guests J.R. LaPlante, head of South Dakota’s Department of Tribal Relations, and former South Dakota Senator James Abourezk, who had a significant role in the creation of the Indian Child Welfare Act. The South Dakota branch of the ACLU has also announced an investigation into the issues raised by the reports.  I personally welcome an investigation by the ACLU.  To the extent that legitimate problems exist, they should be remedied.  However, I believe the wording of the ACLU announcement to be unnecessarily inflammatory and downright irresponsible.  Despite being aware of the significant problems with the individual narratives in the NPR reports, the ACLU indicates that the “report describes several instances of ICWA violations, as well as blatant disregard of fundamental Constitutional norms and international human rights.”

In my previous post, I also speculated that DSS might be hesitant to place children in on-reservation foster homes due to a lack of cooperation from tribal authorities.  I feel like this hypothesis was somewhat vindicated by revelations in Part 3 of the NPR report that officials from at least three South Dakota tribes are actively hiding children who are in State custody.  Keep in mind that tribes can transfer state court cases to tribal court, so these are probably children who are not eligible to be enrolled with the tribe, who have a parent who did not want the tribe to handle the case, or who have been determined to have closer connections to another tribe.  The secreting of these children from the State has to be especially concerning to parents who are not members of the tribe, and therefore likely objected to transferring the case to the tribe.

I eventually plan to post more information related to the reasons for the disproportional representation of Native Americans in foster care, the nature of federal funding of the child welfare system, and possibly other topics, so readers may wish to check back.  I note that I was seemingly unsuccessful in completely disabling the comment function.  Be aware that I will not be publishing any comments to any of my posts.  I can be contacted via the contact form on this website, but probably will not respond to all inquiries.