It has been a bit over two months since the NPR Reports on Native American children in foster care that I wrote about extensively below. A few things have happened since that time.
First, it appears that the NPR ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, will eventually publish some sort of response to the reports. He indicates as such here. I can only hope that NPR will follow its previously stated policy in this regard. That policy is described in another post on the Ombudsman’s Blog. The written policy is to correct “significant errors in broadcast and online reports.” According to NPR’s Deputy Managing Editor Stuart Seidel, “That means that we correct errors of substance, errors that influence the meaning or understanding of a story, [and] errors that potentially create confusion for a listener or reader.” In his post, Mr. Schumacher-Matos indicates that significant errors should include “errors of fact” and “misleading tone.” In my opinion, NPR has its work cut out for it with the corrections on this one.
There are also reports that a summit on the issues raised in the NPR reports is being planned by federal officials with the Interior Department’s Office of Indian Affairs. I don’t know of any details beyond the fact that such a summit is being planned. Interestingly, it appears that the media found out about it before South Dakota officials did.
With regard to my own thoughts, I have recently been pondering whether the secrecy surrounding abuse and neglect proceedings in South Dakota is good policy. In particular, the combination of SDCL 26-7A-36 and SDCL 26-8A-13 make it such that records and court proceedings in abuse and neglect cases are confidential, although my personal experience suggests that whether court hearings are actually closed is dependent on the judge. These laws prevent anyone from meaningfully responding to any particular factual allegations of impropriety. As such, they allow stories like those of the Yellow Robe children to be propounded without response. In cases where something improper does occur, such laws would also act as a shield to prevent scrutiny. The national trend appears to be moving towards opening abuse and neglect proceedings, and the sky is not falling in states that have. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, an organization I think highly of, has endorsed opening juvenile hearings to the public. I will likely post on this topic again in the future, as changing the confidentiality statutes previously cited is certainly something that could be done. The best site I have found for resources on this topic has been this one. I am curious what thoughts others may have on this topic. Click here if you would like to share them with me.