Cherokee Nation Foster Care Employment Policy Update

Guest Commentary

Published July 17, 2017

Cherokee Nation has created a workplace policy emphasizing the importance of protecting our
children, one of our core values as Cherokee people and part of our history and heritage going back
generations. I am so proud we created a new opportunity for our tribal employees who choose to open
their homes as foster parents. I recently signed a human resources policy that will offer Cherokee
Nation full-time employees five additional days of paid leave when a Cherokee child is placed in their
Cherokee Nation Indian Child Welfare certified home.

We continue to lead the way in Oklahoma and across Indian Country when it comes to progressive
policies. Cherokee Nation is one of just a handful of entities across the country making this
commitment to our workforce, but the commitment is really aimed at Cherokee children in need.
When a foster placement is made into a family, it is often an emergency situation and can be at all
hours of the day or night. We do not want our workers struggling to juggle work as they attend to the
needs of a foster child and the required doctor appointments, school transfers or daycare enrollment
and, most importantly, the bonding and trust time that must develop during placement. If parents are
unable to take time off work, the child is yet again negatively impacted.

Principal Chief Bill John Baker

I have talked and written about the need for more foster and adoptive parents for Cherokee Nation
children since my first day in office. Sadly, the need today is just as strong as it was in 2011. Right now,
the tribe has 15 employee-led families that are open for foster placement through Cherokee Nation’s
Indian Child Welfare. We need more. I know the job of a foster parent is rewarding, and I know it does
come with some unique and trying challenges. However, lack of workplace support should never be a
reason a family closes their home to foster children.

At Cherokee Nation, we made a decision that if we asked our people to step up as foster parents, then
we must step up as an employer and support the service our foster families are providing. This is an
important way we can support our workforce and grow our database of foster parents. The five
addiEonal days of paid leave for full-Eme employees can be used during the first full year aTer

Our ICW department is one of the strongest programs in the state and in the nation. As the largest
tribe in the United States, we have more children involved in these kinds of cases than any other tribal
government. Cherokee Nation Indian Child Welfare has custody of approximately 80 children during
any calendar year but intervenes as a party and parEcipates in more than 1,600 cases per year
throughout the United States. Nationally, Native children are overrepresented in the nation’s foster
care system, and we have to address those statistics. We must ensure our children have safe, stable
homes and remain connected to their Cherokee culture.

At Cherokee Nation we strive to be the employer of choice in northeast Oklahoma. During my tenure
as Principal Chief, we have raised minimum wage to $9.50 an hour and created an eight-week paid
maternity leave program for mothers and six weeks of paternity leave for fathers.
For more informaEon on Cherokee Nation’s Indian Child Welfare programs and services, visit

Bill John Baker is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, based in Talequah, Oklahoma.

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