WASHINGTON – A much needed Native American Children’s Safety Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate this past Thursday.
Currently, American Indian tribes do not have uniform minimum procedures and guidelines when an American Indian child is placed in foster care under the direction of a tribal court.
Procedures and guidelines vary from tribe to tribe, with standards at some tribes being more rigorous than others. Unfortunately, some American Indian children in the tribal foster care system have needed protections that have not been afforded them.
Sen. Jon Tester, Chair of the US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
Senators John Hoeven (R – North Dakota) and Jon Tester (D – Montana), chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, Thursday introduced the Native American Children’s Safety Act.
It is legislation to implement rigorous minimum protections for American Indian children placed by tribal courts into the tribal foster care system. Ranking Member Senator John Barrasso (R – Wyoming) and Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) have signed on to the legislation as original co-sponsors.
At the heart of the legislation, authored by Hoeven, are requirements for background checks to be conducted on all adults living in a potential foster home before a tribal court may place a child in that home. The check would include a national criminal records check and a review of child abuse or neglect registries in any state in which the individual under review has lived in the preceding five years.
In addition, a check would be required of any adult 18 years or older who moves into the home after placement. To ensure the ongoing safety of children placed in foster care, a certified foster home would be periodically subject to another round of checks before it could be recertified.
“The safety of children on or off the reservation must be a priority for all of us,” Hoeven said. “Our legislation puts in statute, without ambiguity and with respect to tribal customs and traditions, safeguards for vulnerable young people who through no fault of their own find themselves in need of care and compassion in foster care.”
“The federal government has a responsibility to ensure the general welfare of native children in foster care,” Tester said. “This legislation is a necessary step to prevent abuse and its impacts on the long-term development of Indian children.”
Highlights of the Native American Child Safety Act:
- Applies to tribal foster care placement of American Indian children for the purpose of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of those children
- Requires that all prospective foster care parents and adults living in the home undergo a background check prior to the placement of a Native American foster care child
- Requires that background checks include checking for criminal activity as well as checking child abuse and neglect registries
- Requires that adults who join the household after the foster care child has been placed there also undergo background checks
- Requires that foster care homes undergo recertification periodically, to ensure they remain safe for foster care children
- The bill sets out that the Department of Interior will work with Tribes, as well as Indian Country, to establish necessary procedures to ensure that these safety standards for foster care children are established
- The bill requires the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which currently does not conduct these background checks in every case when placing American Indian foster care children in foster care homes, follow these same requirements when acting on behalf of the tribes.