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A civil grand jury in northern California released a report last week that alleges Humboldt County’s child welfare system “routinely misses” statutory court deadlines, creating an “unnecessary amount of stress” for Native American families. 

The report — titled “Humboldt County Child Welfare Services and the Courts: Late Reports, Dysfunctional Systems, and Traumatized Children” — describes the grand jury’s findings that the welfare system is riddled with inefficiencies, staff shortages and other workplace issues that have been present in the system for nearly a decade.

Those shortcomings have had an outsized impact on families and children from the region’s eight federally recognized tribes, including the largest tribe in California and Native citizens living on the largest reservation in the state.

The local Native population is “over-represented” in the county’s child welfare system, according to the report. Up to 42% of child welfare court cases in the county involve Indigenous children, despite the fact that American Indian and Alaska Natives make up between 6% and 12% of the population. 

Cases involving the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) make up a large percentage of the child-welfare court filings and are the most likely to be late. Native families are also forced to endure the most lengthy proceedings of people involved in the county’s child welfare services, the report notes. 

“We are not at all surprised by the Grand Jury’s findings about the glaring dysfunction in Humboldt County’s troubled Department of Health and Human Services where policies have disproportionately impacted Indian children in foster care by denying Indian youth access to services and failing to uphold ICWA,” Kimberly Cluff, legal director for the California Tribal Families Coalition (CTFC) told Native News Online in an email. “Our hope is that this report will serve as a catalyst for change at the County’s DHHS.”

In March, CTFC helped a northern California tribe and one of its members sue Humboldt County and the State of California for discriminating against tribal youth in the county’s foster care system. 

The lawsuit, filed by the Bear River Band of Rohnerville Rancheria and tribal member Madison Fisher, alleged that tribal youth have been systematically denied foster care benefits after turning 18, despite being eligible for those benefits until age 21 under California’s Extended Foster Care program. 

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The Native News Health Desk is made possible by a generous grant from the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation as well as sponsorship support from the American Dental Association. This grant funding and sponsorship support have no effect on editorial consideration in Native News Online. 
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