Tuesday, August 14, 2007

It’s a Matter of Justice—Tribes Should Have Access to Direct Federal Funding

by Mary Boo, NACAC assistant director

On August 2, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) introduced legislation that will provide Indian tribes with the same direct access to federal foster care and adoption funding that states receive. The Tribal Foster Care and Adoption Act of 2007 (S. 1956) will make it possible for tribes to establish independent foster care and adoption programs, and therefore provide culturally competent services to the many Native children in care in the U.S.

Enacted in 1980, the Foster Care and Adoption Assistance Act did not consider that thousands of American Indian children receive child welfare services through their tribal governments. This oversight has essentially made a class of children ineligible for federal entitlement services simply because of where they live in the United States.

As a recent General Accountability Office report noted: "Native American children ... experience higher rates of representation in foster care than children of other races or ethnicities. Just over 2 percent of children in foster care at the end of fiscal year 2004 were Native Americans, while they represented less than 1 percent of children in the United States."

Currently, to receive federal Title IV-E funding, tribes must negotiate separate contracts with the states in which they are located. These agreements are discretionary on the part of the state and less than half of the tribes in the United States have been able to develop an agreement with their state. The legislation would help children and families in the following ways:

• Tribes would be better able to offer permanency services for the children in their care—just as states do for the children under their guardianship and custody. With the current patchwork of funds that tribes use, continuity of services is almost impossible and it is challenging to achieve the goals of safety, permanence, and well-being for children and youth in their care.
• Many Native families, especially on reservations, have very low incomes and need support to be able to keep their children.
• Currently, states have about 12 sources of federal funds that they use for child welfare services. Tribes only have access to about six. As a result, when foster care caseloads increase, funds must be diverted from prevention and support services.
• Although the Indian Child Welfare Act rightly gave tribes have responsibility for tribal children in foster care, it did not provide the funding necessary to support tribal foster care programs. To currently access federal Title IV-E funding, tribes must develop agreements with their state to receive support to for their children and families. It’s a simple matter of justice that tribes should have access to these entitlement funds to meet the needs of their most vulnerable community members.

As Senator Baucus explains, “This bill provides Tribes with the ability to serve their children directly with culturally appropriate care and understanding. This bill serves some of our most vulnerable children and Congress must stand up for those kids. It is only logical to put Tribal adoption services on equal footing with the states, and I intend to work with my colleagues to do just that.”

The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Gordon Smith (R-OR), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), John McCain (R-AZ), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA.).

1 comment:

afterfostercare said...

I have recently charged a local Chilren's Aid Society with failing to provide a list of the agencies members in contravention of the legislation it is incorporated under, Corporations Act, RSO 1990, c. C-38, as amended. See more at http://www.afterfostercare.ca/pdf/membership

You might be able to use similar corporate legislation to perform activisim in your and other states.