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BIA Sending 'Strike Team' to Evaluate Efforts to Improve Child Safety at Spirit Lake

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At the urging of U.S. Senator Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota), the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is sending a strike team of senior BIA officials from its central office to assess and evaluate efforts to improve the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe’s social services program.

"Preventable tragedies have occurred that must never be permitted to happen again,” Sen. Conrad said in April 2012 in reaction to a letter sent to numerous state and federal officials by Dr. Michael Tilus, a psychologist who previously served as the behavioral health director of the Indian Health Service (IHS) clinic on the Spirit Lake Reservation.

The BIA’s Great Plains regional office conducted its regular annual review of Spirit Lake's social services program in August 2011 and issued a corrective plan. The review noted deficiencies including failing to follow regulations, a lack of documentation for critical child safety activities, and improper expenditures. In April 2012, a more detailed corrective plan was given, and the BIA provided financial, training and technical assistance resources to the program.

The tribe has been working on addressing these deficiencies—particularly related to child safety issues—with the help of the BIA, the State of North Dakota Department of Human Services and the IHS.

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“While the BIA has been working closely with the Tribe and other stakeholders on this for several months, I feel it is incumbent upon me as the acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs to bring additional resources to bear on this critical matter for the people of Spirit Lake,” said Donald E. “Del” Laverdure, BIA acting assistant secretary.

The BIA recently reported that the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe Social Services program has made progress in the areas where it was deficient.

Future BIA efforts include:

  • A follow-up program review by the GPRO during the week of September 10, 2012.
  • Recruiting BIA social workers to assist with on-site monitoring and technical assistance for up to one year contingent on funding,
  • Coordinating with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF) on resources for the Tribe,
  • Working with IHS on training for mandatory reporters,
  • Establishing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe, the BIA and law enforcement to complete National Crime Investigation Center federal background checks for each foster care placement, and
  • Sending tribal social service child protection workers to the University of North Dakota for Child Welfare Certification training next month.