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Kauffman leads fight to protect Indian foster children

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OLYMPIA, Wash. – The Washington State Legislature is taking steps to better protect Indian children who are placed in the state’s foster care system.

State Sen. Claudia Kauffman sponsored Senate Bill 6470 during the 2010 legislative session as part of her ongoing efforts to protect and improve the lives of all children in Washington. The bill addresses the needs of Indian children by aligning state law with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act regarding the burden of proof standards when taking an Indian child from their home or terminating parental rights. Courts are prohibited from placing an Indian child in out-of-home care unless the court finds, by clear and convincing evidence including testimony of expert witnesses, that the continued custody of the child by the parent would likely result in serious emotional or physical damage.

“Indian children are overrepresented in our state’s child welfare system,” Kauffman said. “This bill is a safeguard against taking children out of a home unnecessarily or breaking parental bonds prematurely. This bill will make sure courts act in their best interest.”

Indian children represent just two percent of the Washington population but represent more than 12 percent of children in out-of-home care.

Kauffman, who represents a half dozen cities outside the Seattle area, says the next step is to invest more public dollars in services that will make families emotionally and physically healthy and decrease the need for foster care services.

Kauffman is a member of the Nez Perce Tribe and made history in 2006 when she became the first Native American woman elected to the state Senate. Since then she has been a tireless advocate for children and public education. During the 2009 regular session, she helped orchestrate the passage of several bills that would expand and improve early learning programs for children across the state. As vice chair for early learning on the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee, she has sponsored legislation to address the achievement gap and make the education system more sensitive to the needs of students of color. She recently sponsored a bill to help dropouts earn General Educational Development certificates.

Gov. Chris Gregoire signed S.B. 6470 into law April 1.