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Native children overrepresented in foster care, report finds

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PORTLAND, Ore. - American Indian children are overrepresented in the nation's foster care system at more than 1.6 times the expected level, according to a new report by the National Indian Child Welfare Association and the national, nonpartisan Kids Are Waiting campaign, a project of The Pew Charitable Trusts. The report was released Nov. 20 at the annual national convention of the National Congress of American Indians in Denver. NCAI has been a partner with NICWA on several child welfare initiatives.

The report, ''Time for Reform: A Matter of Justice for American Indian and Alaska Native Children,'' details how Congress created the mechanisms for foster care funding that excluded Indian children who are receiving case management from tribal social services. States receive about $7 billion from the Title IV-E fund in 2006, which accounts for 50 percent of the federal child welfare funds provided to state-administrated foster care.

David Simmons, NICWA director of government affairs and advocacy, spoke at the event at which the report was released and said that state governments can access up to seven different federal programs to provide foster care programs. Tribal governments, who carry approximately 15,000 foster child caseloads every year, can only access up to five federal programs and are excluded from directly accessing the largest source of federal child welfare funding in meeting the needs of the children and families in their care.

Utah Court of Appeals Judge William A. Thorne, Pomo/Miwoc, spoke at the event about witnessing first-hand the difficulties the nation's tribes have in meeting the needs of the vulnerable children and families in their care. He has served as a tribal court judge in Utah, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada, California and Michigan. Additionally, Thorne is the former president of the National Indian Justice Center, a nonprofit that trains tribal court personnel around the country, and a member of the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care.

Thorne said, ''In 1980, when IV-E was passed, the Social Security Act, tribes weren't even an afterthought - they were completely left out. We're talking about several billion dollars a year the federal government spends on children. The vast majority of that money comes from IV-E and tribal programs were appropriated zero dollars.

''Exactly the opposite of what you would expect from that trust responsibility. Tribal children get less than any other child in this country.''

In response to testimony and reports by child welfare advocates, both Indian and non-Indian, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., has introduced the Tribal Foster Care and Adoption Act of 2007. The bill has bipartisan support and would allow tribes direct access to federal foster care and adoption funds, and would create accountability measures to ensure that tribes meet the needs of the children in their care.

NCAI President Joe Garcia said, ''We hope that our country's policy-makers examine these funding options, so that states and American Indian tribes can best aid children and families. This bill is supported by strong evidence that they will positively impact the lives of our children.''

The report is available online at the NICWA (www.nicwa.org) and Kids Are Waiting (www.kidsarewaiting.org) Web sites. Data on the states with the most disproportionate placement of Indian children into the foster care system is included, as well as information on kinship care and customary adoption.