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‘Together We Can’ has something for everyone

MILWAUKEE, Wis. – Over the course of the last 20 years, visionary “child support warriors” have led efforts to establish a tribal child support initiative. Although the road has been long and the challenges many, improving the well-being of tribal children has always been the ultimate goal. It is the prize which has kept tribal, federal and state leaders committed to this sometimes arduous task.

Today, there are 42 federally recognized and funded tribes involved in tribal child support; 33 are comprehensive child support enforcement agencies, capable of providing the full range of child support services. By definition the comprehensive tribal programs may issue, modify and enforce support orders, establish paternity and locate absent. And by press time, there may be more, as nine tribes were in the start up phase as this article was being written. These tribes, whether start up or comprehensive are located from Alaska to Arizona to upstate New York. They can be found all across Indian country just like the Native American children we serve.

Tribal enrollment numbers vary from a few hundred for example, the Kaw Nation and Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, to the Nation’s two largest tribes: The Cherokee Nation and the Navajo Nation, which number citizens in the hundreds of thousands. To date, more than $60 million has been collected by all of these programs.

It may be instructive to look at tribal progress from a historical perspective. Although the 54 states and territories have been sanctioned to provide child support enforcement services since the inception of the Title IV-D program in 1975, tribes did not officially became part of the CSE program until the passage of welfare reform in 1996. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act allowed tribes to join in the IV-D program and authorized the operation of tribal CSE programs and tribal cooperative agreements with state IV-D agencies.

The First Tribal Child Support Enforcement Conference was held in August 2001. Hosted by the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma and the American Indian Institute, the purpose of this conference was to provide discussions and information about the interim regulations on tribal child support enforcement and tribal partnerships with local, state and federal governments.

As a result of this conference, the National Tribal Child Support Association was established. The NTCSA’s purpose is to provide a national resource for tribal efforts to serve Native American children through child support programs. The NTSCA is committed to uniting tribal, state and federal programs as the voice for Indian children.

On March 30, 2004, the Final Rule (Volume 45 Section 309) was published which allowed for federal funding of tribal child support programs and says:

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“The department recognizes the unique relationship between the federal government and federally recognized Indian tribes and acknowledges this special government-to-government relationship in the implementation of the tribal provisions of PRWORA. The direct federal funding provisions provide tribes with an opportunity to administer their own IV-D programs to meet the needs of children and their families.”

NTSCA is a non-profit organization that partners with tribal, state and federal professionals to improve the quality of life for Indian children through communication, training and public awareness. The organization’s stated objective is to benefit Indian children and develop, promote and enhance family values by bringing together tribal programs such as tribal and Courts of Indian Offenses, or CFR courts, Head Start and Indian child welfare and domestic violence programs.

This year’s NTCSA 9th Annual Training Conference titled, “Together We Can,” is co-hosted by the Forest County Potawatomi Community and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community with support from the Oneida Nation Child Support Program. It will be held July 12 – 16 at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center Hotel, in Milwaukee, Wis. Registration/hotel information can be found at the NTCSA Web site.

The conference training is designed into four tracks: Legal/Judicial, Start-up, Comprehensive and Case Worker. Featured conference speakers are D. J. Vanas, Odawa Indian, a motivational storyteller and success coach, and Chance Rush, Hidatsa, the “Voice of Virtue,” a Native comedian and motivational speaker. Also featured are Wallace Coffey, a Harvard graduate and revered Comanche statesman, Artley Skenandore, Oneida, a former school principal and community development facilitator, and Navajo comedian duo, James and Ernie.

Maybe your interest is manual case management or the Model Tribal System. You can hear from the experts in both methods at the NTCSA Training Conference. Is your tribe interested in becoming a IV-D agency? There are sessions designed to guide you through the steps to obtain funding.

Many workshop trainers are experts from the member child support programs. We have commitments from Greg Kidder, Osage, Greg Steen, Comanche, Cara Altoff, Tulalip, Carlys Balatche, Mescalero Apache, Cassandra McGilbray, Chickasaw, Lisa Schwartz, Oneida and Detra Kingfisher, Cherokee.

Deborah Yates, Osage, is the director of the Comanche Nation Child Support Program and president of the National Tribal Child Support Association. She is an ex officio member of the National Child Support Enforcement Association board of directors and Western Interstate Child Support Enforcement Council board affiliate.