Sunday, July 8, 2012

Child welfare system faulted at Spirit Lake Indian reservation

Timothy Williams reports in today's New York Times on what sounds like a deeply dysfunctional child welfare system on the Spirit Lake Indian reservation in northeastern North Dakota.  Here's the story's lede:
Federal and state officials say they have documented glaring flaws in the child welfare system at the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation in North Dakota, contending that while child abuse there is at epidemic levels, the tribe has sought to conceal it.    
Nearly a third of the child abuse victims in North Dakota are American Indian, although only 9% of the state's population are.

Williams's story continues with these details of the problems with the child welfare system:
The problems uncovered by medical and social services administrators include foster children on the reservation who have been sent to homes where registered sex offenders live and a teenage female sexual-abuse victim who was placed in a tribal home and subsequently raped.  
Federal officials also report that the tribe used very bad judgement in hiring case workers, including one who had been convicted of felony child abuse and one who failed to take the hospital a 1-year-old covered with dozens of wood ticks.    

As a consequence of these and other concerns, the state of North Dakota recently took the highly unusual measure of cutting off funding for the 31 children in the tribe's foster care system.  The federal Administration for Children and Families for six states sought a state of emergency declaration for Spirit lake, which would cut off federal funding.  The Administration also sought charges of child endangerment against the tribe's leader, in part because of the tribe's alleged cover up of the abuses.

I have written about child welfare systems in rural settings here, with some attention to the American Indian context.

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