Tribal Leaders Summit panel talks child welfare

 

By Karee Magee, The Bismark Tribune

Sandra Bercier, interim director of the Native American Training Institute, said there is an acute need for Native American foster homes in both North and South Dakota.

Sandra Bercier, interim director of the Native American Training Institute, said there is an acute need for Native American foster homes in both North and South Dakota.

BISMARCK, N.D. — A panel at the Tribal Leaders Summit on Thursday addressed problems facing the implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

The mission of ICWA, first founded in 1978, is to keep or reunite Indian children with their families.

According to the National Indian Child Welfare Association’s description, the act was created in “response to the alarmingly high number of Indian children being removed from their homes by both public and private agencies.”

According to panelists, the numbers of Indian children put in foster homes remains high.

The consensus among the panelists is that the obstacle facing implementation of child welfare programs on reservations is lack of funding.

Sandra Bercier, interim director of the Native American Training Institute, said that because the programs are underfunded, they also are understaffed.

It is also hard to find permanent employees, said Leander McDonald, chairman of the Spirit Lake Tribe.

Child welfare programs are the hardest place to work, Bercier said, because staff sometimes take children out of homes.

Another significant problem is the lack of foster homes and families on the reservations, she said. Indian children who are taken from their families will often end up in a non-native family instead.

“If you have room in your home, hook up wth Indian Child Welfare,” Bercier said. “If we want ICWA to work, we have to be the ones to drive that process.”

The tribal leaders from South Dakota, though, emphasized an issue specific to that state.

“The problem is that there was this systemic institution that incentivized the removal of Indian children,” said Chase Iron Eyes, tribal judge of Lakota People Law Project.

According to Iron Eyes, the state of South Dakota earns $60 million from the federal government for the placement of Indian children into foster care.

South Dakota has a system of 48 hour hearings. The parents are required to go to court within 48 hours after their children were taken away, according to Tom Disselhorst, attorney for United Tribes Technical College.

The timespan doesn’t give them a chance to find a lawyer, he said, and they often don’t know why their children have been removed.

B.J. Jones said that the majority of these situations in South Dakota have nothing to do with abuse or neglect, but more often it is because the parent committed a misdemeanor like forgetting their license while driving.

He said society criminalizes poverty and Indian mothers are now afraid to drive because, if they are stopped by the police, their child could be taken away.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe have filed a class action lawsuit against the state of South Dakota, and hope it will be part of the solution. They are accusing state officials of violating the Fifth Amendment by not providing opportunities for due process.

Due process includes that an attorney is required in court, which many Indian parents don’t have in the 48-hour hearings.

If the lawsuit reaches the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, it may require other states to change their policies as well, said Disselhorst.

Johnson Legislation Helps Indian Country Adoption Tax Credit

By Mark Brown, KELO.com

Washington D.C. (KELO AM) – U.S. Senators Tim Johnson (D-SD), James Inhofe (R-OK), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) today introduced the Tribal Adoption Parity Act. The legislation ensures parents adopting American Indian and Alaskan Native children through tribal courts are treated fairly under our nation’s tax code by making it easier for adoptive parents across Indian Country to claim the full adoption tax credit for “special needs” children.

“The Tribal Adoption Parity Act will provide financial relief for families in South Dakota by making it easier for adoptive parents in Indian Country to claim the full adoption tax credit,” Johnson said. “It is unacceptable that parents who adopt an Indian child through a tribal court are prevented from accessing the financial relief that is provided to adoptive families in non-tribal areas. This bill addresses an oversight in our tax code by ensuring that adoptive parents throughout Indian Country receive fair tax treatment.”

Under current law, parents adopting a child who has been determined by a State as “special needs” can claim the full adoption tax credit regardless of their qualified adoption expenses.  Congress created the “special needs” determination to provide an added incentive for parents adopting children who might otherwise be difficult to place in adoptive homes.  In Fiscal Year 2011, 84 percent of the nearly 50,000 children adopted through public agencies were designated as having “special needs.”  Parents adopting children through tribal courts, however, are currently ineligible for the special needs adoption tax credit.  This unfortunately results in parents and children throughout Indian Country unfairly missing out on an important tax credit that would make a significant difference in their day-to-day lives.  Becoming eligible for the special needs adoption tax credit would help further reduce the financial costs associated with adoption and lessen administrative burdens.

In 1978, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act that gives Indian tribes exclusive jurisdiction over custody proceedings involving Indian children within a reservation.  The special needs adoption tax credit currently fails to recognize the authority that tribal governments have over adoption proceedings of Indian children. The Tribal Adoption Parity Act would amend the Internal Revenue Code to provide fair tax treatment to parents adopting Indian children through tribal courts.  As a result, a tribal government would be permitted to designate an adoptive Indian child as having “special needs.” This legislation would ensure that families in Indian Country are treated fairly by providing the same financial relief that adoptive families currently receive across the nation.

The bill has been endorsed by organizations such as the National Indian Child Welfare Association, the Child Welfare League of America, Voice for Adoption, the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, the Donaldson Adoption Institute, and the Joint Council for International Children’s Services.

In 1996, Congress created the adoption tax credit to ease the initial financial burden for adoptive parents.  The adoption tax credit provides a tax credit of up to $10,000 and is adjusted for inflation. The credit was $12,970 for tax year 2013. Since 2003, families adopting children with “special needs” are allowed to claim the full adoption tax credit regardless of their qualified adoption expenses. The definition of “special needs” varies from state to state. Examples of factors that can qualify a child for the “special needs” determination include: age; membership in a minority or sibling group; ethnic background; medical condition; or physical, mental, and emotional handicaps.

The National Taxpayer Advocate Service, an independent organization within the Internal Revenue Service, recommended the adoption tax credit be amended to recognize tribal governments in its 2012 Annual Report to Congress, which can be accessed here.

 

NICWA And NCAI Applaud United Nations’ Anaya For Calling on U.S. To Protect Veronica’s Human Rights

U.N. Expert Says ‘All Necessary Measures Should Be Taken’
Source: National Congress of American Indians
Portland, Ore. and Washington, D.C.—The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), and Angel Smith, an independent attorney appointed by the District Court of the Cherokee Nation and “Next Friend in the filing,” are applauding  today’s action by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya calling for state, federal, and tribal authorities in the United States to take all necessary measures to ensure that the well-being and human rights of Veronica Brown, the four-year-old Cherokee child at the center of a highly contentious custody dispute, are protected.
 
Anaya’s office in a release today pointed out that the Indigenous rights are guaranteed by various international instruments subscribed to or endorsed by the United States, stating, “I urge the relevant authorities, as well as all parties involved in the custody dispute, to ensure the best interests of Veronica, fully taking into account her rights to maintain her cultural identity and to maintain relations with her indigenous family and people.”
 
NICWA, NCAI, and Smith, who had brought their concerns to the Special Rapporteur’s attention, hailed the announcement as corroboration of the concerns raised both in the federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Veronica in July and in ongoing legal matters in Oklahoma.
 
Among the possible human rights violations is the forced removal of Veronica from her Indian family and tribal nation without adequate protection or recognition of her right to culture. Such removal violates her right to culture, education, family, and tribal nation as guaranteed by Articles 7 and 8 of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
 
The executive directors of two leading national organizations, NICWA’s Terry Cross and NCAI’s Jacqueline Pata, called for the national conversation about the case to focus on Veronica’s human and civil rights.
 
“These rights are being violated by the failure of the courts to provide Veronica, her tribal nation, and her extended family with opportunities to be heard regarding her best interests,” said Cross. “What the U.N.’s involvement indicates is that we must all agree to turn our focus back to Veronica. When we do, it becomes disturbingly clear that the courts have utterly failed to protect what is guaranteed to her by international law and established treaties, best adoption practices, and in my opinion, basic tenets of decency. Her rights have been violated, pure and simple.”
 
“We commend the Special Rapporteur for engaging on this issue—it’s a vital step for protecting all Indigenous children throughout the world. It’s important to note that these are violations of international laws recognized and ratified by the United States long ago, not external forces weighing in on domestic laws,” said Pata. “Veronica, and all similarly situated Indian children, families, and tribal nations, have deeply felt interests in maintaining their individual and collective rights to family, culture, and community. These basic human rights, along with the fundamental principles of self-determination, non-discrimination, due process, and equality, must be protected.”
 
Smith agreed, stating, “Of course the facts of these matters are heart aching. Even so, it is important and required that when considering Veronica’s rights and protections to acknowledge that, as an Indigenous child, she holds the rights of continued connection to her family, her culture and community. It has been tragic that, in the media firestorm following this case the last two years, so little attention has been paid to Veronica’s basic human rights. These are rights and protections due her—due to Veronica—and are independent of any other individual involved in these matters. Veronica’s rights and interests must be considered.”
 
Smith continued, “If she were any other child, in any other case, her present situation, needs, and rights would be considered and would have been part of the determination. Today, Veronica is a four-year-old little girl with her own view of her daily world and her own identity. She has her own words, and her own voice. It is time Veronica is heard because it is, after all, Veronica’s life.”
 
About The National Congress of American Indians
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies, and promoting a better understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people and rights. For more information visit www.ncai.org
 

2013 Indian Child Welfare Training

Presented by the National Indian Child Welfare Association

NICWA is nationally known for its high quality and interactive trainings. We have new trainings starting next month! Using NICWA’s professional trainings are a great way to train your staff, give them the professional development they need and a chance to network with others. We offer 1.5 continuing education units for each Training Institute.
 
It’s not too late to attend our June event! Our host hotel will still honor our advertised room rate of $89 plus tax (based on availability). For more information please see our website at: http://www.nicwa.org/training/institutes/ .
 
June 5-6, 2013:
·         Introduction to Tribal Child Welfare
·         Positive Indian Parenting
 
August 20-21, 2013:
·         NICWA’s Medicaid Toolkit: A Tool for Building and Expanding Upon Tribal Children’s Mental Health Delivery Systems
·         Developing Professional and Organizational Capacity for Cultural Competence
 
September 9-12, 2013: Two Sets of series; you can take a series or just one workshop in the series.
·         Indian Child Welfare Act Series
          Understanding ICWA: September 9-10
         Advanced Practice in ICWA: September 11-12
·         In-Home Services Systems of Care Series
          Overview of Tribal In-Home Services Systems of Care
          Planning and Sustaining Tribal In-Home Services Systems of Care
 
Please let me know if you have any questions about NICWA events, Debra Clayton, 503-222-4044 x137 or debra@nicwa.org or www.nicwa.org
If you are interested in a group discount, please contact our new event manager, Lauren Shapiro at lauren@nicwa.org or call 503-222-4044 x118.