A home should be a safe place where children are loved and nurtured. Sadly, for some, their environment becomes so unsafe they require foster care placement. For most of America, there exists a uniform set of rules to ensure a clean background for those living in each foster home. This is not the case on many Native American reservations across the country. The lack of clear rules and standards to investigate foster homes prior to tribal foster care placements allows many children to be removed from their homes and placed in even more dangerous foster care situations.
Last Congress, the Natural Resources Committee held oversight hearings regarding the child protection crisis on Spirit Lake Indian Reservation. This hearing was in response to numerous child deaths on the reservation and whistleblower reports detailing unsafe tribal placement of almost 40 foster children in abusive homes, many of which were headed by convicted sex offenders. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case of failure at one reservation.
In an effort to protect these children in North Dakota and others in danger across the country, I introduced H.R. 1168, the Native American Children’s Safety Act, which implements across-the-board minimum protections for children placed in foster care at the direction of a tribal court. These requirements mirror existing national requirements for non-tribal foster care placements; ensuring tribal children receive the same robust protections afforded all children.
Identical legislation introduced by Senator John Hoeven has been approved by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and was approved by the US Senate today.
This bill is bipartisan and non-controversial, being reported out of the Natural Resources Committee favorably by unanimous consent both last year and this past April. The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), the National Congress of American Indians, the BIA, and HHS worked to improve this bill. Their assistance proved invaluable in refining and improving this legislation, ensuring tribes are provided adequate flexibility as they transition to these new standards.
The overwhelming bipartisan support in the U.S. House for this legislation underscores our shared commitment to providing all of America’s children with the safest foster care environment available. This support should encourage the U.S. Senate to take up this issue and pass its legislation quickly. Each day we fail to act is another day one more child can be placed into a potentially unsafe and dangerous foster care situation.
— Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND)