By Jerry Milner, D.S.W., Associate Commissioner at the Children’s Bureau, and the Acting Commissioner for the Administration on Children, Youth and Families at the Administration for Children & Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Jeannie Hovland, Commissioner of Administration for Native Americans and the ACF Deputy Assistant Secretary for Native American Affairs, affirming the government-to-government relationship between ACF and Indian tribes.
The White House has designated the month of May as National Foster Care Month Visit disclaimer page . As the proclamation mentions, there were 443,000 youth that were placed in resource homes across the country in FY 2017. While the data for American Indian/Native Alaska children in foster care can vary from state to state and from tribe to tribe, it is important to share that there is a tremendous need for resource homes and to have resource parents who can support and meet the needs of children.
This year’s National Foster Care Month theme is Foster Care as a Support to Families, Not a Substitute for Parents Visit disclaimer page . This concept is especially important in Native communities, as we recognize that taking care of a child and meeting the child’s needs means recognizing the importance of their relationships in being nurtured and having a positive experience. The overall care and development for a child is an opportunity to integrate all the necessary support to children’s parents and resource families. The support to families means:
- Building on and engaging the child’s family through frequent and meaningful contact, preferably in an unsupervised setting unless required for the child’s safety. Having elders or spiritual teachers to provide guidance or mentor support
- Participating together in events that are important to the child, including rites of passage, language preservation, cultural teachings, reconnecting to family and tribal community, and other similar practices. American Indian/Alaska Native children are supported in this way through the Indian Child Welfare Act that enables them to stay with resource families within their tribal communities.
These types of supports could assist with a child and their families’ connection and preservation of family and culture. We are working diligently to ensure that there are accessible tools and resources that Native communities can use in order to better support and encourage their resource families.
We wanted to take a moment to highlight some resources from the Administration for Children and Families that can assist Tribes and Native communities in strengthening their children and family systems:
- The Children’s Bureau’s Capacity Building Center for Tribes coaches and provides peer networking, distance learning, consultation, dissemination, product development, and capacity building assistance. These services are provided through three integrated Centers that serve Tribes, States, and Courts to help improve the delivery of child welfare services. A unique program provided by the Center are Tribal Permanency Projects—designed to aid with and improve permanent placing and planning for Native children.
- The Children’s Bureau also provides guidance in the form of Diligent Recruitment Plans that can be used to help tribes develop their Recruitment and or Foster Care program. These plans are designed for better developing or enhancing their: Foster Care Licensing Standards, Recruitment and Foster Care Policies and Procedures, forms, tools such as Foster Parent Handbooks, Recruitment materials, creating opportunities to partner with other tribal programs, local communities, and with the state, etc.
- The Administration for Native Americans (ANA) offers competitive grants for projects designed to bolster social and economic conditions. These projects are designed by community leaders as they are the ones who best know how to address the issues their communities face each and every day.
We want to recognize everyone—tribal leaders, parents, program staff, resource families, and kinship caregivers —for the important work you’re doing to help nurture the safety, permanency, and well-being of the children, youth and families in your communities. We stand with you in our commitment to help find ways to support your efforts and strengthen your communities.