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Washington state tribe is first in nation to assume total control of foster care, adoptions and child guardianships

March 29, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
A Washington state Indian tribe called the Port Gamble S'Klallam is now running all of its child guardianships, foster care and adoptions, according to a story this week in The Seattle Times.

This is significant because the state and federal government still has some involvement in foster care and adoptions of Indian children, though the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 requires that great effort be made to preserve the Indian family either by leaving a child with his parents or placing him with other Indian relatives or barring that, placing him with members of his own tribe or, barring that, placing him with members of another tribe. Before the law took effect, a large number of Indian children in foster care were fostered or adopted by non-Indians. Some tribal members also still have bitter memories of being separated from their families and sent to boarding schools where they were forbidden to speak their own languages and were sometimes abused in an attempt to assimilate them to the dominant culture.

Congress passed a law in 2008 allowing tribes to take over control of foster care and adoptions if they met certain criteria established by the federal Department of Health and Human Services such as establishing guidelines for taking children into care, having an established court system and staff dedicated to child protective services.

The S'Klallam have met the guidelines and nearly a dozen other tribes are also moving in that direction, according to Jack Trope,, executive director of the Association on American Indian Affairs, who was quoted in the article.

The Times reports that this is the first tribe in the nation to do this, though I'm a bit skeptical that that is true. One of my cousins said the Navajo tribe in New Mexico and surrounding states also largely controls foster care and adoptions. It may be that none of them have completely severed their ties with the state as the S'Klallam have.

It will be interesting to see if other tribes follow the same approach and what impact it will have on children. Advocates cited in the Seattle Times article said the tribe will no longer lose its children and the children will no longer lose their roots by being moved away from the reservation.


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