What would you do, as a grandparent, if you got a phone call from the Department of Social Services (D.S.S.) that announced to you that your son or daughter will be arrested tomorrow on drug charges? Oh, by the way, you have no money for an attorney. Probably, you would wait with your child the next day for the police to arrive and maybe get a look at an arrest warrant. So, you wait, and no police show up, but a D.S.S. car arrives and they inform everyone that because of the pending narcotics violation, they are taking your grandchildren. Protest all you want, but they take the kids, and the police never arrive.
It’s a bad dream, right? You wake up and all is normal. Except it is not. According to an NPR 2011 investigation, in one state, South Dakota, it happens approximately 700 times a year to Native American families. Believe it or not, it used to happen much more often, but in 1978, Congress passed The Indian Child Welfare Act to put an end to just such practices.
The ICWA recognizes the need to keep Native children with their extended families or tribes even in extreme cases of poverty, drug or alcohol abuse so that they will not be separated from their history, language, or culture. In fact, the law demands that every juvenile, foster, or placement case must first verify whether or not the child is Native. If the answer is yes, ICWA rules take precedent. Before a trial is set, the parent or parents must be notified by a letter indicating where and when the trial will take place. A duplicate letter must be sent to the tribe so that it can send a representative, and finally, an expert witness must be called to testify regarding the fitness of the family. This is a very specific procedure to insure the child’s and family’s best interest.
What could possibly go wrong? The whole foster care system is incentivized by the same Federal Government that wrote the law. For its 700 Native Children annually, South Dakota receives nearly $100 million dollars. From that money, they have to pay foster families to care for the children, and they receive $4,000.00 per child. Unless, of course, the child happens to be a “Special Needs” child. In that case, they receive $12,000.00 per child. By the way, in South Dakota, all Native children are designated as “Special Needs.”
Forget expert witnesses, forget letters to parents or tribes, forget best interest of the child, every single child is placed in white run foster homes or adopted out to white families. The disproportionality of Native children versus non-Native children put through the system, as shown by the map below, taken from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Courts Judges, is staggering. Green states are considered good because they only average twice as many, whereas red states average more than four times the non-Native rate.
One hundred and forty years ago, Richard Pratt came up with a system designed to “Kill the Indian and Save the Man.” The result was the Indian School system symbolized by The Carlyle School in Pennsylvania. It was designed to take Native children away from their families, destroy their culture and language, and turn them into nearly white folks. It did great damage, but it didn’t destroy the Native cultures; now we have come up with a better plan. It not only works, it is also highly profitable.
For any chance to solve the problem, we have to de-incentivize immediately the removal of Native children. That requires the concerted effort of three Cabinet Offices; Justice, Interior, and Health and Human Services. Under the current administration, I see no movement by any of these departments to even show an interest in the problem.
We have many things in America that need fixing, but isn’t it time to stop the exploitation of Native children and their families, and stop the Kidnapping?
The map below shows the current rates of Native American disproportionality in the U.S. (2011). Green indicates a disproportionality index of 1.3 to 2.0, yellow indicates 2.1 to 3.0, orange indicates 3.1 to 4.0, and red equals 4.0 or higher
Source: National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges
The above link will take you to the 2011 NPR investigation as told on “All Things Considered.” It is slightly more than twenty minutes long, and it is very depressing.