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Beltrami County, Red Lake partner to address foster care home shortage

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Children throughout the Bemidji area are anxiously awaiting the first day of school. “What will I wear?” and “Will I make new friends?” are among the questions they may ask themselves. But for others, those questions will be “Where will I live?” and “Who will take care of me?”

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A portion of the population has been making due with less than adequate resources, and there aren’t enough foster homes to fit the needs of children in the area, officials say.

“Minnesota is the worst state in the nation in the disparities of American Indian children and out-of-home placement,” said Paula Woods with Red Lake Family and Children Services.

Hennepin, St. Louis and Beltrami counties have the highest number of displaced Native American children, Wood said. The criteria for measuring displacement is based on ethnicity and number of children in out-of-home placement.

“Throughout the state, foster care is in a bit of a crisis,” said Jeff Lind, Beltrami County Social Services division director, who has has a background in foster care licensing for the county.

In the past, it was more difficult to get an accurate picture of the number of displaced children, Woods explained.

Tracking efforts have become more precise in recent years, which, in turn, has led to an increase in the number of children displaced.

Now, Beltrami County Health and Human Services and Red Lake Family and Children Services are working together to address the lack of foster homes for area Native American children by creating the Recruiting Native Foster Homes Collaborative.

The county and Red Lake were approached by Casey Family Programs last spring regarding a granting opportunity to launch the recruitment effort. Casey Family Programs is a foundation established in 1966 that works to reduce the need for foster care throughout the nation, as well as in Puerto Rico. Woods said Casey Family Programs is also working with Hennepin and St. Louis counties.

“There are 72 foster homes on the Red Lake Indian Reservation and 50 families waiting to be helped,” Woods said.

Native American children are protected by the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, which Congress passed to “protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families.”

Of the 35 foster homes in Beltrami County, only five are Indian Child Welfare Act eligible to board Indian children. ICWA provides a preferred placement structure that includes first placing a Native American child with a member of the child’s extended family, then with other members of the child’s tribe or other Indian families for adoption.

For foster care or pre-adoptive criteria, the ICWA again starts with placing a child with a member of the Indian child’s extended family.

If that’s not possible, the next steps for placing children are in a foster home licensed, approved of or specified by the child’s tribe or at an Indian foster home licensed or approved by an authorized, non-Indian licensing authority.

The child also may be placed at an institution for children approved by a tribe or operated by an Indian organization with a program suitable to meet a child’s needs.

ICWA allows a child’s tribe to establish its own order of preference by resolution.

“Everybody everywhere looks for relatives first, whether it’s an Indian child or not,” Woods said. “It’s not about race. It has to do with the political standing of the tribe; tribes are sovereign. The Indian Child Welfare Act is about the sovereignty of the tribes.”

“And it’s about preserving the culture,” Lind said.

Lind said more foster homes are needed to make the right placements for the right children.

“Not all foster homes and not all foster parents are the right placement for all kids,” Lind said. “You’re always looking for more. We’d love to double the number of our homes.”

The lack of options doesn’t mean children aren’t being placed when need arises or there is overcrowding, Lind clarified. If a child is removed from a home on a police hold, a home is found.

A variety of factors contribute to the need to remove a child from a home and place him or her in foster care. A parent’s inability to care for a child financially, emotionally or physically are a few, as is neglect due to chemical dependency.

“In our area, alcohol and substance abuse is an ongoing issue,” Lind said.

“I would agree with Jeff, substance abuse has just skyrocketed,” Woods said.

Lind explained that because of jurisdiction, a person living on the Red Lake reservation would work with Red Lake Children and Family Services, and if a person lives in Bemidji, Beltrami County will take the case. However, Beltrami County staff works with Red Lake staff to find placement.

The collaborative recruitment project is an effort to recruit Native American foster families both on and off the Red Lake Indian Reservation. The county and Red Lake Family and Children Services will be distributing information about the project and foster parent qualifications at powwows, parades and other community events.

“The best recruitment efforts are word of mouth,” Woods said.

Potential parents can be married or single, own a home or rent an apartment, and as long as one person in the home is native, the home qualifies as an Indian home. Lind said it can take up to four months for a person to get licensed.

“It’s not something that happens overnight,” Lind said.

The greatest need is for families that are able to take sibling groups of three or more children. It is also difficult to find homes for teenagers, teen moms and their babies, and medically fragile youth.

“Foster parents are a rare breed,” Lind said. “They’re not in it for the money. They get by giving.”

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Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
(218) 333-9200 x343
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