WE to provide its own child protection, welfare
On April 3, the State of Minnesota reached final agreement with the White Earth Tribal Council for White Earth to begin taking over child welfare/protection services from Becker County for eligible children and families living on the reservation.
"It really is an historic event," says Nancy Nelson, director of Becker County Human Services.
For White Earth, it means the children and families eligible for services under the American Indian Child Welfare Initiative will be served by those who have a better understanding of their cultural and legal needs.
For Becker County, it will mean not only a lessening of the workload for BCHS social workers whose caseload is already "more than they should be expected to do," but also a financial savings.
"We figured (based on February statistics) that we would save about $67,000 a month for out of home placement," Nelson said. Overall savings, including other services such as family preservation, are still unknown, she added.
Currently, there are 91 children (in 40 families) whose cases are handled by Becker County that are eligible for transfer to WEICW. About 45 of those or roughly 50 percent, involve out of home placement.
While the agreement was just executed this month, this process has really been a couple of years in the making, Nelson noted.
"It began when the State Legislature set aside some money for tribal bands to take over their own child welfare/protection services," she said.
This process, known as the American Indian Child Welfare Initiative, took many months of effort to set up, as there were both state and federal requirements that needed to be met.
Over the next nine months, BCHS will gradually transfer jurisdiction of eligible cases to White Earth Indian Child Welfare.
"The next nine months will be a transitional period," Nelson said.
Cases eligible for transfer would include children and families who are enrolled members, or eligible to become enrolled members, of the White Earth tribe and are currently living on the White Earth Indian Reservation.
For tribal families not currently living on the reservation, cases would continue to be handled jointly by WEICW and BCHS, as they have been in the past.
According to Nelson, her office has agreed to transfer over to WEICW a minimum of five eligible cases per month involving out of home placement of children, and roughly five cases per week that do not involve placement outside the home.
"If we can transfer more than that, we will," she said, but added that transferring the paperwork alone is a time-consuming process.
Ultimately, however, Nelson believes it will be worth the effort for everyone involved.
(Vicki Gerdes can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)