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Foster-parenting rules may change for natives

Tipton, Bennet back background-check effort

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Native American children awaiting foster parents may have now to wait longer. The pool of eligible parents will be scrutinized a little closer.

On Monday afternoon, the Native American Children’s Safety Act sailed through Congress without opposition.

The bill requires criminal background checks for prospective foster parents before tribal courts assign them to children in need of care.

“Congressman Tipton supports this common-sense measure to better ensure the safety of foster children and families who go through the tribal court process,” said Joshua Green, communications director for U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., also was pleased by the passage of the bill’s counterpart in the Senate.

According to the National Indian Child Welfare Association, Native American children end up in foster care at a rate more than 2.1 times that of the general population and two to four times the expected level are awaiting adoption.

The bill also applies to those working in the foster-care facilities and any people living in the households where the children are to be placed.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports native populations experience violent crimes at a rate of more than twice that of the rest of the nation. They also experience much greater rates of poverty and unemployment.

In presenting the bill in the House on Monday, sponsor Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., thanked the National Indian Child Welfare Association and the National Congress of Native American Indians for their input.

“Their assistance proved invaluable in refining and improving this legislation as well as ensuring tribes are provided adequate flexibility as they transition to these new standards,” he said.

The bill does allow tribal social services to make exceptions for emergency placements.

Lawmakers were moved to act after whistleblowers from the Spirit Lake reservation in North Dakota reported that children were placed in homes with known sex offenders and that some had died in cases of severe abuse or neglect.

According to the Congressional Budget Office’s description of the Senate version of the bill, the measure would have no significant effect on the federal budget.

Tribal social services not already receiving federal foster-care payments could incur the cost of background-check fees payable to state and federal governments, but the CBO estimates those costs will fall well below the 77 million set aside in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act last year.

Mariam Baksh is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.

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