Kansas lawmaker advocates for increased safeguards for Native American children in the state welfare system

According to Rep. Christina Haswood, implementing additional regulations for Native American children custody cases can lead to improved outcomes in the state’s child welfare system.

Lawrence Democrat Rep. Christina Haswood, a member of the Navajo Nation, is pushing for the inclusion of indigenous rights in Kansas’ child welfare system. Her aim is to address the longstanding racial and cultural disparities that have plagued the system, thereby reducing inequality.

She aimed to introduce a state version of the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law enacted in 1978 with the purpose of ensuring that Native American children are placed with Native American families.

The federal act was enacted in response to the removal of Native American children from their families and placement in non-indigenous households. Unfortunately, Native children continue to be overrepresented in the foster care system, both at the local and federal levels, and often experience lengthy stays in foster care.

President Joe Biden’s health administration at the federal level has proposed a rule change that would mandate states to furnish additional data in child welfare cases connected to the Indian Child Welfare Act.

H aswood is seeking the necessary requirements for custody proceedings that involve Native American children. House Bill 2772 aims to grant jurisdiction to the child’s Indian tribe for such proceedings and mandates that courts prioritize placing Native American children with their respective tribes.

According to Haswood, around 17 states, including Oklahoma, Colorado, and Nebraska, have their own specific ICWA. The implementation of the federal ICWA can be traced back to addressing historical injustices, such as the forceful removal of native children from their homes by the federal government. These children were often assimilated into white mainstream culture through adoption by white families or enrollment in boarding schools.

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State versions of the act strive to enhance protections, particularly in response to legal challenges against the federal law.

During a bill hearing on February 19th, Haswood emphasized that the purpose of HB2772 is not to bring about significant changes, but rather to provide a designated place for the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) within our state statutes.

Haswood emphasized the importance of ensuring that every native child who faces unfortunate circumstances understands that there is a system actively advocating for their right to culture and heritage.

Inspired by Nebraska’s ICWA, the bill includes other provisions that aim to establish guidelines for proceedings involving an Indian child. State courts will be mandated to declare standards for these proceedings and provide notice to all parties involved.

According to a recent state audit conducted in 2021, it was discovered that Native American children faced a lower probability (approximately 25% less) of being reunited with their parents compared to white children in foster care. Additionally, they were more likely to be transferred to another agency. Furthermore, the audit revealed that black and Native American children in Kansas had a higher likelihood of reaching emancipation age as compared to white children in foster care.

The Kansas Department for Children and Families did not take a stance on HB2772, but they did highlight the importance of supporting tribal relations within the state.

According to the testimony, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) acknowledges the ongoing and important interest of sovereign tribal nations in their children. The department also affirms its support for the federal policy of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which aims to safeguard the best interests of Indian children and uphold the stability and security of Indian tribes and families. The ICWA sets minimum federal standards to prevent unjustified and unnecessary separation of Indian children from their families and tribes.

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Several lawyers expressed their disagreement with the legislation, emphasizing the need for more time and careful consideration of the matter. Scott Nehrbass, a partner at Foulston Siefkin law firm and a member of the Cherokee Nation, highlighted that legal initiatives are already in progress to establish a standardized state ICWA.

According to Nehrbass, it would be wise for Kansas to refrain from taking any drastic actions and instead wait for the legal experts to conduct their research. Only after a comprehensive and well-reasoned piece of uniform legislation has been formulated should Kansas consider adopting it as a state law. This cautious approach ensures that any potential conflicts with the existing federal ICWA statute, regulations, and case law are avoided, and uncertainty in the law is not created.

A Kansas lawmaker is advocating for increased safeguards for Native American children within the state’s welfare system. This call for action aims to ensure the well-being and protection of these vulnerable individuals. The post, originally published on Kansas Reflector, highlights the importance of addressing the specific needs and challenges faced by Native American children in the welfare system.

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