NPR Releases a Three-part Investigative Report on the Current State of the Indian Child Welfare Act in Nebraska and South Dakota

John Poole/NPR

Last week National Public Radio (NPR) released a three-part, yearlong, investigative report focusing on Native American children in the child welfare systems of South Dakota and Nebraska. Specifically, the piece dealing with Nebraska follows the story of Dwayne Stenstrom who is now a history professor at Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Stenstrom lived on the Winnebago Reservation until 1968 when he was removed from his family’s home and placed with a white foster family in Ainsworth, Nebraska. In the report, Stenstrom discusses his struggle to understand his cultural identity as a Native American growing up in a white home.

The NPR report describes some of the difficulties that many Native American children face on a daily basis. The report also discusses the apparent lack of compliance with the federal and state Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).

The ICWA provides requirements which are designed to protect tribal sovereignty through preserving Native American familial connections, ensuring the vitality of Native American culture, and reducing the rates of Native American children in out-of-home placement. However, the problems that prompted Congress to pass the ICWA in 1978 are still glaringly apparent in Nebraska:

    • Nebraska ranks as the 3rd highest state in the country for the greatest disproportionality of Native American children in the foster care system.
    • Thurston County, home to the Winnebago and Omaha reservations in Nebraska, ranked # 1 for the highest rate of foster care removals in the state.
    • As of 2009 Native Americans made up 1.1% of Nebraska’s population but account for 7.6% of the children in the foster care system.

Appleseed is deeply concerned about the gross disproportionality of Native American children in Nebraska’s child welfare system. This is and has been a priority issue for Appleseed as we continue to work with members of the Nebraska ICWA Coalition, a group of tribal representatives and advocates working to improve ICWA compliance in the state. The efforts of the Coalition have included filing amicus briefs before the Nebraska Supreme Court in ICWA cases, providing trainings on ICWA compliance, recruiting and training tribal members to serve as qualified expert witnesses in ICWA cases, and compiling a list of culturally appropriate services. However, more work remains to be done on this critical child welfare, civil rights, and family issue.

The NPR report is in print and podcast form here.
A recent study of racial disproportionality in foster care placement can be found here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *