#8: Helping Government Hear Directly from Tribal Youth
The Imprint is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program, a group of 11 former foster youths who have completed congressional internships.
The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Each of the participants crafted a policy recommendation during their time in Washington, D.C.
Today we highlight the recommendation of Shanell Lavallie, a teacher and graduate of Salish Kootenai.
Congress should establish an advisory board to advise the U.S. Children’s Bureau on effective strategies for reducing the disproportionate number of Indigenous children and youth who enter the child welfare system. A report should be issued every two years on how tribal youth are doing in the child welfare system, fueled in part by the results of an annual survey of tribal youth in foster care.
While we have been separated from the horrific days of Indian Residential Schools for decades now, Lavallie writes, Indigenous youth are wildly overrepresented in child welfare systems; 11 states, she notes, include these youth in foster care at twice the rate their population total would suggest.
The need to address this, she says, would be easier to see if there was more data collected, on a regular basis, by states. And the Children’s Bureau would be better equipped to steer policy on tribal families if it was advised regularly by tribal leaders and foster youth.
In Their Own Words
“Many of my Indigenous peers have endured trauma, sometimes in the child welfare system, yet through resilience and determination, they are trying to thrive in today’s world. To ensure similar opportunities for all Indigenous youth, tribal communities must have the power to decide what is best for our children’s welfare, and the child welfare system must also honor our cultures and values.”
The Imprint’s Take
Lavallie was removed into foster care at one, and aged out at 18 with what she describes as “little connection to my culture and tribal community.” It was only through her own efforts as an adult that she reconnected with the culture; that opportunity should long have been available to her in some way while in care.
Despite the fact that the Indian Child Welfare Act has mandated special efforts to keep tribal families together since 1978, there has never been any federal mandate to collect information specific to cases that fall under the law. After several delays, that should change in the near future, with new quantitative data elements required under the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, or AFCARS.
But numbers can only get you so far. Lavallie’s suggestions of a dedicated advisory council, and some form of qualitative information coming straight from the voices of tribal youth, are good ones.