Hoeven: Indian Affairs Committee Holds Hearing on Native American Children's Safety Act

WASHINGTON – At a hearing of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee today, Senator John Hoeven was joined by Spirit Lake Tribal Chairman Leander R. McDonald to testify in support of Hoeven’s Native American Children’s Safety Act, legislation to implement protections for Native American children placed by tribal courts into the tribal foster care system. 

“Children, both on and off the reservation, deserve a safe home environment,” said Hoeven. “The Native American Children’s Safety Act sets heightened standards for ensuring that homes are safe for Native American children in the foster care system. We appreciate Spirit Lake Chairman McDonald testifying in behalf of this important legislation that will help to protect children.”

In addition to Hoeven, the legislation is sponsored by Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and cosponsored by Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.).

Currently, Native American tribes do not have uniform minimum procedures and guidelines when a Native American child is placed in foster care under the direction of a tribal court. Procedures and guidelines vary from tribe to tribe, with standards at some tribes being more rigorous than others. Unfortunately, some Native American children in the tribal foster care system have needed protections that have not been afforded them.

The Native American Children’s Safety Act requires background checks to be conducted on all adults living in a potential foster home before a tribal court may place a child in that home. The check would include a national criminal records check and a review of child abuse or neglect registries in any state in which the individual under review has lived in the preceding five years. A background check would also be required of any adult who moves into the home after placement. To ensure the ongoing safety of children placed in foster care, a certified home would be periodically subject to another round of checks before it could be recertified.

Highlights of the Native American Children’s Safety Act:

  • Applies to tribal foster care placement of Native American children for the purpose of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of those children
  • Requires that all prospective foster care parents and adults living in the home undergo a background check prior to the placement of a Native American foster care child
  • Requires that background checks include checking for criminal activity as well as checking child abuse and neglect registries
  • Requires that adults who join the household after the foster care child has been placed there also undergo background checks
  • Requires that foster care homes undergo recertification periodically, to ensure they remain safe for foster care children
  • The bill sets out that the Department of Interior will work with Tribes, as well as Indian Country, to establish necessary procedures to ensure that these safety standards for foster care children are established

The bill requires the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which currently does not conduct these background checks in every case when placing Native American foster care children in foster care homes, to follow these same requirements when acting on behalf of the Tribes.