Hoeven Presses Bureau of Indian Affairs Official to Ensure Protections are in Place for Children in Tribal Foster Care

WASHINGTON – At a U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing yesterday, Senator John Hoeven pressed Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Office of Justice Services Director Darren Cruzan to put protections in place to ensure the safety of children in the tribal foster care system.

Hoeven specifically urged Director Cruzan to outline steps the BIA would take to implement and enforce Hoeven’s legislation, the Native American Children’s Safety Act. The measure passed both the Senate and the House earlier this month. Hoeven is working to get the two versions of the bill reconciled and sent to the president for his signature.

“The Native American Children’s Safety Act will ensure that steps are taken to make sure children are safe with all of the adults in a foster home, not just the head of household,” Hoeven said. “It is vital that we provide this level of security for children living in foster care on the reservation, just as we do for all other children in foster homes. That can only happen if our federal officials enforce the requirements of our bill, and I look forward to working with BIA to that end.”

Senator Hoeven authored and introduced the Native American Children’s Safety Act to implement protections for Native American children placed by tribal courts into the tribal foster care system. Congressman Kevin Cramer then led the effort to get the legislation passed in the House.

Currently, there is no requirement that Native American tribes conduct background checks on everyone living in the foster care house, yet we have seen abuse and harm committed by adults living in the same foster care home as the children. 

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. Tribes also have the flexibility to require additional checks if they want.

In addition to Hoeven, the legislation is sponsored in the Senate by Indian Affairs Committee Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and cosponsored by Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). Hoeven worked on the legislation with tribes, the National Indian Child Welfare Association, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services- Administration for Children and Families.

Highlights of the Native American Child Safety Act:  

  • The bill 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 state and tribal 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 
  • Allows a tribe the flexibility for additional requirements that they determine necessary within its existing authority.
  • The bill sets out that the Department of Interior will work with Tribes to establish necessary procedures to ensure the safety of foster care children 
  • 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, follow these same requirements when acting on behalf of the Tribes