Indian Affairs Committee Approves Hoeven's Native American Children's Safety Act

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven today announced that the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has approved the Native American Children’s Safety Act, legislation he authored to implement protections for Native American children placed by tribal courts into the tribal foster care system. 

“Today’s committee hearing was an important step in moving the Native American Children’s Safety Act through the Senate,” said Hoeven. “We’ll now work to bring this bill before the full Senate for approval. We need to pass this legislation to ensure that children are protected and that we have safeguards in place to improve the tribal foster care system.”

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. The legislation is cosponsored by Indian Affairs Committee Vice Chairman Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

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.

Currently, the procedures tribal courts use when placing Native American children in foster care vary significantly from one tribe to another.

Highlights of the Native American Children’s 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 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