The crisis of Indian children in Minnesota
10/10/2014 11:06 AM
"Terrified by the size, shape and color of the monster" - Phil Norgaard, talking about drug addictions on reservations, at the Summit on the Crisis of Indian Children in Minnesota
David Glesener is a Child Protection Supervisor for St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services. He attended the Native American Children in Crisis Summit and wrote the following:
Our Child Protection staff has initiated a number of innovative and promising practices in working with children in families in danger of having their children removed because of abuse or neglect. We have dedicated staff that very quickly, in the life of a case, pull family members together to develop a safety plan so that if possible children can remain safely in their homes. If safety cannot be ensured, we have used Signs of Safety methods to partner with parents to work to resolve issues so that children can return home and not linger in foster care. Our county’s efforts in practice have received recognition from the Department of Human Services and from other counties in Minnesota for the level of practice and expertise of our social workers.
Our South St. Louis County Office has an Indian Child Welfare Unit especially trained to work only with American Indian Families with the intent of becoming quite skilled in American Indian culture and American Indian Resources. The North Office has the same setup with specially designated Indian Child Welfare workers. Part of the expectations of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is that “active efforts” be used with American Indian families -this is a level of service and effort above “reasonable efforts.” Our belief is that we use active efforts with many families in addition to ICWA families.
In spite of these efforts the number of children in placement has been steadily rising. As of this week, we have 540 children in out of home care, up from less than 500 two years ago. The percentage of those in care that are American Indian has also been rising and is at 40% - up from 30% two years ago. The numbers are similar in counties across Minnesota.
The situation is truly epidemic for American Indian families and tribes. Because of the alarming statistics and stories of family disruption tribes and bands across Minnesota pulled together the Summit on the Crisis of Indian Children in Minnesota, held on the Bois Forte Reservation on September 25 to discuss what is happening and what can be done. Tribal and County leaders from across the state were invited. A strong focus of the summit was on the sharp increase in drug use on reservations and in Indian families. Child Protection Intake units in St. Louis County have experienced a sharp increase in child maltreatment due to drug use for all races but the statistics for Indian families are the most severe.
Speaker after speaker at the Summit spoke of drugs on the reservations, especially heroine and opioids. They spoke of some of the things tribes have learned about addiction and treatment and efforts that tribes are using. There was a call for all of us to work together to address this epidemic. This Summit was intended to be a first meeting with several to follow. The next will be at Mille Lacs Band of Ojibway in the near future. St. Louis County plans to be a part of joining with the tribes in working toward solutions for the welfare of children.