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A National Public Radio series on Native American foster care in South Dakota has prompted the Interior Department’s Office of Indian Affairs to request a summit between federal, state and tribal officials.

The NPR series alleged that the state has violated the federal Indian Child Welfare Act by removing too many Native American children from their homes and placing them with non-Native families. According to the NPR report, 90 percent of Native American children that are removed from their homes each year in South Dakota are sent to foster care in non-Native homes or group homes. Federal law requires that Native children be placed with relatives or with Native American foster families, except in unusual circumstances.

South Dakota officials have called the NPR series inaccurate, unfair and biased.

Kim Malsam-Rysdon, secretary of the state Department of Social Services, said the state has nothing to hide and welcomed the chance to explain its Native American foster care program.

“We are very confident that South Dakota is in compliance with federal law in this area, and we really do welcome the opportunity for the federal government and others to understand just how that federal law is being implemented in our state,” Malsam-Rysdon said.

NPR also claimed Gov. Dennis Daugaard had a conflict of interest because of his work as lieutenant governor for Children’s Home Society of South Dakota, which has received millions of dollars from the state for housing Native American children.

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The governor’s office has disputed NPR’s reporting, pointing out that the Children’s Home Society had contracts with the state long before Daugaard became the organization’s chief operating officer in 2002.

Native American foster care is a sensitive issue, and a summit among federal, state and tribal officials should give South Dakota the chance to present the facts surrounding its foster care program and clarify its compliance with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act.

The summit can’t hurt, and it might lead to improvements in the state’s foster care program that will better serve Native American children and their families.

 

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