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Forget NPR-Daugaard Political Battle: Is SD’s Foster Care System Working?

The dish has come. Yesterday NPR broadcast part two of its investigative report on the failure of South Dakota's foster care system to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act. After focusing in part one on what appears to be systemic racism and the objectification of Indian children as a cash cow for the state, reporters Laura Sullivan and Amy Walters turn to the role of Dennis Daugaard and the Children's Home Society in that culturally destructive machine.

In the report, Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington calls Daugaard's work in reversing Children's Home Society's financial fortunes during his tenure as CHS executive director and South Dakota lieutenant governor "a massive conflict of interest." The governor wouldn't talk to Sullivan and Walters, but in his pre-emptive strike against the report, Daugaard contends that there simply were no other bidders to provide the foster care services that South Dakota has essentially privatized over the past decade. He also denies any improper overlap of his part-time lieutenant-governor duties and his full-time CHS exec duties.

As much as I would enjoy turning the phrase that Daugaard put the loot in lieutenant governor, I honestly do not find the second part of the NPR report anywhere near as interesting or compelling as the first part. I am disappointed that the initial response from the governor's office has focused on playing political defense instead of telling us whether our foster care system really is unfairly targeting Native children. Perhaps that response comes from the governor's people only knowing about the conflict-of-interest angle of the story ahead of time. But the governor's people might have learned more about that really important side of the story if the governor himself had talked with the reporters, or if he had talked with his director of child protection services Virgena Wieseler and Social Services Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon, who spoke to the reporters on the main issues in part one.

I don't want to see a blog war break out on the political side of this story. I don't want this very important story to devolve into "Bill Clay" whining that the Legislature should defund public radio. Whether Daugaard had a conflict of interest in his CHS work doesn't amount to a fart in a thunderstorm compared to these questions:

  1. Why is South Dakota placing only 13% of Native foster children in Native homes while the Indian Child Welfare Act mandates such placement in all but exceptional circumstances?
  2. 53% of the kids in South Dakota's foster care system come from the tribes. If we sent 53% of the federal money our foster care system gets back to the reservations, wouldn't that go a long way toward helping those communities provide services for those children?
  3. Do we need a separate division of Native Social Services, with child advocates who handle nothing but reservation cases?
  4. Do we need to create a separate tiospaye-based system where all Native child referrals and placements are handled entirely by their extended families and communities?
  5. Are such Native-based solutions already trying and failing? Is the current system, racist warts and all, the best we can do in a sad world of poverty, violence, and drug abuse where the tribes really can't take care of their own children? In other words, have we already vanquished Native culture, and is our only option now to sweep up the mess... and the children?
Stay tuned for Part 3 from NPR this afternoon.


  1. Charlie Johnson 2011.10.27

    Thanks Cory for the proper thought. Let's hope that things change for the better.

  2. Elisa 2011.10.27

    I think a native-based social service department would be a great start to addressing this situation in the state -- at the very least there should be Native American social workers who are dedicated to handling the cases that concern Native American families. Tribal authorities should be able to determine the welfare of their children. If state authorities hear a concern, it should be investigated in cooperation with this native-based department.

    If need be there should be a sincere effort to place these children in native american homes or there should be native-based foster care homes for temporary placement so they can continue to learn about their cultures, maintain a connection with their parents and extended families and retain the knowledge about their culture that they are losing.

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