For Years, Tribes Were Left Out Of Federal Foster Care Funding. That's Finally Changing.
Foster parent Alyssa Preciado describes her day to day as a bit of a zoo.
"I have two adopted sons and I currently have three foster children," said Preciado.
Preciado is a member of the Pascua Yaqui tribe. She said she likes being a foster parent here because it helps keep more of the tribe’s kids in a home where their culture is practiced. But as a single parent, making ends meet can sometimes be a challenge.
"Everything goes up. The food, the electricity's up, my water," Preciado explained. "So it's not easy. It's not inexpensive. It is more expensive."
Right now the tribe spends about $570,000 dollars a year to reimburse their foster parents for expenses. For Preciado that works out to $159 a week per child. The goal though is to double that, but doing so will require the Pascua Yaqui tribe to qualify for a federal child welfare program known as Title IV E.
But the tribe isn’t there yet. Before their application can be considered complete, their child services department has to meet a set of 200 requirements. Something tribal officials have been working on for about two and a half years now.
"Some of them are minor things that we’ve already had in place for the tribe," said Johanna Farmer, the manager of the Pascua Yaqui child services program. "And some of them are more strenuous requirements that we just haven’t had in place or haven’t been able to implement."
Farmer explained that originally Title IV E reimbursed states for things like training and recruiting, and to help reimburse foster parents. It was created in the 1990s, but for years tribal child welfare agencies weren’t allowed to apply. That's despite Native American children entering foster care systems at double the rate of all American kids, nationwide.
Title IV E became available to tribes in 2008, but getting approved has been a slow process for many applicants. Since then, just seven applications have been approved, with some taking up to six years to finalize. Joe Bock with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families, the federal agency that administers IV E, said the interest among tribes is starting to grow.
"We’ve been told that many of the tribes are waiting to see how these first tribes, how it’s working for them," Bock explained.
Bock acknowledged the progress in the beginning was slow but he contended, "It’s very complex. Tribes are much smaller programs and while they are capable, competent service providers, they don’t have nearly the infrastructure that a state has in order to put in place all of the administrative requirements."
Before 2008, ACF only worked with states. And David Simmons with the National Indian Child Welfare Association argued the process of learning how to work with tribes and their highly diverse cultural traditions involved a steep learning curve for everyone.
"In the beginning, there were a number of tribes that were very unhappy," he said. "With the kinds of technical assistance and the timeliness in which that technical assistance was delivered."
Lately though, Simmons said he has seen some improvement, thanks in part to more staff at ACF dedicated to tribal IV E partnerships. Meaning the 27 tribes with open applications right now could see a faster approval process than some of the early adopters.
"What we haven’t seen is a real significant increase in the number of staff who are actually native and staff who have had Indian child welfare experience," Simmons added.
Simmons said meeting the hundreds of program requirements has been tough for some tribes. One of the problems is a lack of funding. But ACF said it has requested more funding in the 2017 federal budget to help interested tribes develop the necessary infrastructure.
As for the Pascua Yaqui tribe, it’s nearly finished meeting the 200 requirements. And program coordinator Johanna Farmer says, in the end it will all be worth it.