On March 29, officials from the Administration for Children and Family and the Department of Health and Human Services convened with me and other leaders from the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe to celebrate a momentous achievement.
PGST has become the first Tribe in the nation to receive federal approval to run its own Title IV-E program governing guardianship assistance, foster care, and adoption assistance. PGST now manages all social services under Title IV of the Social Security Act, including Child Welfare, Child Support, Child Care, and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.
It’s been a long road: federal legislation that allowed tribes to run their own Title IV-E programs was passed in 2008. Our Child & Family Services Department jumped on the opportunity the new legislation provided and began to move forward toward approval.
Nearly four years later, our program — again, the first in the country — is up and running and not a moment too soon. Foster care and adoption situations are complicated and sensitive by their very nature and federal and state agencies oversee hundreds of thousands of cases per year. Managing our own programs helps us to keep our children within the community and connected to their family and culture.
That’s where a tribal-run Title IV-E program can succeed. We’re now able to provide these services to tribal members on the reservation, resulting in a good number of practical benefits, including:
– Removing some of the burden from the Department of Health and Human Services. While our program is subject to federal oversight, we set our own regulations, which meet or exceed state and federal guidelines.
– More access. Before the launch of our program, families interested in or needing help with foster care, adoption, or guardianship issues had to visit a state-run office off the reservation. For some of our families, this was a real challenge. In addition, because of some of the conflicts of the past, there are members of our community who have concerns about dealing with outside agencies. In some cases, this resulted in families not signing up as foster parents for fear children they were already caring for might be removed from the home.
Having access to professionals on the reservation who can directly help with these issues removes a boundary and provides a better situation for families and children.
– More opportunities. With more access comes the potential for community members to be better educated on how they can get involved.
Since our program was launched, we’ve gone from three state-licensed foster care families to 18 tribally licensed families that are helping more than 25 children. All of this means one very important thing: more of our children are able to stay in tribal families near friends and extended family.
– Address culturally sensitive issues. It’s logistically unrealistic to task state and federal agencies with handling the various cultural differences within tribes while following their rigorous guidelines. Our program has been built with cultural identity in mind so we encourage common family practices.
In the end, here’s the only thing that matters: we can now offer better care for children in out-of-home care on the reservation. We cannot afford to lose any of our children in the child welfare system. By maintaining our own program, we’re able to increase monthly stipend payments to foster families and provide expanded services, such as educational resources, direct access to case workers, and weekly meetings with mental health counselors.
We want our families to succeed. By running our own foster care and guardianship program, we’re able to better respond to the needs of our community and its children.
— Jeromy Sullivan is chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe.