Legislation requiring all adults living in potential foster homes to undergo background checks before a Native American child can be placed there has passed Congress and is expected to be signed by President Barack Obama.
The bill, dubbed the Native American Children's Safety Act, was sponsored by North Dakota Republican Sen. John Hoeven and Rep. Kevin Cramer in their respective chambers. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., was a co-sponsor of the bill, which a news release issued this week said "implements protections for Native American children placed by tribal courts into the tribal foster care system."
The background checks cover criminal activity as well as state and tribal child abuse and "neglect registries," according to the news release. There is currently no requirement that Native American tribes conduct background checks on everyone living in a foster home.
Adults who join the household after the foster child is placed there would be required to go through a background check under the legislation, and foster homes would be required to undergo recertification periodically.
In an interview, Hoeven pointed to trouble on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation a few years ago as an impetus for the bill.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs announced in September 2012 that it would take over social service programs for the tribe, and critics at the time said the tribe had ignored reports of child abuse and neglect. In reviews, BIA teams had cited illegal foster care placements and a lack of criminal background checks on foster homes, according to Forum News Service.
"It really goes back to that period in 2012, 2013, when we were working on those problems," Hoeven said.
He was unsure when Obama might sign the bill and pointed out that the president is out of the country. He didn't anticipate any opposition from the president on the legislation.
"Native American children are more than two-and-a-half times more likely to be victims of abuse or neglect than other American children," Cramer said in a prepared statement. "The standards in this bill mirror existing national requirements for non-tribal foster care placements, ensuring tribal children receive care at least equal to the protections afforded non-tribal children."