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'A historic leap forward': ND tribes sign updated agreement with state over child welfare services

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Signing ceremony

Leaders from North Dakota's five tribes were at the state Capitol Friday for a ceremonial signing of a new agreement with the state over child welfare services. All the tribes except the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, which signed an agreement with South Dakota, signed the agreements. At the podium are Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Mike Faith and state Department of Human Services Executive Director Chris Jones.

The leaders of four American Indian tribes in North Dakota have signed a new agreement with the state over federal funding for child welfare services, including allowing tribes to license foster care parents on and off reservations.

Leaders from all five North Dakota tribes attended a ceremonial signing Friday at the state Capitol. Four tribal leaders signed the agreement, which hadn't been updated in 36 years. The Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate has signed a similar agreement in South Dakota.

"Today marks another historic leap forward in state-tribal relations," North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said. "It's a big leap forward in terms of services for children and families from our tribal nations."

The agreement involves funding under Title IV-E of the Social Services Act. Title IV-E gives money to states and tribes for foster care, transitional independent living programs, and guardianship and adoption programs and services. Tribes can access Title IV-E funding through an agreement with states.

Indian Affairs Commissioner Scott Davis said state and tribal officials began working on revising the Title IV-E agreement after issues arose four years ago between the state and Spirit Lake Nation regarding Title IV-E funding and licensing foster care parents both on and off the reservation.

Those issues were resolved, but Davis said officials at that time also discussed updating the Title IV-E agreement.

"When we looked at this agreement years ago we knew it needed revisions, we knew it needed updates that would ultimately benefit our tribal children," Davis said.

The new agreement gives the tribes the ability to license foster care parents on and off the reservation, according to Dean Sturn, state foster care administrator. Previously, tribes could license foster care parents only on tribal lands, he said.

"(The new agreement) will absolutely increase the number of Native American foster homes we have in the state," Sturn said.

This is important, Sturn said, because Native American children are overrepresented in North Dakota's foster care system, with Native children representing 35% to 40% of children in the system.

And the number of Native American children in the state's foster care system has been increasing in recent years. Data presented at a meeting involving state and county officials last fall showed the rate of Native children in foster care increased 68% from 2012 to 2017.

"The need for us to look at this disproportionality, this (agreement) is going to be one of the things we can do to help with that," Sturn said.

The updated agreement with the tribes also reflects changes under the federal Family First Prevention Services Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law last year.

Sturn called the Family First Prevention Services Act "the biggest federal legislation for child welfare in 30 years," with additional federal funding under Title IV-E for prevention services to keep children out of foster care.

North Dakota tribes now have access to federal funding for these prevention services, which include parent aide services, respite services and family counseling, according to Sturn.

Tribal leaders on Friday lauded the collaboration with the state in drafting the new agreement. Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Chairman Mark Fox said collaboration with the state is key to building resources for tribes.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Mike Faith also said tribal-state agreements are vital to improving outcomes for Native children.

"Coming to a common ground for the future of our young ones, the betterment of our young ones, that's what we need to look forward to," Faith said.

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or


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