Law | National

Stephanie Woodard: An Indian Child Welfare Act scandal unfolds





"In a basement interrogation room in South Dakota, agents of the state’s Department of Criminal Investigation were on the firing line. A group of Native American children were claiming sexual and physical abuse by their white adoptive parents, whose home they first entered as foster children.

South Dakota was already under Congressional scrutiny for the high number of Native children it takes from their homes and tribes and then places, for the most part, with white foster families or in white-run group homes—seemingly to claim a higher share of federal foster care funding. Though Native children make up about 13 percent of South Dakota’s child population, they are typically more than 50 percent of those in care, according to federal figures.

The state’s response to the Native children’s accusations against their white parents offers a rare look into South Dakota’s foster care system, which places 9 in 10 Native children in state foster care with white families or white-run group homes. The state’s actions also raise questions about the commitment of officials to protect Native children taken from their natural families, particularly when homes that are presented as safe havens turn into places of abuse.

Startlingly, the agents who summoned the children to the interrogation that day in November 2011 were working hard to get the youngsters to recant their abuse claims. State officials also brought charges against the deputy state’s attorney and a child welfare advocate, Brandon Taliaferro and Shirley Schwab, who moved to stop the abuse. Their trial on charges of getting the children to lie about the abuse is set for January 7, 2013.

That day, Sheriff’s deputies had taken the children out of school, court records show, and brought them to the basement room, with its table, chairs, one-way mirror, and recording equipment. One by one, the children faced Agent Mark Black of the Department of Criminal Investigations and a partner. The children were each alone, without an adult present on their behalf."

Get the Story:
Stephanie Woodard: Rough Justice in Indian Child Welfare (100 Reporters 1/2)

Related Stories:
Native Sun News: Tribes document ICWA woes in South Dakota (12/05)
NPR: Tribes take on state and BIA in Indian child welfare battle (12/03)
Report outlines Indian Child Welfare Act woes in South Dakota (11/30)