Pala Band takes steps to improve placement of foster children

Robert Smith serves as chairman of the Pala Band of Mission Indians in California. Photo from California Native American Day / Facebook

The Pala Band of Mission Indians in California is strengthening its child welfare system.

As part of a new program in the state, the tribe will conduct background checks on all adults in a potential foster home. Criminal history and child abuse will be obtained from the California Department of Justice.

Additionally, the tribe said it was the first to apply for a new Bureau of Indian Affairs program. Through Purpose Code X, the agency's Office of Justice Services will be on-call 24 hours a day to assist with background checks of adults in foster homes.

"We are very excited to be a part of this momentous change to protect our Native youth in the welfare system," Chairman Robert Smith said in a press release. "For years, Native American children have been placed in homes that do not reflect their cultural heritage and placed with foster parents who have not had their criminal history thoroughly vetted because the tribe was not allowed to conduct these background checks. Now we can certify tribal homes that are prepared to care for these children in a timely manner and ensure that Native American children are maturing in an appropriate environment."

The state program was authorized by Senate Bill 1460, which was signed into law in September 2014. In addition to the background check provision, it recognizes tribal authority to approve foster homes under the Indian Child Welfare Act.

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