Native American Children's Safety Act clears last hurdle on Capitol Hill

Indian children in South Dakota. Photo from Lakota People's Law Project / Facebook

A bill to protect Native children who are in foster care is on its way to President Barack Obama for his signature.

S.184, the Native American Children's Safety Act, requires background checks of all adults in a tribal foster home. The checks must be completed before a child is placed in the home.

“Protecting Native children is paramount,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said in a press release. “Requiring background checks for potential foster care parents of Indian children is just common sense."

“Our bill ensures that Native American children living on reservations have all of the same protections when assigned to foster care that children living off the reservation have,” added Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), who introduced S.184 in January 2015. “The measure requires background checks for all adults living in a foster home, which will help to protect children placed there at an already difficult time in their lives.”

The Senate passed S.184 nearly a year ago, on June 1, 2015. A companion version, H.R.1168, cleared the House that same day in a rare act of unity on Capitol Hill.

But both chambers did not technically approve the same measure. So the House took action to pass S.184 by a voice vote on Monday.

"Passage of S. 184 is a critical first step toward ensuring that Indian children are placed in safe, secure, and loving homes within their tribal communities," Rep. Paul Cook (R-California) said on the House floor.

According to Hoeven's office, the background checks must be undertaken by tribal social service agencies or the Bureau of Indian Affairs in those situations where the BIA acts on behalf of tribes.

The BIA has already started to help tribes with background checks in response to concerns raised by tribes and members of Congress like Hoeven. A series of deaths and abuse cases on the Spirit Lake Nation in North Dakota were linked to homes where adults with criminal records were living.

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