On December 14th, the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) hosted its first Indian Child Welfare Task Force meeting.  This gathering brought together inter-tribal and state agencies with a focus on respecting the government-to-government relationship the State of Oklahoma has with each of the 38 federally recognized tribal nations headquartered in our state.
The primary aspects the task force focused on were: (1) discussing matters affecting Indian Child Welfare, (2) increasing technical awareness for tribes to adopt and maintain statistics and data with a goal towards accurately tracking information about Native populations and (3) identifying needs around administrative issues that negatively impact the placement of Native American youth throughout Oklahoma.
After five hours of discussion and collaboration, the task force produced several recommendations and major policy areas that need improvement within the categories of education, social justice and health care.
Some of those recommendations and policy areas are:

  1. Creating Tribal Courts for kids, overseen by tribal membership, that divert children away from the juvenile justice system and towards rehabilitation resources available through either the Oklahoma Department of Human Services or tribal resources;
  2. Nation to Nation agreements, along with further cooperative agreements between the state of Oklahoma and specific nations to improve data (especially electronic data) and information sharing regarding child social services;
  3. Tribal Languages taught in schools as curriculum to ensure preservation of tribal knowledge and culture;
  4. Funding mental health services at an earlier age and in partnership with tribal nations so as to maximize opportunities for better health care outcomes;
  5. Exploring the possibility of transferring individuals within the state corrections system to tribal jurisdiction should there be a program in place which meets suitable criteria under criminal justice reform measures. Transfer to tribal jurisdictions could reduce the burden on the state corrections system and allow the tribes to work with their own membership for treatment and counseling;
  6. Oklahoma state employees, agents of the court and law enforcement need to be trained on agreements, policies, sovereignty issues and compact details for a better understanding of how to deal with Oklahomans who have tribal membership;
  7. Tribes need state Medicaid reform and enhanced partnerships through agreements to better improve federal reimbursement for coverage and assist the state government with these costs.;
  8. SNAP, medical records, and other information should be shared through binding confidentiality agreements to allow both state and tribal governments to better serve their constituents;
  9. Foster parent payment should be restored to assist with the cost of helping these families who take in children to provide better opportunities;
  10. Excused absence for tribal events should be allowed from schools to help preserve heritage of student-aged members, as well as accurate information regarding statehood day events and how this impacted tribal members during those times;
  11. Continuing Legal Educations classes for members of the legal community to better understand sovereignty issues within Oklahoma’s judicial system;
  12. UNITY and other youth programs should receive greater recognition and work with schools to better provide opportunities for tribal youth to gain leadership experiences; and
  13. Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting (AFCAR) statistics should break down to tribes individually, when possible.

OICA looks forward to working with our legislators, state agencies and tribal departments to find ways to improve services for all the children of our state, including those with tribal membership. We will continue to keep our readers updated on solutions we are able to achieve through this and other initiatives.

By OICA CEO Joe Dorman