Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Governor's office calls NPR foster care report flawed; congressmen seek review

Kevin Woster

Staffers for Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Monday attacked a National Public Radio report critical of state child-protection programs that remove Native American children from their homes for foster-care placement, saying NPR was biased and inaccurate in its reporting.

But two members of the U.S. House of Representatives thought the NPR report was valid enough to call for an investigation into whether those South Dakota child protection policies and practices with Native American families violate federal law.

U. S. Reps. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Dan Boren, D-Okla., sent a letter to Larry Echo Hawk, assistant secretary of the Interior Department for Indian Affairs, calling for the investigation. They allege, as the NPR report implies, that South Dakota violates the Indian Child Welfare Act, a law that directs officials to place Native American children removed from homes with their relatives or tribes, except in unusual situations.

That is not being done in South Dakota, according to the NPR investigation.

"If the information on the NPR article is accurate, it would appear that the state of South Dakota has failed not only to abide by the mandates of federal law but also failed its Indian children, their families and their tribes by violating the letter and spirit of ICWA," Markey and Boren said in the letter.

They added that Native American children were being placed in non-Indian homes or group care at "alarming rates," for what "appears to be for profit."

The state gets federal financial assistance for each child removed from the home.

The NPR investigative report also alleges conflicts of interest in Daugaard's work for Children's Home Society of South Dakota when he was lieutenant governor. Children's Home Society received millions of dollars for housing Native children under contracts with the state awarded without competitive bid, a practice that has been used and criticized in other professional service areas.

Daugaard staffers have said the governor did not use political connections to get the contracts, which they say Children's Home Society was highly qualified to receive.

Daugaard's staff issued statements critical of the NPR report even before it was aired. The staffers followed up Monday with seven pages of detailed rebuttals to the NPR report and allegations of inaccuracies and bias.

Daugaard senior aide Tony Venhuizen said Monday that it was unfortunate that two members of Congress representing other states didn't contact South Dakota officials before seeking an investigation into allegations about the state.

"These congressmen based their letter on an NPR report that was deeply flawed," Venhuizen said. "It's really too bad that they took this step without even asking the Department of Social Services or anyone in South Dakota for the facts."

None of South Dakota's three congressional members would comment Monday on the NPR report or on the call for an investigation by Markey and Boren. Staffers for Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., said they needed to learn more before responding.


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