Home Part of States Newsroom
News
Senate sends bill creating Indian Child Advisory Council to governor’s desk

Share

Senate sends bill creating Indian Child Advisory Council to governor’s desk

Feb 26, 2024 | 6:00 pm ET
By Annie Todd
Share
Senate sends bill creating Indian Child Advisory Council to governor’s desk
Description
Jewel Bruner holds her 10-month-old granddaughter Emma on the patio of her home in Eagle Butte on Sept. 20, 2023. (Samantha Laurey/Argus Leader)

PIERRE — A bill to create an Indian Child Advisory Council passed the South Dakota Senate in a 31-1 vote on Monday and now heads to Gov. Kristi Noem’s desk for her consideration.

House Bill 1232 would bring together stakeholders from the Department of Social Services, South Dakota’s nine tribes, members of the Legislature, and child welfare experts annually to have formal conversations about the welfare of Native American children in the state’s foster care system. Part of the group’s work will also involve finding solutions to the disproportionate number of Native children in foster care.

A six-month joint investigation by South Dakota Searchlight and the Argus Leader following last year’s legislative session explored the causes, effects and potential solutions to the decades-long overrepresentation of Native American children in South Dakota’s foster care system. Native American children accounted for nearly 74% of the foster care system in June 2023, despite accounting for only 13% of the state’s overall child population.

The Lost Children

Read The Lost Children, a series exploring the causes, effects and potential solutions to the decades-long overrepresentation of Native American children in South Dakota’s foster care system.

The bill was part of a package of legislation to address the issues Native children in foster care face. But three of the four bills were defeated in committee. Two of the bills would’ve put active efforts for reunification of families into state law while the third bill would’ve established a two-year task force to investigate why Native children enter into state foster care at a high rate.

Sen. Red Dawn Foster, D-Pine Ridge, told senators on the floor that the cost of the proposed council is an estimated $300 to $2,000 to cover the cost of the appointed legislators’ attendance.

“It’s been a long time coming and I’m excited to take this proactive step and collaborate in the best interest of Indian children,” Foster said.

Sen. Tim Reed, R-Brookings, who voted against the bill in the Senate Health and Human Services committee, said that he had changed his mind after learning that the Center for the Prevention of Child Maltreatment would be involved in the conversations about addressing the root causes of why Native children are removed from their parents.

Neglect is the leading cause of why children are removed from their parents, with 68% of cases citing the reason. Parental substance abuse, at 57%, is the second-leading reason, according to federal data.  

Sen. Michael Rohl, R-Aberdeen, who chaired the State-Tribal Relations Committee, said members of the interim committee heard from tribal stakeholders and child welfare officials that they wanted a clearer avenue for conversations about addressing the high rate of Native children in foster care. 

“What this bill is really doing is providing an avenue for us to have very serious discussions,” he said. “Whenever you have problems or disputes, the best way to handle those even if you don’t agree is to be able to communicate with each other and find paths that work.”