Keeping tribal children in their tribal communities is the solution to improving regional child welfare, according to a Tribal-State Child Welfare panel yesterday during the Association of Village Council Presidents 51st Annual Convention at the Bethel Cultural Center.
The panelists represented a range of local, regional and state organizations and said the ways to keep children in their tribal communities is two-pronged.
The first approach is by training more foster parents in each village. There is especially a need for therapeutic foster parents. Such parents receive extra training and an additional stipend to provide behavioral health services to foster children.
Panalist Fennisha Gardner, Southwest regional director of children services, said currently there are no therapeutic foster parents in the Bethel area. Without these parents, many children are removed from their homes because they require therapeutic services not available in their communities.
Panelist Linda Ayagarak-Daney, AVCP social worker, said many foster parents are acting in a therapeutic way by engaging their foster children in cultural practices like berry picking, subsisting and boating.
The other solutions the panelists presented to keeping children in their tribal communities are through establishing and empowering tribal courts. Many panelists said tribes, not the state, know best how to care for their children.
To take on the challenge of building up tribal courts across the region. This year AVCP hired Monique Vondall-Rieke from the Chippewa Tribe in North Dakota where she worked as a tribal judge, tribal attorney, and wrote tribal court code. Her vision is to create 25 to 30 tribal courts across the YK Region. To do that, she will soon begin tribal court assessments in AVCP villages.
The convention continues through Thursday at the Bethel Cultural Center.