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Drug Endangered Children in Indian Country

Walter Lamar
1/11/12

If you saw a toddler walking toward a busy intersection, would you wait before you intervened? Indian children in homes where adults are substance abusers are in similar danger. Tribal community members must step in before children are hurt or taken away from the community.

Lamar Associates works with the Department of Justice to deliver training and technical assistance to help service professionals in tribal communities recognize and respond to drug endangered children. We can all do better at early detection and intervention to get families the help they need. Last year we initiated partnerships with the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) and the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children (National DEC) to provide resources and training.

NICWA is an organization dedicated to the well-being of all American Indian children and families. NICWA envisions Indian children having access to community-based, culturally appropriate services that help them grow up safe, healthy, and spiritually strong: free from abuse, neglect, sexual exploitation, and the damaging effects of substance abuse. Terry Cross, Executive Director for the NICWA commented on our joint training, “NICWA is pleased that the diversity of professionals who attend the training contributes to a mutual learning experience that can create change for a community at the grassroots level.”

We consider drug endangered children to be “children who are at risk of suffering physical or emotional harm as a result of caregiver illegal or legal drug possession, manufacturing, cultivation, or distribution. They are children whose caretaker’s substance misuse interferes with their ability to properly provide a safe and nurturing environment.”

Recent news stories about state child welfare agencies removing Native children from their families, highlights the need for tribal leaders to engage proactive solutions to keep our children safe and within the tribal community.

The White Earth Nation of Minnesota succeeded in reducing the number of children threatened by drug use in their homes through a Tribal Proclamation and Call to Action and a broad strategy to educate service providers, families and friends to recognize the signs of drug endangered children. The strategy includes tribal administrators, educators, and community members in a comprehensive plan devised to assure appropriate intervention before a child is harmed. The White Earth Nation has received federal certification for its Tribal Child Support program. Tribal leaders decide how to best keep children safe within the community.

The St. Regis-Mohawk Tribe has been effective in keeping tribal children safe from drug abuse in their homes while keeping them within the community. The tribe’s Eagle Watch program is a grassroots effort to educate community members how to proactively enforce anti-drug goals and how to intervene on behalf of children endangered by substance abuse.

October 25, 2011, the Superior Court for the State of Alaska, First Judicial District at Juneau, issued a decision with significant implications for tribal courts throughout Alaska in Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska v. State of Alaska Child Support Services Division. The Court's order reaffirms the Tribe's inherent jurisdiction to handle the full range of family law issues affecting its citizens, including the particular issue of child support for the benefit of tribal children. The ruling is an important step to ensure Native children are cared for in a tribal community setting.

Whether or not your tribe administers a formal program for the welfare of its youngest members, effective early intervention requires community members to cooperate. Service providers should share information, reporting and expectations with each other and find solutions to place the endangered child with relatives or another good home in the community. Communities can build engagement and awareness through public events, education in the schools and programs at community centers.

Family, friends and neighbors should look for signs that children might be endangered. Signs in the home may include garbage or spoiled food littering the house, prescription drug containers, illegal drug paraphernalia, and children with untreated injuries or other medical issues. Other signs such as such as high traffic in and out of the home, intoxicated adults, and a lack of food or utilities indicate that children are being exposed to dangerous conditions.

If you do spot the signs of an endangered child, contact your Tribal Child Support Department, or your local law enforcement.

For more information about training and technical assistance, contact Lamar Associates, Indian Country Training at info@lamarassociates.net or call 202-543-8181. For resources on Drug Endangered Children in Indian Country, visit Tribal Prescription Drug Abuse and Endangered Children and Tribal-dec.blogspot.com.

Walter Lamar, Blackfeet/Wichita, is a former FBI Special Agent, Deputy Director of BIA Law Enforcement and currently President of Lamar Associates. Lamar Associates Indian Country Training Division offers culturally appropriate training for Indian Country law enforcement and service professionals in both on-site and online courses.

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