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FFSA Overlooks Tribal Child Welfare Programs

The Imprint’s article, “Path to Federal Foster Care Prevention Funds Overlooks Tribal Programs, Experts Say,” highlights the inequalities that face Indigenous communities regarding the child welfare system. Indigenous communities have supported and healed their children and families using their own “Indigenous theoretical framework.” This “framework” acknowledges the impact of historical trauma, honors cultural values and focuses on “the sacredness of the inner spirit.” However, due to unjust measures that favor rigorous, Western scientific standards, Tribal programs cannot obtain federal funding; as their child welfare systems have yet to be measured by statistical models and cannot meet the requirements. 

The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFSA), signed into law in 2018, requires the federal government to provide matching grants for states to pay for foster care prevention. The government has contributed $88 million so far. Nonetheless, a national research clearinghouse must first approve of the programs that receive the money, making it difficult to get approval for federal matching funds. Since the law’s adoption, only one clearinghouse has approved a Native American model. As a result, the millions of dollars available to Tribes meant to help keep families intact are practically inaccessible. Therefore, foster care prevention programs that best serve these communities cannot meet the costly standards defined by the historically white establishments.

Native American children are disproportionately likely to be affected by the foster care system. Historical injustice contributes to modern inequities. Indigenous communities must have the ability to access quality prevention services. Family Spirit is one program close to achieving clearinghouse approval. The program, designed by and for Native American families, is an evidence-based, home-visiting program for new and expecting mothers and has “demonstrated a favorable effect on a target outcome.” An article published by our Research on Social Work Practice journal furthermore challenges other academics who “characterize ‘standard Western measures and methods’ as producing the only ‘legitimate evidence.’” To learn more about the injustices facing Tribal child welfare programs, see here.