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Port Gamble S’Klallam now governs its own adoption assistance, guardianship assistance and foster care programs
LITTLE BOSTON — The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe is the first tribal nation to have a federal agreement enabling it to govern its own adoption, foster care and guardianship programs.
Adoption, foster care and guardianship — known as Title IV-E programs — whether under the control of states or tribes, are overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
At a signing ceremony Thursday in the S’Klallam House of Knowledge, Port Gamble S’Klallam Chairman Jeromy Sullivan thanked officials from Health and Human Services, the Department of Social and Health Services and the Administration for Children and Families for their part in making the transition happen. But many of those people in turn thanked Sullivan and the S’Klallam government.
“This tribute is really to you, it’s a tremendous moment in government to government relations,” said George Sheldon, assistant secretary of Administration for Children and Families. “It’s the first of its kind.”
At the ceremony, Sullivan also thanked the previous years of tribal leadership for their work getting the Tribe to this point.
“We’re proud that our Tribe has qualified to administer its own foster care and adoption program,” Sullivan said previously. “The real winners here will be Tribal families that choose to open their homes for fostering or adopting children. With our own program, we’ll be able to provide dedicated staff and grow services that support these families.”
In 2008, federal legislation was passed allowing the nation’s tribes to run their own Title IV-E programs with reimbursement from Health and Human Services. Up until this time, tribes collaborated with states on adoption and foster care.
Port Gamble S’Klallam now internally administers all Health and Human Services social services, including those related to Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, other child welfare services, and child support assistance.
Jolene George, Port Gamble S’Klallam’s director of Children and Family Services, said with the return to a federal partnership, the Tribe will now see a full reimbursement for services claims, rather than partial reimbursement from the state system.
“It means we can provide [foster children and families] better support services,” she said. “The children stay within our program, in our own tribally licensed homes. We don’t see them drifting.” The program provides weekly mental health therapy to those in out-of-home placement, as well as assistance at school and the youth center.
S’Klallam culture provides much of the support structure, George said, as even those in guardianship are often placed with community members they consider family. There are currently 28 children in Port Gamble S’Klallam’s foster care system.
Juanita Holtyn has taken care of her granddaughter, Aaliyah Sullivan, 4, since she was a year old.
“I’m all she’s ever known,” she said. “She calls me Grandma-Mommy.” Holtyn said leaving the decisions of guardianship and foster care up to the Tribe is very important.
As defined by Health and Human Services, foster care programs run by states or tribes “provide safe and stable out-of-home care for children until the children are safely returned home, placed permanently with an adoptive families or placed in other arrangements for permanency.”
According to DHHS, in 2007, 496,000 children were in foster care throughout the United States, while in 2008, 381,000 children per month were receiving assistance through IV-E programs.