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(Duluth, St. Louis County, Minnesota: Jan 28, 2017) In 2015, an Indian Child Welfare Court was established in Duluth, headed by Judicial District Judge Sally Tarnowski, to offer a better informed, culturally sensitive approach for Native American families involved with the legal system. Professionals working in the Indian Child Welfare Court are specially trained in ICWA (the Indian Child Welfare Act), the historical context leading up to ICWA and other relevant legal and cultural issues in order to better meet the needs of families, and to better collaborate with tribal communities. 

Read more about the court: Indian Child Welfare Court in Duluth aims for better outcomes for Native American families (Duluth News Tribune)

The Indian Child Welfare Court was created in response to ongoing concerns, validated by research, that shows Native children are being placed into state care at high rates – taken from tribal communities and placed into non-Native families. This is significantly harming families and communities. In Minnesota, statistics consistently show, that Native children are placed into state care at earlier ages, have multiple placements, and spend longer amounts of time into foster homes or institutions.

In October 2014, David Glesener a Child Protection Supervisor for St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services reported that,”As of this week, we have 540 children in out of home care, up from less than 500 two years ago. The percentage of those in care that are American Indian has also been rising and is at 40% – up from 30% two years ago. The numbers are similar in counties across Minnesota. The situation is truly epidemic for American Indian families and tribes...” The crisis of Indian children in Minnesota

In another somber report (August 2016) the Star Tribune reported that,Of the 1,300 Indian children discharged from Minnesota foster care in 2013 and 2014, the most recent years available, only 58 percent were reunited with their parents or primary caregiver, according to a Star Tribune analysis of federal data. That’s the lowest of any racial or ethnic group” Saving themselves, then their family

The Indian Child Welfare Court is designed to work in the best interest of the child’s well-being and safety while also considering their cultural needs, and utilizing community resources where appropriate.

The result has worked to build closer relationships between all those involved – including tribal governments and authorities, social services and the court system. The court room is also designed so that every sits together at one table, in a square,”In the middle of the tables inside the courtroom sit the Native American medicines sage, tobacco and sweetgrass. Everyone — from the clients to the judge — sits on the same level in a square. ICWA cases can include multiple attorneys and parents, social workers and a guardian ad litem. Before this court, all child protection cases were heard in a smaller, more intimate court. But it meant that people were talking to the backs of heads..” (Duluth News Tribune)

Currently, there is only one Indian Child Welfare Court in existence in Duluth but if this court proves successful, others could be modeled after it. The court operates through a grant issued from a federally funded study.UMD Leads American Indian Child Welfare Act Project

History of Native Children Being Taken from Home, Community

The history of Native children being taken from their homes is long, and complex, and involves actions taken by the U.S. government on Native people, and consequences that resulted within families, and Native communities as a result of these actions. Native communities, and families have been significantly impacted by the destruction of their traditional way of life and along with it, the destruction of community and family ties, and destruction of values and teachings that provided ways to raise and care for children. Poverty also remains a serious issue that is impacting Native families. 

Janice LaFloe of the American Indian Family Center (AIFC) says, For years and years, American Indian people have worked together to protect their community, as decisions were made for them, through the signing of treaties and breaking of promises, through the forced system of tribal governments and the forced assimilation of taking children into mission schools…The forced removal of children to go to boarding schools was the most detrimental thing you could have done to Indian community. There was a whole generation or more of children removed from their homes. The amount of abuse that happened to children in those boarding schools led to a perpetual cycle of learned behavior that surfaced and continues to play out...” American Indian children in Minnesota disproportionately placed in foster care (TC Daily Planet)

(PA) Carlisle Boarding School. Wikipedia Commons.

Out of home placement for Native children can be traced back to boarding schools (1860-1973), which were operated by the U.S. government through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, or by religious missionaries. The purpose of boarding schools was to educate and assimilate Native children into the mainstream “American way of life”, and to shed their Native identity entirely. At boarding schools, Native Children were given a new name, forbidden to speak their Native language, their hair forcibly cut, clothing changed, and they were taught to be ashamed of their identity and encouraged to adopt American practices. Abuse (physical, mental, sexual) and neglect was common place at boarding schools, as was forced labor. Many children died as a result of abuse or disease, resulting from overcrowding or neglect in boarding schools.

Government policies forced Native children into boarding schools – many children were kidnapped or parents were threatened, including use of physical force, to gain compliance. In many areas, racism kept Native children out of public schools so their only choice of education was a boarding school. Or, extreme poverty caused parents to send children into boarding schools. In Minnesota, in 1971-1972, 1/4 of the total population of Native children under the age of 1 years old had been adopted, and 90% were adopted into non-Native homes. According to the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) 2013 Legal Review, 60,000 Native children were enrolled in boarding schools in 1973, when the boarding school era was coming to an end.

Children being taken out of Native homes and placed with non-Native families has created a crisis that threatens the existence of Native people, and the preservation of their culture. The trauma caused by boarding schools is experienced in Native families, and communities to this day. According to experts, and health care professionals, there is a direct relation between the trauma and destruction of family ties caused by boarding schools and the high rates of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), drug and alcohol abuse and suicide among boarding school survivors and their families. In addition, survivors of boarding schools were instilled with shame, and taught to believe they are at fault or to blame for the abuse inflicted on them. There was no help, support or resources offered to cope with what happened, or to address the harms inflicted. Another disastrous effect was that the passing down of Native teachings, languages and customs was interrupted, and in many cases not passed down – and children were taught to be ashamed of their identity, and encouraged to separate from family and community.

In 1978, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was established out of a response to rising concerns about the well-being of Native children who were being taken, at high rates, from their homes by public and private institutions and placed into non-Native families. Cultural genocide remains a very real concern for many Native communities, as does the fate of their children – many who have never returned. The intent of Congress under ICWA was to “protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families” (25 U.S.C. § 1902). ICWA applies when there is an Indian child involved in child custody proceedings including foster care placements, CPS and family court proceedings. The goals of ICWA are to strengthen Native families, protect tribal interests and keep decisions within Native communities. Minnesota has added an additional layer of protection for children under the Minnesota Indian Family Preservation Act (MIFPA), passed in 1987.

For More Information:

ICWA – Historical Context, Information & Application: Powerpoint Presentation by Evie Campbell, MSW (UMD)

The sad legacy of American Indian boarding schools in Minnesota and the U.S. (Minn Post)

“ReMoved” is a two part short film told in the first person narrative of a young girl named Zoe who is removed from her home, along with her little brother Benaiah, due to domestic violence and child abuse. Zoe begins a new life in the foster care system, which in some ways is an improvement, in other ways is just as chaotic, and unpredictable as the life she has been taken from. When placed in the home of foster mother, Ms. Law, Zoe is faced with her most difficult struggle of all — finding what is lovable in herself. “ReMoved” is an emotional, raw film – that wisely uses the power of its emotional scenes, and the insightful messages Zoe provides to give a voice to vulnerable children, and help people to understand what is happening, in the foster care system.

“ReMoved” was written by Christina Matanick, directed by her husband, Nathanael, who were inspired to write a movie about foster care from a child’s perspective after taking training on how to become foster parents. The film’s goal is to “serve as a key tool in raising up and training good foster parents, social workers, court-appointed special advocates, and the many other adults who interact with children in foster care“.

“ReMoved” is also based on Hebrews 12:2, a Bible verse about Jesus enduring pain and humiliation because of his great love for humanity. The Matanick’s say Hebrews 12:2 offers reminds them of foster parenting – that they take on the pain of the foster children when offering a home to them, and offer their love just as Christ offered his, even when challenged. Hebrews 12:2 has a hopeful message as well, one of healing and restoration, though not explicitly stated, it becomes the conclusion of “ReMoved”.

“ReMoved” may be triggering for some. As a domestic abuse survivor, whose children suffer from PTSD and many of the emotional issues that Zoe does, alot of the scenes hit home. Zoe drew tornadoes to depict her struggles at home. My daughter did the same – drawing squarish pictures of “home” with a scribbly tornado ripping through. Zoe is also like the tornado – she has recurrent PTSD flashbacks, and feelings of helplessness, which may trigger fits of rage where she becomes destructive and out of control. I saw those same kinds of outbursts in my son, whose anger and violence was modeled after what he experienced from his abusive father.

It was interesting to see the different adult reactions to Zoe’s struggles – her behavior became what defined Zoe, because the adults failed to understand how abuse impacts a child, and her own need for healing. I saw similar reactions when seeking help for my family, and was told several times to just spank my child to get him to behave. There was no real understanding of how abuse affects children, and that these children are traumatized and in need of help. Even when staying in a domestic violence shelter, I was given a safe place to stay with my children (temporarily) but their emotional needs were neglected. There were no services for children available at the shelter during our stay.

In “ReMoved”, Zoe’s behavioral and emotional struggles resulted in her being moved from one foster home to another, being rejected by her mother (the film did hint at a possible reunion) and finally, being medicated with instructions to double the dose if she did not calm down. Finally, when placed with a patient and caring foster mother, Ms. Law, did Zoe begin to receive the nurturing and guidance she needed to begin her healing journey.

Another issue revealed in “ReMoved” is that what is happening with the family is kept totally separate from what is happening in the foster care system, when the two should be working together. At many points in the film, the foster care system seemed punitive towards the mother, and placing a greater weight of responsibility on her (directly) rather than dealing with the abuser and the abuse.

This is also a theme I have experienced in family court, that somehow the abuse victim is responsible for the harm caused by the abuser. Only in family court, there is no emphasis on restoration of the family, limiting visitation or removing custody from a parent is a routine practice, that is quickly and easily done. Abuse victims are particularly vulnerable to loss of custody because the family court sees their efforts to protect their children as signs that they cannot “co-parent” or are otherwise “difficult”, even with CPS findings of abuse, family courts will routinely place children into dangerous custody or parenting time agreements with abusive, unfit parents.

Throughout the film, the mother struggled with her own issues from domestic violence. Taking the beatings and emotional abuse, could not protect her children from being abused by her husband. The mother is largely disconnected from her children, and the daughter takes on the role of caretaker for her younger brother Benaiah. After the children are removed, the mother is placed into supervised visitation where she attempts to reconnect to her children. What the family really needs is therapy, and supportive services, but you don’t see that being offered. For example, The mother is told to “get her life together” by a social worker- and the system is ignorant to the hurdles an abuse victim faces trying to start their entire life over. Many victims of domestic violence become homeless in the process of escaping the abuse and are forced to abruptly cut ties, and remove themselves from the only life they have ever known. They face financial hardships. And deal with their own trauma, and emotional scars. To blindly tell a victim of abuse to “get her life together” is not only insensitive but unrealistic. What is really needed is a more holistic approach, to protect the safety of the children while also assisting the parent to rebuild their own life.

I was inspired by the foster mother Ms. Law – she modeled the best of what the system could be. Ms. Law put the child’s interests above her own time and time again. Zoe was extremely close to her little brother, but was constantly being separated from him in the foster care system. Ms. Law took Benaiah in,even if it was not convenient for her to do so. Ms. Law patiently waited through Zoe’s rage, and lashing out against her – and saw past her struggles to nurture Zoe into growth and healing. Ms. Law advocated for Zoe in the therapist’s office, that there are other options than drugging a child into compliance. So many examples depicted in the portrayals of Ms. Law offered ideas on how foster care parents, and the system as a whole, could better meet the needs of children, and the families they are working with.

For me, the hardest part of “ReMoved” was the ending (which is in Part 2). There was some sense of closure but also a lot of unanswered questions. I took it as this where the film meets our lives, that each person viewing is challenged to bring something they learned from the film, or where inspired by the film, into their own life, into the community around them.

I highly recommend “ReMoved”. It has an impact watching alone but would also be beneficial to watch as a group or organization – with discussion following. This film has the potential to inspire needed changes in the foster care system, and the motivate everyday people to become heroes in the lives of needy children.

— EJ, 2015

 

For More Information:

Visit the “ReMoved” website: ReMoved

Watch “ReMoved”:Watch Removed

“Foster Care – It’s Not for the Praise” by Megan Pyrah (Brassy Apple). A foster mother shares her experiences raising foster children, and offers her thoughts on ReMoved: Foster Care – It’s Not for the Praise

“Writer/Filmmaker Christina Matanick discusses her film ReMoved” by Meka (Scream Loudly), Nov 19, 2014: Writer/Filmmaker Christina Matanick discusses her film ReMoved

(Montreal, Canada: June 2015) Dean Harper spent 16 agonizing years looking for his daughter Athena Glusing after his ex girlfriend took off with the then 2 year old child. Harper says his ex was upset about the end of their relationship and allegedly told him, “If you leave me, you leave your daughter“. Harper said he did not have financial resources to take legal action in family court. The ex girlfriend refused to let Harper see Athena, then moved with the child, cutting off all contact. Harper never stopped looking for Athena, and never stopped hoping they would be reunited.

Athena apparently had a very troubled life in the care of her mother, who put her into foster care at age 12. Administrators at Batshaw Youth and Family Centers had the name and contact number of Harper but never contacted him, and never attempted reunification with his daughter. Now that Harper has found his daughter, he is being slapped with a $7,800 bill for “parental contributions” to reimburse the state for foster care!

I don’t understand how they could have my daughter, know who I am, not look for me, then send me a bill once I find her.” said Dean Harper. Harper is very upset, and says he would have taken his child in, rather than have her go to foster care. He is considering taking legal action against Batshaw.

Harper is happy to be reunited with his daughter, who is 18 years old now, and has returned home, living in his care.

Commentary:

Harper has been robbed of the ability to be the father to Athena when she needed him most. The system first failed when the Courts did not give Harper any means to gain custody or visitation. And failed again when Athena was put into the chaos of the foster care system when she could have been given a safe, stable home environment. The government has inflicted great damage on this family, and continues its abuse by forcing Harper to pay for the state sponsored kidnapping of his own child. There is a very real possibility that Dean Harper will face financial troubles, and even punitive action if he does not pay the $7,800. And yet, Harper never wanted his daughter in foster care, and had been looking for her for 16 years. This is outrageous.

Obviously Batshaw saw more incentive to keep this family apart, and keep Athena in the system than to reunite her with her biological family. Why? This case should trigger and audit and in-depth investigation of Batshaw. I suggest following the money trail and the financial incentives for placing children in foster care. #JusticeforDeanHarper

– EJ Perth

Read More:

“Father finds long lost daughter after 16-year search only to receive $7,800 bill for foster care she was placed in without his knowledge” by Daily Mail UK, 6/2/2015:

  • http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3108466/Father-finds-long-lost-daughter-16-year-search-receive-7-800-bill-foster-care-placed-without-knowledge.html
  • “Dad joyous, bitter at finding long-lost daughter” by CTV, 6/1/2015:

  • https://youtu.be/Z5D-8yqr4gk
  • May 2003, UK: Mr. Justice Wall, a high court judge, reported social workers to the Social Services Inspectorate after a “extremely worrying sequence of events”.

    The social workers lied to a magistrates court, and to the mother of a 1 year boy, after the foster father was arrested as part of Operation Ore, for downloading child pornography.

    Social workers also obstructed access to the boy’s case files from his Guardian, and tried to invoke public interest immunity to keep what they were doing a secret.

    Operation Ore, launched in 2002, was the largest cyber crimes investigation in the United Kingdom, targeting users, peddlers and producers of child pornography. Critics of the program say Operation Ore also prosecuted those innocent of any crime, including people who were victims of identity theft. The (former) chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop), Jim Gamble, said in a 2007 statement to the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee, that of more than 2,450 people “successfully held to account”, 93% had admitted their guilt.

    Read the Full Story At – “Judge Hits Out At Social Worker’s Lies” by Clare Dyer, legal correspondent.
    The Guardian, 5/29/2003: : http://www.theguardian.com/society/2003/may/29/childrensservices.uknews?CMP=share_btn_tw

    For Info on Operation Ore:
    “Paedophile net: Did Operation Ore change British society?” by by Jon Kelly & Tom de Castella. BBC News Magazine, 12/16/2012: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-20237564