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Native American Foster Parents Fight For Access To Federal Funding


A Native American tribe in Arizona is trying to dramatically increase the amount of money it gives to foster parents. To do so, it'll need to access funds from the federal government. But as Carrie Jung of member station KJZZ in Phoenix reports, getting that money means meeting some very steep requirements.

CARRIE JUNG, BYLINE: Foster parent Alyssa Preciado describes her day-to-day schedule as a bit of a zoo.

ALYSSA PRECIADO: I have two adopted sons, and I currently have three foster children.

JUNG: Preciado is a member of the Pascua Yaqui tribe. She says she likes being a foster parent here because it helps keep more of the tribe's kids in a home where their culture is practiced. But as a single parent, making ends meet can sometimes be a challenge.

PRECIADO: Everything goes up. The food - my electricity is up, my water. So it's not easy. It's not inexpensive.

JUNG: Right now, the tribe gives $159 per week per child to their foster parents for expenses. The goal, though, is to double that amount. But doing so requires Pascua Yaqui officials to qualify for a federal child welfare program known as Title IV-E. But the tribe isn't there yet.

JOHANNA FARMER: It has, I would say, close to 200 requirements that the tribe has to meet in order to qualify for the IV-E funds.

JUNG: Johanna Farmer manages the Pascua Yaqui child services program. She says the tribe has been working to qualify for the extra money for about two-and-a-half years now, doing everything from changing policy wording to passing new tribal laws.

FARMER: Some of them are minor things that we've already had in place for the tribe, and some are more strenuous requirements that just haven't had in place or haven't been able to implement.

JUNG: Farmer knows it's a lot of effort, but she says access to this $7 billion pot of federal funding would help her department a lot. Originally, Title IV-E reimbursed states for things like training and recruiting, and to help reimburse foster parents. It was created in the '90s, but for years tribal child welfare agencies weren't even allowed to apply. That's despite the fact that nationwide, Native American children enter foster care systems at double the rate of non-native kids. When tribes could finally access this funding in 2008, the approvals came slowly. And right now, only a handful have been OK'd.

JOE BOCK: We've been told that, you know, many of the tribes are waiting to see how these first tribes - how it's working for them.

JUNG: Joe Bock is with the Administration for Children and Families, the federal agency that administers IV-E. He says tribal interest in the program is growing, and so are the numbers of tribes getting approved.

BOCK: Tribes are much smaller programs. And while they're capable, competent service providers, they don't have nearly the infrastructure that a state has in order to put in place all of the administrative requirements.

JUNG: The process of learning how to work with tribal governments involved a steep learning curve initially. Lately though, David Simmons with the National Indian Child Welfare Association says he has seen some improvement. But he'd like the federal agency to do even more.

DAVID SIMMONS: What we haven't seen is a real significant increase in the number of those staff who actually are native and have had Indian child welfare experience.

JUNG: Simmons says meeting the hundreds of program requirements is a tall order for some tribes, something the Pascua Yaqui tribe can relate to. Child welfare manager Johanna Farmer flips through the lengthy application she's finally close to finishing.

FARMER: It's 139 pages of requirements.

JUNG: An effort, she says, will be worth it in the end because it means more stability for the tribe's foster parents and kids. For NPR News, I'm Carrie Jung in Tucson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie began reporting from New Mexico in 2011, following environmental news, education and Native American issues. She’s worked with NPR’s Morning Edition, PRI’s The World, National Native News, and The Takeaway.