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Published February 28, 2013, 08:57 AM

BIA official says progress made at Spirit Lake

FORT TOTTEN, N.D. (AP) — A top Bureau of Indian Affairs official says the agency is making progress in addressing child abuse and neglect on the Spirit Lake Reservation in North Dakota, but some area residents and officials say they're not so sure.

FORT TOTTEN, N.D. (AP) — A top Bureau of Indian Affairs official says the agency is making progress in addressing child abuse and neglect on the Spirit Lake Reservation in North Dakota, but some area residents and officials say they're not so sure.

Larry Roberts, a deputy assistant secretary with the Interior Department, and other federal officials held a public meeting in Fort Totten on Wednesday to discuss what the BIA has done since taking over child protection services last fall following criticism that the tribe had failed to protect vulnerable children, according to the Grand Forks Herald and KVLY-TV.

Since the takeover on Oct. 1, the bureau has sent 19 social workers from across the country to Spirit Lake to provide temporary help, Roberts said. The BIA has worked with the tribe to transfer and review all social service records, he said, and all case management records are current — fixing a deficiency identified in a string of BIA annual reports when the tribe handled those programs itself. The BIA also is working closely with the tribal court and has put about 40 people through child abuse reporting training at the University of North Dakota.

The agency has established a 24-hour, seven-day hotline for reporting suspected child abuse and taken fingerprints for background checks on 44 prospective foster parents since a mobile fingerprinting unit was brought to the reservation last fall, according to Roberts.

The BIA and other agencies plan a child and family welfare fair at Spirit Lake on March 12, a program on child abuse awareness on March 14, and a program on sexual assault prevention and education April 16-17.

"We are taking every report seriously and investigating every report," Roberts said, including those filed by Thomas Sullivan, a regional administrator for the U.S. Administration for Children and Families, who has been a harsh critic of child protection services on the reservation.

However, some residents and officials said not much has changed in the past five months.

"They're still trying to put children back into homes that have offenders in them or back into homes where the parents haven't done anything in terms of rehabilitating themselves," said Joanne Streifel, an official with a suicide prevention program.

Josh Johnson, an administrator with Devils Lake Public Schools, said about 200 students from Spirit Lake are in Devils Lake schools, and he has seen "little change" in the level of BIA services since the takeover.

Case management is inconsistent; communication between educators, parents and guardians is lacking; and too many foster care placements are "unsuccessful," with students being moved three or four times in a short period, Johnson said.

Timothy Purdon, the U.S. attorney for North Dakota, said every alleged crime against a reservation child is getting investigated. Some allegations are false, some cases lack enough evidence or eyewitness accounts to prosecute and some investigations take a long time, he said.

"We put a priority on these matters," Purdon said. "We are working to remove these most dangerous predators from your community."

Some at the meeting criticized tribal officials but others pleaded for cooperation. Myra Pearson, a former tribal chairwoman, said the tribe needs to stress parental responsibility and a stronger work ethic among young people.

"I want to be part of the solution," she said. "We're not going to fix things by sitting here and pointing fingers."

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