UKB Indian Child Welfare sees continued increase of tribal children in need
BY TRISTA VAUGHN INTERN
TAHLEQUAH – This year the Indian Child Welfare Program with the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians has seen more than 30 cases, an increase from last year’s tribal children in need.
“So far this year we’ve been able to assist 35 children. The number is always increasing,” said Raven Owl, UKB ICW director.
UKB ICW works on behalf of Keetoowah children and their families in cases involving abuse, neglect and adoption in accordance with the Indian Child Welfare Act.
ICWA is a federal law enacted in 1978 that works to protect tribal children in custody cases from being separated from their families and tribal communities and placed into non-Indian homes. It does so by setting minimum standards between tribes and the state about the handling of such cases, including a first preference for willing and capable tribal relatives.
“We want to make sure our children are protected,” said Owl. “Children who are removed from custody, whether it be state or tribal, are protected. First and foremost they get the services they need in order to reunify with their parents.”
The UKB ICW program and its social workers advocate for children within the 14 counties and nationwide, working with state workers and the courts to secure safe and healthy homes. This is done either by reuniting children with their parents or by finding Keetoowah foster and adoptive homes.
“We do actually go outside of state if we have any cases that might come in and involve UKB enrolled or eligible kids,” said Owl. “For example, if we have a UKB enrolled child who moves to Arkansas with their family and with other children and there is situation that occurs there, as long as we can prove that either they are a member or eligible, we can get involved.”
UKB ICW deals with a variety of cases, though most stem from when the state has taken custody of a UKB child or the child of an eligible member.
“In order to help them from becoming removed, we look at services they need and we work in conjunction with the state and also other tribes too so that we can prevent the removal,” said Owl. “We want to keep families together instead of taking them away. However, if the kids do happen to be taken away, we get involved in those cases so that we can reunite. The goal is to reunite them with family.”
Owl said each case is different and emphasized the variety of services offered to families through her office.
“We do referrals definitely and we even do intertribal referrals to Human Services,” she said. “We always try to utilize our tribal services first. For some reason we can’t provide services intertribally, then what we will do is do a referral outside to our community to see who could service their need.”
Inquiries are also a significant part of the department’s workload, but with limited staff, Owl said they must prioritize where time is spent to better assist children. This includes how they respond to inquiries.
A response will only be given if it directly involves a UKB eligible child. “If we do have a child that is a (UKB) member or eligible to be a member, we are having to prioritize them because we get so many inquiries every day,” said Owl.
The department has more information about their inquiry process by calling 918-871-2834.
“The inquiry line and email gives instructions if people have mailed an inquiry or are waiting to receive a response,” said Owl. “This is just letting them know basically what our policy is as far as giving a response back to them. We don’t have to respond back to those inquiries.”
For more information about UKB ICW, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keetoowah families interested in fostering or adopting can contact the ICW office and provide their name and address for a foster care application.
To speak directly with a social worker in an emergency situation, call 918-871-2800 and ask to speak with Raven Owl, Ronny Livers or Caleb Grimmett.