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Alaska Native foster children to receive federal help

Posted: December 19, 2013 - 1:11am

FAIRBANKS — The state is entering into an agreement with the first tribal consortium in Alaska to receive federal foster care reimbursements.

The agreement with the state Tanana Chiefs Conference was expected to be signed Wednesday afternoon.

Native child foster care in Alaska’s interior are managed by two systems, one through the state Office of Children’s Services and one through local tribal governments, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

State payments to foster families in the past were partially reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but tribal program payments were not.

The new agreement allows Tanana Chiefs Conference to receive the federal reimbursements. The TCC is a nonprofit consortium of 37 interior tribes.

Federal officials called the partnership a “historic moment” for tribal child welfare in the state.

“This agreement is a positive example of what can be done when states and Tribes work together to improve the child welfare system,” Paula Bentz with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.

The federal reimbursement is worth as much as $400,000 to the tribal foster care system, said Don Shircel, TCC’s director of client development. He said federal child foster care reimbursements have been a goal for more than two decades, but weren’t available until a federal law was recently changed, allowing Alaska Native tribes to qualify.

“Some said it couldn’t be done,” Shircel said in a statement. “This agreement is a testimony to the commitment and persistence of many Tribal and state leaders and their hard-working and talented staff.”

In the TCC region, tribal foster programs currently care for about 150 children.

More than 60 percent of the children in state custody are Alaska Native or American Indian, according to the state. Out of a total of 2,098 children in out-of-home placement in the state in October, 1,306 children were Alaska Native or American Indian, officials said.

One of the goals of the new agreement is to reduce the number of tribal children in state custody, officials said.

The agreement is set to be signed by TCC president Jerry Isaac and Health and Social Services Commissioner William Streur.

“This effort has been in the works for a long while and our vision has been challenged more than once,” Streur said in a statement. “But this day makes the efforts and challenges all worthwhile.”

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