By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Child welfare services for Cherokee children living on the Qualla Boundary or other tribal lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will no longer be handled through county agencies. The Tribe is set to launch its Family Safety Program on Thursday, Oct. 1 which will include those services in addition to others such as the Safe Babies Program, the Transitional Housing Program, and an office dealing with Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) cases.
“The scope of work for the Family Safety Program includes providing services to families when their child or vulnerable adult needs protection,” said Dallas W. Pettigrew, Family Safety Program manager. “We operate the Safe Babies Program which gets involved with families when very young children are being exposed to drugs or other unsafe situations. We also have the Transitional Housing Program to help families transition to independent living situations over the course of up to six months.”
Pettigrew said the Tribe is taking over the child welfare services which have been provided in the past by Cherokee, Graham, Jackson and Swain counties. “The Family Safety Program will now do this work, which includes investigating allegations of child abuse or neglect, working with families to keep their children in their home, or if that’s not possible, work with them to help their children return home. We are also recruiting families to serve as foster families for children who can’t remain in their own homes. In addition to all of those things, we will investigate allegations of mistreatment of vulnerable adults and will help out when we’re needed.”
Principal Chief Michell Hicks signed a Title IV-E pre-print, which is a document containing plans and policies for the Tribe’s new child welfare system, last month. The pre-print has been delivered to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration of Children and Families – Children’s Bureau for their review and approval.
At the time, he stated, “It’s really exciting. I know it was a huge step, and there’s still a lot of work to be done, but I feel really good about where we’re at…it’s going to be good for our families and children in the future.”
Vickie Bradley, EBCI Deputy Health Officer of the Public Health and Human Services Division, said the Tribe first began discussing taking over child welfare services duties from the state following a tragic incident several years ago involving the death of 15-month-old Aubrey Littlejohn. Several Swain County DSS employees were found guilty of forging records relating to the case.
“Cherokee children and families have suffered due to a lack of comprehensive and coordinated case management,” said Bradley. “The existing structure of providing social services to children and families was fragmented and dependent upon agencies outside of the Tribal system. The Chief (Hicks) and Tribal Council committed to developing programs and expanding services that strengthen, support, and protect tribal members through all stages of life.”
Bradley related that state and federal funding, which was previously given to county offices, will now be given to the Tribe to the tune of around $1.4 million annually.
Pettigrew said the program will work to help decrease child and family welfare issues in the community as well. “Just as important as getting involved when families are in crisis, we will work with families pro-actively to reduce concerns that could lead to child abuse or neglect. Our goal is to keep families together. Over the next several months, we will be launching high-quality parent skill-building classes – not because we think parents are bad, but because we all know parenting can be hard and sometimes we can all use some support.”
“We work very closely with Analenisgi as an integrated team, meaning we all work together with all the Tribe’s resources possible, to ensure the best outcome for the families we work with. We also plan to work closely with the Family Support Program.”
Pettrigrew said the ICWA program “allows the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to intervene in any case where a child who is a member, or is eligible for membership, is removed from their family, no matter where they live.”
He added, “We will continue to work with the counties and others who serve tribal children and families who live off the Qualla Boundary. We will attend court hearings, participate in decision-making meetings, and help families successfully reunite with their children as often as possible. While the new Family Safety Program works with children on the Boundary, we will not forget the children who live elsewhere.”
To contact the Family Safety Program:
- Main Office, 257 Tsali Blvd., Cherokee, NC, 359-1520
- Safe Babies Team, Tina Saunooke and Bertie Toineeta, 359-6229
- Transitional Housing, Tamara Jackson, 359-6915
- ICWA Team, Butch Sanders, 359-1520
- To make a child/adult maltreatment referral, call 497-4131.