Report: South Dakota Removes Hundreds Of Native American Children From Their Homes, Collects Millions In Federal Funds

There was a time in this country when thousands of Native American children were forced from their homes by public and private agencies, then sent to boarding schools where the school founder’s motto was “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” This practice wiped out cultural ties and traditions from an entire generation on which tribes depended to carry on their legacies. In 1978, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act, a law meant to ensure that Native American children stay with Native American families, especially when placed in foster care.

But an NPR investigation reveals that 32 states are “failing to abide by the act,” with the most egregious violations occurring in South Dakota. In this state, “Native American children make up only 15 percent of the child population, yet they make up more than half the children in foster care.” According to the investigation, “the state is removing 700 native children a year, sometimes in questionable circumstances,” claiming generic “neglect” when there isn’t any. State records reveal that “almost 90 percent of the kids in family foster care are in non-native homes or group care.”

Meanwhile, these questionable decisions to break up families create a massive inflow of federal money into the state:

Every time a state puts a child in foster care, the federal government sends money. Because South Dakota is poor, it receives even more money than other states — almost a hundred million dollars a year.[…]

Then there’s the bonus money. Take for example something the federal government calls the “adoption incentive bonus.” States receive money if they move kids out of foster care and into adoption — about $4,000 a child. But according to federal records, if the child has “special needs,” a state can get as much as $12,000.A decade ago, South Dakota designated all Native American children “special needs,” which means Native American children who are permanently removed from their homes are worth more financially to the state than other children.

In 10 years, this adoption bonus program has brought South Dakota almost a million dollars.

As an example, the Children’s Home Society, the state’s largest foster care provider, has close ties to the state. As NPR notes, the foster home used to be run by state Gov. Dennis Daugard who “was on the group’s payroll while he was a lieutenant governor — and while the group received tens of millions of dollars in no-bid state contracts.” Meanwhile, tribal foster homes remain empty.


State officials insist that the money never played a part in the state’s decision to remove a child. “The state doesn’t financially benefit from kids being in care,” said one official. “The state is always paying some part of it.” But as state records show, the federal government reimbursed the state “for almost three quarters of the money it spent on foster care.”

Essentially, the state is removing children under nebulous circumstances and getting a huge pay out in return. As on tribal social worker put it, “they make a living off off our children.”