Navajos, state update compact to help Navajo children

Albuquerque, New Mexico (AP) 9-07

The state and the Navajo Nation have updated an agreement to better define how they will work together to help Navajo children who are in foster care.

The agreement, which had not been revised in more than 20 years, is authorized by the 1978 federal Indian Child Welfare Act.

The law is intended to prevent Indian children from inappropriately being separated from their culture. It requires state foster care agencies to contact the child’s tribe when the child is put into state custody. The tribe then may intervene.

While the revised agreement between the Children, Youth and Families Department and the Navajo Nation includes no dramatic changes, it clarifies timelines for the process, better defines each side’s responsibilities and better explains how they will coordinate efforts.

“This is somewhat going to change our practice within CYFD,” said Bernie Teba, the Native American liaison for CYFD who crafted the agreement for the state.

Regina Yazzie, program director for the Navajo Children and Family Services, said she welcomes the revisions and lauded New Mexico for taking the lead on updating the agreement.

But she cautioned that it’s too soon to know how well the revisions will work.

“It comes down to training and awareness of what is required,” she said.

About 276 Navajo children are in foster care across New Mexico, Yazzie said.

Under the new agreement, the state must contact the Navajo Nation within 24 hours by fax or phone if a child believed to be Navajo enters the foster care system. A follow-up written notice must be submitted within five days.

“We’ve been somewhat lax in that area,” Teba said.

The agreement also defines the preferences in care for a Navajo child either for foster care or adoption as being, in order, returning the child to the family of origin, placement with a Navajo family, placement with an Indian family other than Navajo or placement with a non-Indian family approved by the Navajo Nation.

Training on the revisions is expected to begin soon in the counties where the Navajo population is highest, including San Juan, McKinley, Cibola, Sandoval and Bernalillo counties.

The agreement involved 22 months of give-and-take work between the Navajo Nation and the state. Eight of the other 21 tribes in New Mexico also are reviewing similar revised agreements, Teba said.

“We believe we have a very good model to work with,” he said.

Information from: The Albuquerque Tribune,