Sisseton protesters call for changes to tribe’s child welfare program

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SISETON – More than three dozen members of Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate demonstrated outside the tribal council on Tuesday against alleged mismanagement of the tribe’s child protection program.

The protesters’ frustration stems from what they claim to be inconsistent procedures for cases in which children are removed from parental care. According to the protesters, some cases are justified, such as when a parent has an addiction. Other cases, protesters say, see children abducted even though there aren’t many reasons.

In some cases, protesters said children were returned to parental care too early, even though the parents had not yet completed, or even started, a treatment plan or offered a safe environment to keep the family safe. ‘child. And sometimes children linger in the foster care system even though the parents are quite capable of caring for the children.

Protester Lorraine Rousseau, former supervisor of the program, said there are also inconsistent practices regarding removing children from parental care.

“When the police are called and they respond, maybe (a representative of) child protection responds or not,” she said Wednesday. “Children cannot be taken out of a home. The next day, they are naked in the middle of a street.

A press release sent before the protest claimed that children had died due to the program’s problems.

In one case, a child died after a grandmother allowed drug-addicted parents to care for the child overnight, Rousseau said. Myrna Thompson, who has been overseeing the child protection program since January 2019, said the incident marked a break with program protocol which, sadly, resulted in tragedy.

As protesters’ frustrations with the program boiled over, they called on Thompson to either come up with a revised plan to address the program’s shortcomings in five days or risk his dismissal.

“We are fed up with it. We are fed up with it. We really are, ”said Vivian Gill-Chasing Hawk. “We have to heal as a nation. “

Thompson told protesters she shared their frustrations. She sought to assure the protesters that she was trying to improve the program.

“There will be restructuring that will take place. It’s only a matter of time, ”she said. “I feel for all of you. I feel for all the lost children in the system.

Thompson added that she tries to work with state and federal authorities to improve lines of communication which can, in turn, lead to an enhanced tribal program.

“We’re not dealing with just one problem. We are facing a number of issues that are causing the displacement of many children, ”she said. “We are taking small steps as quickly as possible. “

Thompson argued that many of the program’s problems that protesters have highlighted run deep.

“A lot of these problems are older. They were before I was on this board, ”she said. “Yes, the system is broken. But the system is fixing itself. Before my time it was broken. It has been broken for many years.

After facing years of frustration, protesters reiterated that they were looking for a quick timeline for program improvements.

“We need people to come here now and say, ‘This is what we need to change,’” said Gill-Chasing Hawk. “Not in three months. Now. People are suffering. Families are suffering. “

The tribal council could discuss the child protection program further perhaps as early as next week.


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