Alaska Governor Bill Walker used an appearance Thursday at the annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage to sign a historic compact between the State of Alaska, tribes, and tribal organizations. The compact will allow tribes and tribal organizations to provide child welfare services and programs that previously were delivered by the Alaska Office of Children’s Services.
The historic compact with Alaska Tribes and Tribal Organizations will strengthen the state’s child welfare system and reduce over time the disproportionate number of Alaska Native children in foster care. The compact – signed at the 51st annual Alaska Federation of Natives Convention – recognizes the authority of Alaska Tribes to provide child welfare programs and services on behalf of the Alaska Office of Children’s Services, providing greater local oversight of family services.
“Supporting Alaskan families is crucial to building a Safer Alaska,” Governor Walker said.
Walker said, “My administration is committed to reducing the disproportionate number of Alaska Native children in our foster care system. This compact is the first of its kind for both Alaska and the United States. I thank the Department of Health and Social Services, Department of Law, and Alaska Tribes and Tribal Organizations for crafting this unique new partnership. Every day, Alaska’s Tribes and Tribal Organizations provide essential services to children and families. This compact builds on that great experience, and incorporates their values, culture, and traditions into our child services system.”
Alaska Native children have been disproportionately represented in the state’s foster care system for decades. While only 19 percent of Alaska children are Native or American Indian, 55 percent of Alaska children in out-of-home foster care are of Native decent, and 61 percent of Alaska Native children in foster care will ultimately be placed in non-Native homes.
The Alaska Tribal Child Welfare Compact establishes a system to better deliver child welfare services. The compact acknowledges the government-to-government relationship between the state and Tribes, and clearly identifies child welfare services for Tribes and Tribal Organizations to carry out within a defined jurisdiction or service area. Alaska Tribes and Tribal Organizations have successfully partnered with the state to deliver essential health care services for years. This compact builds on those partnerships and strengthens child welfare services in Alaska.
“Our children are our greatest resource and will help guarantee a bright future for our state,” said Lt. Governor Byron Mallott. “Alaska Native children steeped in the love, values, and culture of their Tribe have the best chance of being healthy, engaged members of society. This compact builds a strong relationship between the state and Tribes that will ultimately benefit all Alaskans.”
“This new compact recognizes that tribes have the responsibility to care for their people and it allows them to take over or assist in the delivery of essential services and programs to protect our children,” said Rep. Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham), the Speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives. “What we witnessed today was just another step forward in the growing fruitful relationship between the State of Alaska and the First People of Alaska.”
“This is a historic day. Tribes have always been ground zero when it comes to public safety and the wellbeing of our children. It is important for the state to work hand in hand with tribes to create a safer state that cherishes our children. This compact is the hope we can continue such efforts. Tribes and tribal organizations are vital to the fabric of Alaska and they can help open additional help and funding sources. This compact will create greater opportunities for tribes to do things better and more efficiently than the state government, which is currently hampered by a fiscal crisis and budget cuts that leave too many children in danger. I am honored to serve in an era of tribal recognition and partnership in Alaska,” said Rep. Zach Fansler (D-Bethel).
“For generations the tribes in Alaska have been lobbying the state to recognize that they have the ability and the moral authority to take care of endangered children in their villages and communities,” said Rep. Dean Westlake (D-Kiana). “This historic compact is just the kind of recognition we have been looking for. I believe this compact will improve the lives of children. That is a wonderful achievement that should be celebrated.”