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"There is a huge amount of mistrust," Sweet said. "Foster care has typically come from state agencies that are seen as those that come in and take Native kids away. It’s been a huge challenge."
American-Indian children in Utah are still four times more likely than other children to be in foster care, which some attribute to cultural differences in views of appropriate living conditions.
Learn more about becoming a foster family
Brandi Sweet, the first American Indian foster family recruiter for Utah Foster Care, will share information about the program at the following events:
» Powwow Contest, Student Center Grand Ballroom, Utah Valley University, 800 W. University Parkway, Orem, Nov. 15-16, Friday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at noon.
» Indigenous Day, sponsored by the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, Taylorsville High School, 5225 S. Redwood Road, Taylorsville, Nov. 25, 6 p.m. Free. Information: firstname.lastname@example.org
For information about becoming an American Indian foster family, visit www.utahfostercare.org/tribes.
Between July 1, 2008, and June 25, 2013, the state placed 598 American-Indian children in foster care — 5 percent of the total number of children in foster care during that five-year period. Of the American-Indian children in foster care, 82 were eventually adopted.
Families that consisted of at least one American-Indian parent adopted 22 children, while 60 were placed with non-American-Indian parents, according to data from the Division of Child and Family Services.
While government mistrust persists, cultural norms and licensing requirements for foster families create other barriers that limit the number of American-Indian families stepping up to offer foster homes, Sweet said.
For example, multi-generational and doubled-up households are common in the American-Indian community. That can make it hard to meet such requirements as providing a child with a bedroom with least 80 square feet, or 60 square feet if the room is shared. Also, poverty remains high even among American Indians who no longer live on a reservation, Sweet said, which makes it difficult to cover other costs associated with providing foster care.
The state Office of Licensing, which certifies foster families, is revising requirements; some changes may lower some of these hurdles, Hamblin said.
Sweet believes it helps that Utah Foster Care is a partner with, but not part of, the state’s child-welfare system.
"That creates a different kind of feeling and relationship and tone," she said.
Sweet also believes networking with the state’s American-Indian tribes and asking families to step up will do more to provide or help find homes for children in need.
"We are going back to our community approach and our community responsibility," Sweet said, "that whole idea that it takes a community to raise a child, and asking every Native person that lives here in Utah and along the Wasatch Front to look deep down inside themselves and just see how they can support this effort."
So far, that outreach has been well received.
"I am seeing so much excitement that there is finally somebody doing this work," she said. "Everyone has known there was a huge need for this. There is almost a sense of relief."
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