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New SD Project Builds Foster Homes in Tribal Communities

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Friday, November 19, 2021   

LA PLANT, S.D. -- South Dakota has struggled to establish a network of foster parents in tribal communities, but solutions are in play, including a space where Indigenous children can feel as close to home as possible.

Over the years, South Dakota has been criticized for often placing Indigenous children with white families through aggressive custody hearing, inspiring outreach efforts to recruit foster parents in tribal areas.

Marcella Gilbert, a Lakota and Dakota community organizer on the Cheyenne River Reservation, works with the nonprofit Simply Smiles, which has been building homes for local kids in need of care.

She stressed the importance of giving kids a professional and nurturing support system, even when they turn 18.

"It isn't like, 'Okay, you're done. See you,'" Gilbert asserted. "It's like, 'Okay, let's talk about what you want to do here. Do you want to go to college? Do you want to go to job training? You know, what do you want to do? We'll help you do that.'"

Gilbert pointed out because the foster-care system is not aligned with Native American culture, the homes allow kids to maintain their identity.

Prospective foster parents are trained to care for the kids through therapy and other standard practices.

Gilbert explained only six homes are being built, so the occupants don't feel like they're in a residential setting. So far, three are finished.

Alex Gross, communications manager for Simply Smiles, said by offering an environment steeped in Lakota traditions, kids are likely to have a greater sense of belonging, even if they've dealt with trauma in the past.

"We are doing everything to make sure that they remain with their kin and community," Gross stated. "That includes working with a team of Lakota elders. We call them the 'grandmothers group.'"

Simply Smiles urged local families interested in becoming trained foster parents to visit the group's website.

Statewide, the Department of Social Services has launched a campaign to recruit more foster families in tribal areas.

Laurie Gill, South Dakota Secretary of Social Services, sees hope in reaching their goal of 300.

"We have met 42% of our first-year goal, and we launched this in May," Gill emphasized. "So, we're very pleased with the progress."


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