(Riverton, Wyo.) – The issue of a Wyoming Department of Family Services report that criticized the Northern Arapaho DFS program was discussed at length at this morning’s Select Committee on Tribal Relations at Central Wyoming College.
Wyoming DFS Director Steve Corsi told the lawmakers that the Northern Arapaho program has seen improvements in the past 10 years since it was last reviewed and he said some items pointed out in the state report are better, but some things still need to be improved. He said his list was about a dozen items long.
Corsi said the state’s primary concern was with the safety and permanent living situation of children in foster care or protective care out of their homes.
The Tribe’s DFS Director, James Trosper, agreed with Corsi and said there has been progress, but he said not all of the state’s criticisms are warranted. He presented the legislators with a 15 page, point-by-point rebuttal of the state’s concerns.
Trosper said each of the 116 chlldren who are in protective custody at the current time had a face-to-face meeting with both state and tribal DFS workers within the past month, and all were found to be well and in a good living situation.
Trosper said most of the protective custody issues his agency has to deal with are from law enforcement referrals. He said many tribal members don’t understand that his agency, by itself, has no authority to place a child in protective custody, but when a law enforcement agency does so, the DFS then steps in and follows the child.
Under the state rules, the parents of a child placed in protective custody are owed a hearing with 72 hours, which occurs when the child goes to a non-family home. But Trosper said when a child is placed with “extended family,” the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Court has ruled that a hearing must happen within a month.
“We don’t have any control over what the Tribal Court orders,” he said.
Trosper said a big breakthrough was when state DFS workers were allowed to “shadow” the tribal workers to see what they were dealing with on a daily basis. He said that allowed the myth to be debunked that tribal DFS were not doing “bogus” work as the state report indicated.
“Our workers have people they can now rely on and turn to for advice,” Trosper said. “Our workers never really had that before. If they have questions they can get advice. Some really good things came out of that. They never knew what they were doing, but now each of the state workers know the complex issues we face and that they now have a lot of respect for that.”