The complaints surround child placement decisions the agency has made over the past year or so.
Tribal members say ESDFS made some of those decisions without following proper procedures, and as a result, children have been placed in non-Native homes or group homes even when family members are available for temporary or permanent placements.
“We talk about our children being placed with family all the time and family being the most important people that these kids are supposed to be placed with,” Eastern Shoshone Tribal member Arnella Timbana Oldman said during a meeting of the Wyoming Legislature’s Select Committee on Tribal Relations in Fort Washakie last November. “That did not happen within our family, and I just wanted to make that clear and make that known. … The placement was just placed under the direction of the ESDFS director without notifying our family. (And I’m) concerned – because we need to know where our kids are.”
It’s not just Oldman’s family, either: Larry McAdams, who also addressed the committee in November, said, “I’ve been getting calls from Tribal members (who are) concerned” about similar issues.
“I do not know why the director is making these decisions to remove these children from the families and not … contact any other family members that can take care of these children,” McAdams said. “That’s very traumatic, removing a child from its home and placing it in a placement where there is no family connection at all.”
The families have expressed their concerns to the Eastern Shoshone Business Council, he added, and they were referred to the Tribal human resources department, whose employees don’t “know DFS procedure (for) caring for children” and can’t access case information due to confidentiality issues.
“So there is a big problem here,” McAdams said. “We can’t get anything done.”
Wyoming Rep. Ember Oakley, who co-chairs the Tribal Relations Committee, said the topic was “a little out of (our) purview,” but she encouraged Oldman and McAdams to bring their concerns to local DFS officials, many of whom were in attendance at the meeting.
In December, Oldman, McAdams, and other local families – about 15 people in total – also met with Wyoming Rep. Sarah Penn, R-Lander, to discuss the issue further.
Afterward, Penn said she would reach out to Wyoming DFS, ESDFS, and the SBC to “get a better understanding of their view on the situation (and) see if there’s anything that I can do to help facilitate anything within these different jurisdictions.”
“My main goal is to just help the people and the constituents (and) do what I can to ensure the best outcomes for the kids,” she said. “It’s about the kids, and we want to make sure that they’re safe and well cared for.”
McAdams said he plans to contact Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon about the issue, too, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs if necessary.
“Our kids are supposed to be our future,” Oldman said. “(We’re) just looking out for what’s best for our people.”
ESDFS had no comment when asked about the issue, and the SBC said it “does not get involved with DFS complaints because these are confidential cases.”
Complaints about child placements or other ESDFS actions can be taken to Wind River Tribal Court, Eastern Shoshone Tribe public relations director Alejandra Robinson said, while complaints about ESDFS employees would be heard by the SBC, which can direct the Tribal human resources department to initiate employment actions.