Jewel Bruner holds her 10-month-old granddaughter Emma on the patio of her home in Eagle Butte on Sept. 20, 2023. (Samantha Laurey/Argus Leader)

Native American child welfare bills return after federal law upheld

BY: and - February 9, 2024

Three bills were introduced last year at the South Dakota Legislature to address Native American child welfare reform. All of them were defeated, with opponents citing concerns about the U.S. Supreme Court’s impending case addressing the Indian Child Welfare Act, known by the acronym ICWA. The court has since upheld the constitutionality of the federal […]

A student walks home from the Pine Ridge High School through the skate park in Pine Ridge on Aug. 28, 2023. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

A story told in data: Overrepresentation of Indigenous children in the SD foster care system

BY: - November 17, 2023

Native American children are overrepresented in South Dakota’s child welfare system — accounting for nearly 74% of foster children in the state at the end of fiscal year 2023, despite making up 13% of the state’s child population. That means Indigenous children have a 22% chance of being removed from their families and placed in […]

South Dakota Searchlight reporter Makenzie Huber and Argus Leader reporter Annie Todd interview Gov. Kristi Noem, Department of Tribal Relations Secretary David Flute and Department of Social Services Secretary Matt Althoff at the Governor’s Office in the South Dakota State Capitol on Sept. 26, 2023. (Samantha Laurey/Argus Leader)

How the Argus Leader and South Dakota Searchlight reported The Lost Children series

BY: and - November 17, 2023

Children can quickly lose interest in you when you’re helping them stack blocks, but also when you’re speaking with their grandmother about why she’s caring for them. They fall asleep in her arms as you witness her choke up, flashing back to when she and her younger brothers were split as young siblings at a […]

A tipi at the South Dakota Urban Indian Health summer culture camp in Sisseton. (Courtesy of SDUIH)

What’s being done to address the high number of Native children in foster care in SD

BY: and - November 17, 2023

South Dakota government officials, tribal leaders, tribal child welfare coordinators, foster families and legislators agree: The overrepresentation of Native American children in the foster care system is a problem. Indigenous children made up nearly 74% of foster children in the state by mid-2023 — five times the actual representation of Native American children in South […]

A girl learns to hoop dance during the South Dakota Urban Indian Health summer culture camp in Sisseton. (Courtesy of SDUIH)

Cultural connection for Native foster children in South Dakota is lacking, foster parents say

BY: and - November 16, 2023

Jennifer Johnson wondered if her boys hated her. She and her husband fostered and adopted the three brothers — all under 3 years old — in the early 2000s. The couple provided a safe, stable and loving home for the children, she recalled, but it seemed like the boys would try to sabotage their relationships […]

Toni Handboy, a counselor for Wakpa Waste Counseling Services, stands inside Inka Najin Oti (“The Red House") addiction recovery house in Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Reservation on June 16, 2023. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

Tackling substance abuse with families in mind to prevent foster care placements

BY: and - November 10, 2023

Sobriety was a 12-year journey for Toni Handboy. She tried to protect her children. She sent her daughter to live with her ex-husband in Oregon. Her son was placed with an aunt nearby after being removed by Child Protective Services. But the impact on her children ran deep. Even though Handboy tried to make sure […]

Jewel Bruner holds her 10-month-old granddaughter Emma on the patio of her home in Eagle Butte on Sept. 20, 2023. (Samantha Laurey/Argus Leader)

‘Setting the parent up for failure’: Reunification barriers reflect root causes of child removal

BY: and - November 10, 2023

Toni Handboy and Christian Blackbird are constantly telling their clients not to give up. Handboy, a counselor at Wakpa Waste Counseling Services in Eagle Butte, and Blackbird, the Crow Creek Indian Child Welfare Act director, frequently work with parents trying to get their children back from the foster care system. But complying with reunification requirements […]

Cheyenne Hinojosa with her daughter Sophia Hinojosa after her 1st birthday celebration at their home in Huron. (Jaida Grey Eagle for ProPublica)

Native American families are broken up in spite of law to keep children with parents

BY: and - June 15, 2023

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. Update, June 15, 2023: On Thursday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of upholding the Indian Child Welfare Act. Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote for the majority that the case was about […]

Sen. Red Dawn Foster, D-Pine Ridge, foreground, listens as Rep. Scott Odenbach, R-Spearfish, asks a question about a proposed task force on Native American children in foster care on Feb. 27, 2023, during a hearing at the Capitol in Pierre. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)

Panel backs task force to study foster care for Native American children

BY: - February 27, 2023

PIERRE – A House panel on Monday endorsed a two-year task force to study Native American overrepresentation in South Dakota’s foster care system. Senate Bill 191 cleared the full Senate last week. It’s the only bill related to Native children in foster care to have survived past a committee hearing so far this session.  The […]