Well-Being of Native Children and Youth in Foster Care: Leave No American Indian Child Behind!

Daryle Conquering Bear CrowDaryle Conquering Bear Crow (Oglala Sioux Tribe), Foster Care Alumni and Consultant for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and National Resource Center for Tribes

Summary: Judges, lawyers, guardian ad litem attorneys, CASA volunteers and others need to keep in mind the agony, hurt and lack of connection that many native youth going into care will experience and make a conscious choice to consider their well-being and need for connection to their culture.

I was 12 years old and getting ready to go to my first sweat and sun dance when foster care came into my life and ripped me away. Being placed with strangers in a strange environment, I was scared and emotional. I was not coping well, and the system’s solution was to place me on psychotropic medication—medication with bad side effects.

I really wanted sage and prayers with an elder, but that was not a choice for me. Even as a tribal youth, I knew how our cultural remedies could help the mind, body and spirit. The system often unknowingly strips these everyday cultural rituals away from youth entering foster care, not even considering the cultural ways as a means to help young people.

I was given hope as an adolescent for a new life, a better life. My stay, which was supposed to be only temporary, turned into long-term foster care. I was raised in the Colorado state foster care system, where I was slowly disconnected from my Lakota culture and everything that I was ever taught as a young boy.

I aged out into a world of uncertainty. I didn’t have what I truly needed for my well-being: a connection to my tribe and culture. Not unlike many youth who age out of foster care, I had very little support. One of the most difficult parts of growing up in foster care was that I was disconnected. It is important to give young people the opportunity to have an elder, spiritual leader or tribal role model to keep them connected to while in care. This would have given me the opportunity to have an alternative for health and healing, without the first choice having been psychotropic medication.

Going through the foster care system, I lost the connection to important family members who taught me to dance and sing. I longed to go to the local urban Indian center and interact with other natives and leaders in the community who looked like me, who I could identify with. Many choices that were made for me were made without me. I suffered from the choices that judges, guardians ad litem, and caseworkers made for me and my family. In my journey in the state care system, I felt left behind.

Recently I attended the First Nations Repatriation Institute’s Annual “Gathering for Our Children and Returning Adoptees Pow Wow” in Minneapolis, MN. It was an experience that I will never forget. This gathering brought together adoptees and youth alumni from across the nation, as well as some from Canada. Each person had a story of cultural identity being compromised. There was a healing ceremony; it was a moment in life that was unexplainable. It was the first ceremony where I had the opportunity to be recognized for the many struggles and challenges I and others faced being away from our Indian communities, the first time I was welcomed home with a sacred song that was given by a Lakota elder. I had to wait 12 years to experience this, and many foster youth will never have this opportunity.

At the end of the ceremony I looked around and saw the many faces old and young. This gave me strength and direction that my voice in advocating for young people in foster care is important and making sure that “No American Indian Child is Left Behind.”

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Author biography:

Daryle Conquering Bear Crow is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. He is finally home, in a loving adoptive family. He is relearning his tribal ways and giving back to his community. He served on the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute Foster Youth Program, interning for South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson. Crow worked closely with respected senators and congressional members to tell his story and to be a voice of advocacy.

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