March 12, 2019
For one group of children in particular, American Indians and Alaska Natives, exceedingly high poverty rates have had profound impacts on community wellbeing and long-term cohesiveness. Given the best available data, from the U.S. Census data, child poverty rates among American Indians and Alaska Natives have consistently exceeded 40% for almost the past 30 years.
On an American Indian Reservation
|Panel A. American Indian Alaska Native Alone or in Combination||1990||2000||2010||2015|
|Percent of Children Under 18 Living in Families with Income Below the PovertyÂ Level||0.44||0.43||0.46|
|Panel B. American Indian Alaska Native Alone||1990||2000||2010||2015|
|Percent of Children Under 18 Living in Families with Income Below the PovertyÂ Level||0.55||0.44||0.44||0.47|
Source: 2000 US Census, 2010 and 2015 ACS Data, 1990 Census of Population, Social and Economic Characteristics, United States, 1990 CP-2-1 (Tables 94 and 112); 1990 Census of Population, Social and Economic Characteristics, American Indian and Alsaka Native Areas, 1990 CP-2-1 A (Table 12).
However, a recent National Academics of Sciences (NAS) report affirms what many in these communities have long knownâ€”that the data on poverty are sparse and not as reliable for this group as it is for other groups or communities in the U.S.:
“Small sample sizes in population surveys have made it particularly difficult to reliably measure poverty rates among American Indian and Alaska Native children. Moreover, we know little about the effectiveness of a number of important programs and policies â€“ whether provided by the tribes, by the states, or by the federal government â€“ that affect this population.”
As a result, it is quite difficult to accurately track the impact that various programs have had on child poverty over time or how applicable standard assessments of what poverty looks like actually are to American Indian communities. Are conditions as bad as indicated by the official poverty rates shown above? Historically, high levels of perceived poverty have been used to justify the removal of American Indian children from their households by state foster care systems. As recently as the 1970s, state welfare agents were removing almost one third of all American Indian children from their households and placing them in state foster or adoptive care systems. (Mannes, 1995)
One of the aims of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978 was to stop the removal of American Indian children from their households due to poverty. A number of studies had confirmed that social workers were removing American Indian children from households not due to maltreatment or being orphaned but simply due to the perceived poverty status of the household (see MacEachron, Ann E., and Nora Gustavsson, 2005). The ICWA legislation was intended to improve tribal control over the determination and placement of American Indian children within the foster care system.
Congress reaffirmed tribal government authority and oversight of the placement of its own citizens â€“ its children. Tribal courts were delegated the authority and jurisdiction over the placement of its own citizens (and those eligible for tribal citizenship enrollment) in foster or adoptive homes.