Recent report reveals disparities in Native American community
This month, a report titled “The Native American Community in Multnomah County: An Unsettling Profile,” was released in partnership by Portland State and the Coalition of Communities of Color.
The report is the result of a three-year project to investigate the state of Native American welfare as a whole, and it presents a dark portrait of the state of the Native American Community in Multnomah County. This is especially true when it comes to the issue of Native American child welfare.
In Multnomah Country, Native American children are often at higher risk than other ethnicities for social issues like high poverty rates, low graduation rates and lack of health care, according to the report.
In general, according to the report, Multnomah County performs poorly when it comes to issues such as child welfare. For the past eight years, Oregon has also been in the bottom tier, consistently performing as one of the worst five states in the nation for child welfare. The report states that in Multnomah County, 15.2 of every 1,000 children are placed in foster care; the state average is 10.2 children per 1,000, and the national average is 6.3 children per 1,000.
The most startling numbers reflect the high rates at which Native American children are being placed into foster care. The report states that 22 percent of Native American children in Multnomah County are taken from their families and placed in foster care, a rate 20 times higher than the foster care placement rate of white children.
The number of Native American children in foster care is significantly higher than in any other community of color. Out of every 1,000 Native American children in Oregon, 218 are currently in foster care—a percentage that is six times higher than the foster care placement rate of black children.
“This is not just a Native issue—this is a community issue,” said Lai-Lani Ovalles, indigenous community engagement coordinator at the Native American Youth & Family Center, which is based out of Portland.
“When you compare the national averages for Native Americans, the closer you get to Multnomah County, the worse off you get,” Ovalles said.
Groups like NAYA work to improve these conditions by providing families an opportunity to reconnect after they have been separated by the foster care system. Additionally, NAYA offers tutoring to foster care children, who are statistically shown to suffer more academically than other students.
Native American groups like NAYA work to make these issues known to the public.
“One of the biggest challenges we face is the phenomena of invisibility,” Ovalles said.
Statistics released by the Department of Human Services for Multnomah County confirm some of the trends found in the report. The rate at which Native American children are removed from families that have been found to be abusive or neglectful is higher than all other ethnicities, at 56.5 percent, according to the DHS. The rate is 41.6 percent for white families and 43.1 percent for black families.
However, there is at least one discrepancy between the statistics provided by DHS and the PSU/CCC report.
While the PSU/CCC study finds that 20 percent of Native American children in Multnomah County are in foster care, Gene Evans, DHS communications director and child welfare communications officer, said that number is “too high”.
“Our numbers show 7.3 percent,” Evans said.
But the DHS points out that this statistical disparity is not the true issue at hand.
“The number isn’t really the issue—the issue is there are too many Native American children in foster care in Oregon,” Evans continued. “It’s a serious problem that we take seriously.”
Evans explained a series of changes that are taking place within the system, including trying to place children with relatives as opposed to foster families. The DHS is doing so by working with judges and welfare officers.
“We are working with the tribes, working with the courts and working with the urban Native American populations who aren’t living in a tribal setting to help address these issues,” Evans said.
The report released by PSU and the CCC also presents solutions to the issue. Their solutions include increasing funding for the development of communities and culturally specific purposes, as well as working to make “make the invisible visible.”