Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

By Jerry Sweet

Why There Is a Need for Tribal Child Support Programs


Why do Native American tribes need their own child support programs? Why shouldn’t tribes continue to utilize state child support programs? These are two very complex and important questions, which I hope to answer in this brief piece.

Since 1974, states have operated child support programs to provide services to all eligible children. Tribal children, however, through no fault of state programs, often could not receive the benefits of state child support programs because of where they lived. State IV-D agencies do not have jurisdiction over the reservations or tribal lands where many tribal children reside. Tribal courts issued orders for child support, but due to the lack of regulations, the orders did not always meet the needs of the children and enforcement was difficult at best. The lack of state jurisdiction over native children on tribal lands is what gives rise to the need for tribal child support programs. The exercise of tribal sovereignty is why tribes should operate their own child support programs, or enter into an agreement with another tribe or tribal organization to provide the needed services.

Since 1996 when the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act was enacted, and later with the publication of Tribal IV-D regulations in 2001 and 2004, more than 50 tribes have developed child support programs. These programs together have collected more than $86 million dollars in child support for tribal children and have established paternity for several thousand children. With the issuance of the Tribal IV-D regulations, tribal codes have been enhanced that now allow tribal courts to enter orders that meet the needs of tribal children. Tribal IV-D agencies partnering with tribal courts have become very effective in ensuring that non-custodial parents comply with court orders.

Partnerships between tribal and state IV-D agencies have found ways to work together to improve the lives of all children. For instance, state agencies have learned that working cooperatively with tribes provides an additional means to collect state-owed monies that would otherwise be difficult, if not impossible, to recover. Additionally, tribal IV-D programs are able to collaborate with states to locate and enforce orders against non-resident obligors. We have learned that we all have one common interest -- our children.

Since 1997, the number of tribal programs has grown tremendously. The concept of a tribal IV-D program began long before PRWORA was enacted, with

one Oklahoma tribe advocating for the program. Those efforts paved the way for the first 11 tribes to receive demonstration grants, which proved highly successful and set the stage for the regulations we have today. Currently there are more than 50 tribal IV-D programs. They have gone from using pencil and paper to Excel spreadsheets to soon being able to track cases utilizing automation. Partnering with OCSE, tribes are developing the Model Tribal System that will allow them to monitor their cases, process payments, and produce reports, the same as state programs do under state systems. Working with OCSE and the IRS and with the help of tribal associations, it is anticipated that tribes will soon have access to the full benefit of Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, allowing tribes to intercept IRS refunds and take advantage of all the services offered through the Federal Parent Locator System.

Why is there a need for Tribal child support programs? Because several thousand tribal children who live on tribal lands need financial support from their parents for their basic necessities. Unlike the situation prior to 1996, orders affecting native children on tribal land are now enforceable and parents are now being held accountable for the support of their children. Why do tribes need their own child support programs? Because tribal Sovereignty depends on tribes governing their own citizens, thus ensuring that parents, not tribes or state agencies, provide for the financial needs of their children.

*Jerry Sweet is a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma. While working with the Pima County Child Support Office in Arizona, he recognized that the native population was being underserved, or in some instances, not served at all. He developed the first Tribal IV-D Child Support Program for the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma in 1997. He is the former president of the National Tribal Child Support Association. He has served on the board of directors for NCSEA and ERICSA. He currently serves as the IV-D Director for the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, and operates a child support consortium that includes 14 tribes in Oklahoma and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina.


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