When Christi Gonzalez tried to gain custody of her nephew, the lines of communication between the American Indian tribe her nephew belongs to and the state Department of Human Services weren't open enough, she said.
Gonzalez said DHS workers were unaware of how to handle the situation and would often refer her to the tribe, saying they should take care of the problem internally.
“But yet, we really needed outside sources to help us find the right avenues to take,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez, the Indian child welfare social services director for the Tonkawa Tribe of Oklahoma, is now lauding an executive order issued recently by Gov. Mary Fallin. The order is intended to open the lines of communication between tribes and DHS to help better resolve child welfare cases.
The order, issued Nov. 12, allows DHS and tribal workers to openly share information and work collaboratively on cases involving things like child neglect and foster care.
Jacque Hensley, American Indian liaison for the governor's office, said the problem is ongoing and needed to be addressed.
“A lot of kids are falling through the cracks, a lot of cases are falling through the cracks,” Hensley said. “There's some cases that DHS has that the tribe does not know they have until way down the line. And so, things are just off kilter.”