Daugaard (p)responds to NPR

When I wrote my blog post yesterday about NPR’s series on South Dakota’s foster care system and Gov. Daugaard’s history as head of the Children’s Home Society and that agency’s state contracts, I had not seen this.

Gov. Daugaard's prebuttal to NPR series

 Gov. Daugaard’s office sent this out to South Dakota media in advance of Laura Sullivan’s three-part series, which concludes today. (MDR’s intrepid editor Seth Tupper emailed me this document after my blog post was published.) The prebuttal is as much required reading as the NPR series itself.

Every state official who has dealt with Sullivan, including Secretary of Social Services Kim Malsam–‐Rysdon and Governor’ Office Press Secretary Joe Kafka, has characterized Sullivan as being one‐sided and predisposed to a particular position, regardless of the facts.

Daugaard and his staff concluded correctly that NPR’s stories would not be glowing, and they (p)responded to what they anticipated the focus would be – Daugaard’s history as head of the Children’s Home Society and that nonprofit’s state contracts.

Part 2 of the series does focus on that, and as bad as it looks – and it looks bad by any objective measure – I think there are much more important aspects of NPR’s coverage, both broadcast on All Things Considered and the more extensive online content.

The much bigger, longer-standing issue is whether South Dakota complies with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act and other laws, for example when social workers enter Indian reservations with which the state has no agreement and remove tribal children from their homes. The Crow Creek tribe threatened to prosecute for kidnapping in one case, NPR reported, and the children were promplty returned to their relatives.

Back to Daugaard, CHS and state contracts. This seems to me to be an unfortunate aspect of the story, almost a distraction from the ICWA issue. All of the unflattering facts are true: Dennis Daugaard was both lieutenant governor and CEO of CHS when the agency landed some big state contracts.  

I’m guessing anyone who’s been around South Dakota politics for very long probably had a similar reaction to my own: “I knew most of that already, but, yeah, when you say it like that it doesn’t sound so good.”

I’ve watched Dennnis Daugaard since his early legislative career, and to be frank, he won me over when he spent an entire legislative session trying in vain to pass some reforms for the state’s juvenile corrections system after 14-year-old Gina Score died in the state’s boot camp. To this day, you would have to convince me that he doesn’t approach his work and his life by trying to contribute to the greater good. I’ve been disappointed by people before, but every interaction I’ve had with Daugaard reinforces those early observations.

Couple Daugaard’s earnest nature with South Dakota’s citizen Legislature and even our citizen lieutenant governors, and the intersection of his political office and his private sector job don’t seem too remarkable to Rushmore State folks. It looks different to those hailing from bigger locales – and almost every place is bigger than South Dakota.  

In his prebuttal, Daugaard et al point out the long-standing relationship between the Department of Social Services and CHS:

There is a long history of contracts between the State and Children’s Home Society to provide services for children, beginning years before Governor Daugaard’s association with Children’s Home Society.

DSS has had contracts with Children’s Home Society going back to 1978, when it was first licensed as a specialized group treatment home.

The relationship between DSS and Children’s Home existed long before Dennis Daugaard was hired there, and the bigger issues with DSS, foster care and native children existed long before he was elected governor or even lieutenant governor. The NPR series reports a financial turnaround for Children’s Home after Daugaard become its CEO and also lieutenant governor. That issue deserves more exploration, and no doubt that will come.

Overall, the tone of Daugaard prebuttal is defensive, but never moreso – and less credibly – than when it claims that, as lt gov, he had no authority over state employees.

None of the DSS officials mentioned were “subordinates” to Lt. Governor Daugaard during the Rounds Administration.

Daugaard was a part-time lieutenant governor. … Like a state legislator, a part‐time lieutenant governor serves during the two-month legislative session, but has another full‐time job. Lt. Governor Daugaard presided over the senate, offered advice to Governor Rounds, and occasionally led special projects for the Governor. He did not oversee any personnel, and had no direct influence over decisions made by DSS employees.

The Secretary of Social Services reported directly to Governor Rounds and to his Chief of Staff.

While technically true, every state employee knew who the lt gov was, and no doubt the Social Services folks who arranged those contracts knew who headed CHS. You simply cannot switch hats at the drop of one. During those years, Daugaard’s head was doubly covered at all times. Those hats were surgically attached.

Even his own prebuttal points out how widely known his two jobs were.

Here’s my hope, especially given my enduring belief in Daugaard’s character. I hope that he acknowledges that the state contracts for CHS look bad, but I hope he then vows as governor to look into South Dakota’s foster care system, our compliance with ICWA and our rate of taking children from their home – about 3 times that of other states.

I hope he works as hard at that as he worked as a young lawmaker to bring some reform to juvenile corrections. This time, he has a lot more power to affect change.

Certainly given his professional background, he is the right governor for the job. Given his personal nature, I hope, he is doubly so.  


7 thoughts on “Daugaard (p)responds to NPR

  1. It’s fine to have an “enduring belief in someone’s character”, but is that really the priority here? Shouldn’t the primary focus be on the facts? Clearly the facts are not in Daugaard’s favor, and his poor response leads me to believe this is as good as it gets for him (this was his “preemptive strike”). In addition to the facts of this case, the concern should be the direction that Daugaard would lead the state. And I don’t have a lot of faith in him choosing what’s in the best interest for the state’s residents, and especially not what’s in the best interest for the some of the state’s most disadvantaged individuals.

    • I think we agree, in that the concern should be on the direction that Daugaard would lead the state. The sense I have of him leaves me with hope. Time will tell. I’ve been wrong before, but I’ve been right a few times, too. The ball, to be sure, is in his court.

  2. How can Daugaard call the NPR story one‐sided? He denied NPR an interview and the chance for them to present the other side of the story. He has no one to blame for that but himself.

  3. Pingback: Governor of South Dakota obsesses over part two of the NPR series about the damage done to Native American families by child protective services « Fight Corrupted Family Courts and CPS

  4. You refer to people hailing from more populated areas. I live in North Dakota–less populated than South Dakota!. I caught a portion of the NPR broadcast after getting home one day. I have been following the issue since, partly through the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, an organization I have followed ever since, almost a dozen years ago, my son was removed from our home by a social worker who simply disregarded statutes regulating child protection (there was no court order, nor did he have legal authority to remove my son). I have connected with other parents, mostly in North Dakota but also Minnesota and farther away whose kids have been removed–kids of every color.

    This cannot stop with South Dakota. The disproportionality is probably slightly higher in North Dakota, where a couple of major non-profits also control much of the system.One of those is Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch, which was implicated in a federal lawsuit a few years ago regarding its religious discrimination. For reasons of legal standing the suit was dismissed–but the case that precipitated it involved a Hispanic girl removed from her (white, non-Hispanic) adoptive parents and not allowed to participate in Catholic religious activity (the Ranch is a Missouri Synod organization). Native American kids are also subject to DBGR discrimination–the effects of which include denial of privileges and longer waits to discharge. The organization also has a history of accreditation violations involving seclusion and restraint (since the state switched to a different accreditation organization covering all residential treatment facilities in the state, there are–conveniently–no more violations).

    What happens with Native kids is a highly concentrated version of the sheer lack of due process, and the bureaucratic coerciveness, that too often characterizes child welfare work. These issues are more pronounced in the Plains and eastern prairie states–where (I believe largely for cultural reasons)all kids are simply more likely to be removed (even though we pride ourselves on our “heartland” family values). To some extent conservative politics that discourage state spending on family supports is a factor–but Minnesota and Iowa are historically fairly liberal states that are just as bad as SD, ND, Nebraska, and Montana at removing too many kids.

    The governor may see nothing wrong because routinely the system is simply incapable of seeing anything wrong. One SD blogger has argued that the high percentage of Native removals is consistent with other poor outcomes for Native Americans–and is therefore to be expected. What he fails to consider is that *in itself*, foster care placement has been shown to have a profoundly negative impact on a child’s life and future. Yes, there are cases in which a child can not be safely left with his or her family, period–but those cases are a very small percentage of foster placements. Large-scale studies have shown that when extreme situations are taken out of the picture, kids do better even in difficult family environments than they do in foster care. The poor adult outcomes for Native Americans alluded to by the blogger I have in mind may very well be the *result* of past foster placement. Kids in foster care are less likely to finish school, more likely to be sick, homeless, or in prison as adults. There is simply no way around that reality.

  5. Like other states, SD has undergone 2 rounds of federal Child and Family Services reviews conducted by the Children’s Bureau, an agency within the Administration for Children and Families, part of the Department of Health and Human Services. South Dakota’s CFS Review is likely available on the state government website (I haven’t looked) and is also available at the ACF website. I glanced through the report, and did note several references to statements made by SD child welfare officials to the effect that ICWA was considered a “barrier” to achieving CFS standards.

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