Receiving the award were Blackfeet Manpower One Stop Center Director George Kipp IV, Blackfeet Child Support Enforcement Program (BCSEP) Administrator Agnes Black Weasel and BCSEP Administrative-Financial Assistant Nieko Ray.

The Blackfeet Child Support Enforcement Program (BCSEP) received the National Award for Tribal Child Support Programs for the “Outstanding Tribe Award.” This is awarded to the Tribe who has demonstrated outstanding leadership and willingness to help Tribes everywhere ensure that the needs of children have been met. This is the second year in a row that the program has received national recognition, winning the Lucille Dawson Award for Professional Excellence last year.

The program has increased collections consistently since 2014. FY 2015 collections totaled $51,868 and have consistently climbed with the turnaround of the program to full functionality. The program currently reported collections that have tripled that amount for FY18. 

The Blackfeet Nation faces an unemployment rate of 87.6 percent with a dropout rate of high school students that is also high. With the teen pregnancies and births, as well as drug addicted births, the prospect of collections from these families is quite impossible. BCSEP developed a solution which resulted in a cooperative agreement with the Tribal Court, Manpower One Stop Center and Child Support to issue mandatory requirements through the support order to order clients to wraparound services for education and employment opportunities. The BCSEP monitors these cases to ensure that the clients are participating in the wraparound opportunities for GED, job readiness training, college classes, healthy relationships and parenting, and numerous other opportunities available for them to become trained and employable. 

The program has also trudged through the endeavor of attaching assets though Individual Indian Monies through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This also has become standard in any support order obtained that contains specific language as stipulated in the ordinances to attach any trust assets. This allows the program to attach lease monies, land buy-back monies and any other assets managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This process was lengthy and required many educational sessions with the local Bureau of Indian Affairs while accessing the “Kennerly Process” for attaching these trust assets for monies owed to the child support program for the families. The program had to adapt and learn the appeals hearing process established to ensure that the cases were adequately presented and prepared in the event of a hearing. This is separate from any court presentation required by the program within the Tribal Court system.

The program administrator, investigators and financial staff must be members of the Tribal Bar as the program plan requires these staff to be able to present their case load in court for an order. This test is approximately eight hours long and encompasses the entire Blackfeet Law and Order Code. This is a requirement of the program for employment. Staff must adapt to this type of employment and have the ability to cross form the civil code to the criminal code for child support purposes. The staff must have a knowledge of presentation of cases and the filing of all required legal documents to ensure that their case load is handled properly and effectively with no delay to the families. This is original in form as most child support programs have administrative law or have an in-house attorney that performs this type of legal work. BCSEP is required to perform their own case management as well as perform all legal work for a case, including criminal processes when required. These case investigators function as intake, paternity, establishment, enforcement and crossing to the criminal portion of the code. This is original in the form that they function as the legal advocate and members of the Tribal Bar to function in the legal realm of the case load. 

The BCSEP staff play a big role in partnership with law enforcement, tribal courts and the social service programs to enhance the wellness of the Blackfeet Reservation. By incorporating the wraparound service portion of a support order, it opens the availability for treatment options for drug and alcohol addicted parents. This portion of the family structure barriers is embraced by the family court that BCSEP works with directly under the civil portion of operations. This allows for the flow of guardianship cases in which grandparents are raising grandchildren to allow for re-unification of the family and to create a healthy holistic family structure going forward.

The BCSEP has demonstrated a desire to own the cases in which they would normally have jurisdiction, by geographical boundaries as well as subject matter and personal jurisdiction. With cooperative meetings with the Montana CSED and the structure of the guidelines specified in 45 CFR 303.11 (b) (21) (i) (B) allows for the transfer of cases to a Tribal IV-D program without the request of the recipient of services. The Blackfeet program was instrumental in advocating for this transfer of cases due to the ability to better serve their members, access areas such as the IIM account, per capita payments, land sales and buy-back resources.

The BCSEP has had to develop a manner within the legal process to ensure that orders that are established for children can readily adapt to the ever-changing custodial issues with these children. Children can rotate through as many as 8 to 10 homes in any given year, and the child support program has had to adapt to this process of household and custodial changes to ensure that services are provided properly to these children. Although the order does follow the child as standard process, the matter of holding the proper individuals accountable for their children is a matter of ever-changing custodial patterns for these children. The program has developed a legal document that insures the children’s support follows them, and so the proper parents are held accountable at the proper time. 

The program has developed newer processes, including IIM, Per Capita, new hire notifications for seasonal employment through Blackfeet TERO, training and educational mandates for absent parents, and other avenues to ensure that collections for the families is consistently enhanced and developed.

As legal advocates as well as case managers, the work load for this program is extremely high. There is a case load exceeding 4,000 and growing, due to case transfers from Montana as well as consistently fluctuating guardianship cases. The staff must consistently adapt, investigate and perform the legal process on each case within the program. 

The staff of this program donates an enormous amount of personal time to be involved in community activities that enhance and promote the wellness of their clients. The example that is mandated to be set by each BCSEP employee is to ensure that our clients have an example of what we are trying to help them achieve in their own personal lives. The program initiatives and enhancements only leads way to benefit other Tribes in joining the same processes and reach for the same goals that are established to benefit our families. This also enhances the perception of child support programs in the communities where we work and educates our communities to our presence and the services we offer to promote the health of our families.

The motto of Tribal Child Support Programs is “Taking care of our children is a cultural responsibility as ancient as each of our Tribes.” The Blackfeet Child Support Program has demonstrated this belief by providing an entire supportive service to our clients to aid them in obtaining sustainability and becoming a healthy unit for the children involved. This National Award validates the initiatives, work and efforts to make our community responsible for our children.

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