Driven by Tribal Nations, Amended Michigan Law Now Covers Tribal Courts’ and Out-of-State Courts’ Children and Guardians
By Katie Halloran
Photo provided by Governor Whitmer’s Office. Used with permission.
“I was honored when Chairman Stuck asked me to represent NHBP at the ceremonial signing of the Guardian Assistance Program (GAP) funding law with Governor Whitmer,” said NHBP Social Services Director Meg Fairchild of her firsthand experience on September 13, 2023. “Especially since I participated in this process from the beginning, and with a relatively timely and successful outcome at the end, all to benefit the Tribal children in Michigan.”
Like any legal process, amending the GAP funding law required much effort, talent and collaboration, even more so, as it involved each of the 12 Tribal Courts in Michigan.
Fairchild acknowledges the efforts of the Bay Mills Indian Community Social Services and Legal Team for identifying that the original GAP funding legislation did not allow the same financial support for guardians to care for eligible children in their care, if they were legally placed under a Tribal court’s code or law. The original law also didn’t include guardianship placement from out-of-state courts.
Not only did Bay Mills Indian Community Social Services and Legal Team identify the issue, but the team also offered draft language to rectify this oversight and lack of funding. This action from Bay Mills initiated the two-year process of each of Michigan’s Tribal Nations to begin working with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and Michigan’s elected officials to get the GAP funding law amended.
“The Guardianship Assistance Program (GAP) provides financial support to guardians of eligible children to ensure stable, permanent homes for children who may otherwise remain in foster care until they are 18 years of age. The Guardianship Assistance Act was amended to allow an eligible child to be placed in a guardianship under another state’s law or code, or a tribal court’s law or code.” MDHHS Children’s Services Administration Communication Issuance 23-087
According to Fairchild, the amendment to the law happened at a crucial time for one NHBP child who had been removed from their biological parents due to child abuse and neglect.
“The NHBP Tribal Court had placed this child in a guardianship,” said Fairchild. “Prior to the amendment of this law, the child and guardians were not eligible for financial assistance to provide for the child’s care, since the guardianship was established in a Tribal Court and not a Michigan State Court. In anticipation of this law being amended, NHBP Social Services staff worked with the MDHHS staff to apply for guardianship assistance. This meant that once the law was amended, the application was processed, and the family began receiving this financial support, which will assist them in providing permanency and care for the child.”
At NHBP, we appreciate all the Tribal Social Services Teams who work tirelessly against the bureaucracies and established systems in place that often negate the rights of Tribal Sovereign Nations.
“This is arduous work, so it is re-energizing to be able to celebrate a success to continue to fight for the rights of Tribal children and families,” said Fairchild. Read more about the GAP funding amendment on Native News Online: Michigan Tribal Leaders on Hand for Ceremonial Bills Signing by Gov. Whitmer | Sovereignty (nativenewsonline.net)