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Ensuring Federal Programs are More Inclusive of Native Americans

The holidays are a time to reflect and acknowledge the contributions of Native Americans. Sadly, despite the contributions Native Americans have made to the U.S., they frequently do not fully benefit from federal programs, including early care and education programs. Although there are multiple funding streams available for tribal early care and education, these programs are frequently underfunded.

There is a clear need to invest in and expand early care and education programs that serve Native American children and families. According to a forthcoming BPC survey of Native American parents, among Native American parents who say at least one member of their household is not currently working, 77 percent said child care responsibilities had an influence on their decision not to work, including 64 percent who say it had a significant influence. Among Native American parents using a formal child care arrangement, 55 percent say their child care provider is experiencing employee shortages.

Federal law often sets funding levels for federally recognized tribes as a percentage of the total authorization without determining funding based on tribal population counts or actual need. HHS, for example, must allocate tribal grantees no less than 2% of discretionary CCDF funding and up to 2% of mandatory CCDF funding, meaning tribes may have more children than they were funded to serve.

Tribal Home Visiting (THV), which improves prenatal care and reduces child injuries, abuse, neglect, and emergency room visits for tribal grantees, is another underfunded federal program. The law sets aside 3% of the annual funding for tribes, meaning that only a small number of tribes can be served despite the benefits. In FY2019, while all 50 states received funding for home visiting, only 23 of the 574 federally recognized tribes, or 4 percent, were served by THV. This amounts to 4,177 of the 339,400 (1.23 percent) of Native American families who could have benefitted from this program.

The programs that do ground funding in tribal count data, such as IDEA Part B Grants to States and IDEA Part C Early intervention, leave out the 78 percent of Native Americans who live outside of tribal statistical areas. Tribal count data only counts those living on reservations or other tribal land trusts, making it more difficult for the majority of Native Americans living off tribal lands to access services.

In addition to insufficient funding, there continues to be a lack of systematic data collection both on tribal populations and on tribal programs. This not only results in a shortage of consistent data on Native American children and families but makes it harder to evaluate the effectiveness of tribal programs.

Looking at existing data points reveals stark inequities:

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In addition, Native American children are more likely to face harsh disciplinary practices in schools. Native American children make up less than 1 percent of the preschool population but 9 percent of corporal punishment incidents. In California, Native American boys are 2.5 times more likely and Native American girls are 3.7 times more likely to be suspended in early childhood settings than their same-aged, same-gender peers. In terms of infant health, between 2010 and 2017, the rate of being diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome was 1.6 times higher for Native American infants than for Non-Hispanic White infants in Oregon.

Creating equitable early childhood programs in the United States means ensuring that everyone, including Native American children, have access to high-quality early childhood opportunities. While it is important to celebrate the contributions of Native Americans during the holidays, we must always work to create a more inclusive system that is accessible to everyone.

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