“Indian Placement: The Three Most Common Questions,” Ensign, July 1976, 35–37
The Indian Student Placement Program is twenty-two years old this month, having been made an official program of the Church in July 1954.
Over the years most Church members, especially in the western United States, have been aware of considerable activity in Indian placement; but as the 1976–77 school year rapidly approaches, an unusual number of questions are being asked about the program’s current status and about how members might become involved.
The following questions are the ones asked most often:
Q. Has the program lived up to its original expectations? or is it gradually being phased out?
A. Far from being phased out, the Indian Student Placement Program is alive and well, operating on a more solid foundation now than ever before.
The concept of Indian placement has been firmly rooted in Latter-day Saint tradition since the early days of the Church, when many pioneer families took in Indian children for upbringing and education. The actual Placement Program’s developmental stage began in 1947 when the first three students were placed in foster homes in central Utah. Since that time, more than 20,000 students and 10,000 foster families have participated.
The number of participating students has varied in the two decades of the program’s official existence; currently, however, more than 2,300 students from approximately sixty-three tribes and twenty-one states and provinces are enrolled. They are placed in foster homes in Alberta and British Columbia, Canada, and in Washington, California, Idaho, Arizona, and Utah.
Originally much of the preparation and orientation work on the reservations was conducted by Placement Program staff members and missionaries. But in 1971 local priesthood leaders began to assume responsibility for student applications and orientation, giving the program a more solid foundation in the priesthood programs of the Church.
The objective of the Indian Student Placement Program has always been to provide Lamanite children with educational, spiritual, social, and cultural opportunities that would contribute to their leadership development.
It was never anticipated that the fruits of the Placement Program would be harvested overnight; but after twenty years of development, some exciting things are beginning to happen. Strong and capable leaders are beginning to show up on tribal councils, in positions of leadership in reservation government, in branches, wards, and stakes, in positions in federal government—and this trend is expected to continue at an accelerating rate. Standards of living have been increased, and spirituality as well.
Small wonder that President Spencer W. Kimball has referred to the Indian Placement Program as “an inspiration from the Lord.”
Q. Some of the requirements for families who would like to receive a foster child seem unreasonable and difficult to meet. We’re not wealthy, and we have children of our own. Could we possibly qualify for an Indian student on placement?
A. Each placement of an Indian student into a foster home is based upon the professional judgment of the Placement Program’s staff members following a review of all the factors presented by the natural family, the foster family, and the student. Along with professional judgment, each staff member seeks inspiration in placing the right child with the right family.
Foster parents are selected on the basis of their good marital relationships, high moral standards, activity in the Church, age and sex of children, financial stability, and a desire to help a Lamanite child gain an education. Such things as hobbies and interests are also taken into account. For example, an Indian child who enjoys music is, whenever possible, given an opportunity to live with a family that can offer music instruction. It is hoped that once a child is placed he will continue with the same family as long as he is on the program.
In every case the prospective foster family must meet the standards of their local licensed agency; these standards vary from state to state.
There must be enough room for the foster child. The family must be financially able to take on another member and provide food, clothing, shelter, school fees, and incidental medical expenses for the foster child as they would for their own children. Although it’s not quite as simple as “one more cup of water in the soup,” financial requirements seldom disqualify the average family. Incidentally, the children who go on placement receive a physical examination each year and are in generally good health. The foster family is not responsible for major medical expenses that may arise.
In general, those who have a genuine desire to have an Indian student in their home, who are flexible and willing to accept another culture, who are living the gospel, and whose financial circumstances are reasonably sound should apply and let the agency be the judge of their qualifications.
Application forms may be obtained from bishops and either mailed directly to the Placement Program offices or submitted through the bishop. After an evaluation and interview, foster families who do qualify will be informed of the placement process.
Q. We’re a little afraid that if an Indian student comes into our home we’ll have trouble getting used to each other. Are there usually a lot of adjustments to be made?
A. This is a fear that surfaces in almost every family at one time or another; but in almost every case either the fears turn out to be unfounded or the few problems that do arise are resolved within a relatively short time.
One foster mother had this to say about her family’s experiences:
“After an hour’s drive and an endless wait, we were most anxious and uncertain about our meeting with our new foster daughter. Finally Laura, eight years old and newly baptized, was introduced to us. I don’t think she said anything. Few words were spoken by any of us.
“Soon we were on our way home, and after five minutes of riding, Laura was fast asleep. Five more minutes and her head started leaning and soon was resting on the shoulder of our young son Doug, age three. There were quiet giggles from our girls, and our little boy remained frozen and a pillow for Laura’s head the rest of the way home.
“The moment we arrived home the children rushed Laura in through our front door and out through the back door where they found our mother cat and her new kittens. It was there we saw what a beautiful smile Laura has. From that time on she was relaxed and felt comfortable around our children.”
After eight years, this sister says, “We don’t think of Laura as a foster daughter, but we love her as one of our own, even though we know we can never take the place of her natural parents and family.”
Another foster parent told how the neighborhood responded to “our small, brown-eyed boy Felix, who was frightened half to death” when they met him:
“The neighborhood accepted Felix the moment he arrived. He barely got his things inside the house before they had him playing football. They made him a part of them, and he’s a part of them to this day.”
Of course there are fears and minor adjustment problems—homesickness, etc.—but preparation before placement serves to keep these problems to a minimum.
A great deal of consideration and prayer goes into the selection of a foster family, but an equal amount of careful consideration goes into the selection and preparation of the foster child as well. These Lamanite students have earned the opportunity to participate in the program on the basis of their academic achievements, religious attitudes and activity, and degree of social adjustment. They are members of the Church in good standing; they are receiving at least average grades in school; they are largely free from emotional disturbances; they have a desire to succeed. Their parents have thought carefully about the Placement Program and are anxious for their children to take advantage of the opportunities presented. The Indian families, too, prepared themselves for this experience through prayer.
Foster parents take part in four orientation sessions prior to the time they receive their child. In these sessions they learn about cultural adjustments, program policies, and ways to coordinate their efforts with the natural parents. Later, they have the opportunity to participate in foster parent group meetings.
The program also provides professional casework supervision in behalf of every child placed in the home of foster parents. These staff members are an important resource. Staff members are also assigned to assist wards and branches in working with the natural parents of the students. They visit families on a regular basis to coordinate the efforts of the natural and foster parents, keeping the full circle of communication open and minimizing any problems that could arise.
The foster children are received into the home as regular members of the family, not as servants and not as privileged guests. It is important that they share in family responsibilities and learn to do many things in the home.
These fine students are encouraged to work, to study regularly, to take part in school, Church, family, and community activities.
Perhaps it is unnecessary to point out that the blessings resulting from the Indian Student Placement Program do not all accrue to the Indian; the foster family also benefits to an extent impossible to measure. One mother reported:
“When my husband suggested that we apply for a placement student, I was stunned. I hadn’t thought about it much, but I don’t think I even liked Indians very much. I’m not sure how I felt. But I resolved those feelings, and we did get our foster son; and I can hardly express how I feel now about our experiences. This young man took us outside ourselves. We have experienced love we never would have been able to experience otherwise. We have seen into his culture and sensed something of the great promise there. Our family will never be the same.”
Understandably, not all foster home situations have been without difficulties. Each family and every student must make some adjustments, but solving problems of this kind inevitably tends to broaden experiences and deepen the love of all involved. Some families have thought they were failures, but those who have been with the program for many years are quick to point out that there are no failures in the Placement Program. Even though a small percentage of the students terminate in midyear or don’t return after a school year, they never forget their experiences. They, too, are never the same.