Presidential task force for protecting Native children in IHS takes first steps

U.S. Attorney Trent Shores, Choctaw: ‘Protecting Native American children who enter the Indian Health Service system is a common sense mission.’

On March 26th, the Trump administration announced the creation of a presidential task force aimed at protecting the rights of Native American children that are treated or might seek medical treatment within the confines of the Indian Health Service.

The Presidential Task Force on Protecting Native Children was created in part as a response to a predatory pediatrician by the name of Stanley Patrick Weber, who was an IHS doctor and was convicted of the sexual assault of Native boys. Weber left the agency in 2016, and he is now serving time in prison.

See related: PBS Frontline, Wall Street Journal broadcast 'Predator on the Reservation'

On April 4, the White House Office of the Press Secretary released its first report on the Task Forces’ first convened meeting on “examining institutional and systemic problems that may have failed to prevent the predatory abuse of Native American children in the care of the Indian Health Service.”

TaskForcePCh Floyd
Members of the Task Force discussing the protection of Native American children in the Indian Health system. (Courtesy photo: United States Attorney’s Office Northern District of Oklahoma) 

As reported by the White House, “In today’s inaugural meeting, the task force discussed its mission, expectations, and goals, including seeking the perspective of Native Americans on the IHS system. The task force met with Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief James Floyd. Principal Chief Floyd is the chief executive of the tribe, with 28 years of federal service that includes the management of Veterans Affairs facilities in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Utah. The task force also heard from Dr. Mark Butterbrodt, a former pediatrician at Pine Ridge reservation, and Inspector Curt Muller, Office of the Inspector General for Health and Human Services.”

According to the White House, the Task Force discussed the exploration of issues related to the recruitment and retention of healthcare providers, the existing relationships, and “lessons learned” between healthcare providers and federal, state, local and tribal authorities, all while being mindful of cultural relevancies in the Indian Health system.

The members of the task force are:

Joseph Grogan, assistant to the president for domestic policy, co-chair; United States Attorney Trent Shores, co-chair; Bo Leach, assistant special agent in charge, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Office of Justice Services; Stephanie Knapp, MSW, LCSW, child/adolescent forensic interviewer, Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Office for Victims Assistance, Child Victim Services Unit; Shannon Bears Cozzoni, tribal liaison, and assistant United States attorney, United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Oklahoma; Caitlin A. Hall, MD, FAAP, clinical director/pediatrician, Dzilth-na-o-dith-hle Health Center, Indian Health Service; and Farnoosh Faezi-Marian, program examiner, Office of Management and Budget.

Last Thursday, U.S. Attorney Trent Shores, Choctaw tweeted, “Important topics of discussion w/ #MCN Chief Floyd: Recruitment & Retention of Quality/Skilled @IHSgov Healthcare Professionals; Credentialing & Privileging Process; Mandatory Reporting Requirements for Child Sexual Abuse.”

Shores also noted a discussion with Mark Butterbrodt, a physician, who had worked for IHS in Pine Ridge and authored a memorandum of understanding for reporting child abuse.

As Shores previously mentioned in a release to Indian Country Today, “Protecting Native American children who enter the Indian Health Service system is a common sense mission."

He told Indian Country Today via email that the multidisciplinary task force is focused and solution-oriented. 

"Each individual brings a wealth of experience from their work in Indian Country and believes that this is a righteous cause. Protecting Native American children is the right thing to do. At our first meeting, we met with those who’ve worked within the healthcare system, like Principal Chief James Floyd of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, who discussed the recruitment process and the importance of vetting and hiring the best candidates possible to hold these positions of public trust in native communities. As we move forward, the Task Force will take an open, honest look into how the abuse of children was allowed to continue and look for policy and procedures to create effective reporting systems and mitigate the risk posed to children,” said Shores.

Trent Shores
United States Attorney Trent Shores

"The Task Force’s goal is to provide the President with frank answers on systematic breakdowns that led to years of unchecked sexual abuse against children within the Indian Health Service system, specifically in Blackfeet and Pine Ridge. Over the next three months, the Task Force will travel to Blackfeet, Pine Ridge and other facilities across Indian Country to gain insight into IHS policies, practices, and culture. They will also speak with IHS employees and leaders within those Native American communities to gather facts and suggestions in order to gain a greater understanding and to make recommendations to the President."

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