Only two foster homes in San Juan County belong to American Indian families, but more than half of the 85 children in foster care now are American Indian.

That means about 40 American Indian youths in the local foster system are living with non-native families.

The Children, Youth and Families Department, charged with placing children in alternate homes if their own families are deemed unsafe for reasons of abuse or neglect, is having a hard time finding enough native families for the number of native children in the system.

The department does everything it can to match a child with a family of a similar background.

That doesn't work when fewer homes than children are in the system, which means native children more often than not end up in non-native families.

This is contrary to federal policy, which directs the department to make every effort to place children of American Indian descent in homes that nourish their cultural identity. But without more native families stepping up to offer a home for children, there is little the department can do to remedy this situation.

The Indian Child Welfare Act provides four placement options, which the department must pursue in descending order every time it places a native child.

The first option is to place American Indian children with a relative who can provide a safe environment and who eventually attains a foster care license.

The second option is for a child to be placed in a family from the same American Indian tribe.

The third is for the child to be placed with a American Indian family not of the same tribe.

The final option, and the one the CYFD most often uses, is matching native children with non-native families that simply have a foster care license.

This is a loss for children and for potential foster families. It's also a loss when it comes to efforts to revitalize native traditions and teach them to the children.

We encourage all native families with the resources that can allow children a home to contact the Children, Youth and Families Department.

Fostering a child is one of the most rewarding things a family can do.

For more information, visit cyfd.org.