WHITECLAY — Nora Boesem learned the hard way how little child welfare officials think of children with fetal alcohol syndrome.
When she and her husband applied to be foster parents, they said they would not take children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Their first three placements all had FASD. When she began seeking assistance for them, she was told they were lucky — they hadn’t adopted them yet and could send them back.
“I didn’t take that well,” she said. “A child is not a pair of shoes.”
A day after the Nebraska Supreme Court rejected an appeal seeking the reopening of Whiteclay’s four beer stores, the Legislature’s Whiteclay Task Force heard from local residents and others about the challenges facing the village near the South Dakota border.
The stores, which were forced to close in April, had for decades served millions of cans of beer each year to the Oglala Lakota people of South Dakota’s nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where alcohol is banned.
At the summit on Saturday, Boesem said she and her husband eventually decided they would only foster children with FASD. She is now president of Roots to Wings FASD and the parent to 12 children with fetal alcohol syndrome.
“A lot of my children are products of Whiteclay, and their parents are products of Whiteclay.”
Some spoke Saturday about the need for better access to health care in the Nebraska communities near Whiteclay.
Thirty percent of children under 18 in Sheridan County live in poverty, and a recent health needs survey by the Panhandle Public Health District shows that health care costs are barriers to access for much of the population.
Telehealth services offered through the University of Nebraska Medical Center may be a partial solution, said Dr. Fernando Wilson, of the UNMC Center for Health Policy. UNMC is already offering virtual drug and alcohol counseling at the Oglala Sioux Tribe Nursing Home south of Whiteclay, he said.
UNMC also recently hired an expert in fetal alcohol syndrome.
The Pine Ridge Reservation needs a detoxification center, an expanded residential treatment facility — the current one on the reservation has a capacity of seven — and transitional facilities, said Selina Hayle, the national expansion director for the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions.
While closing the Whiteclay beer stores hasn’t solved the alcoholism and drug problems on the reservation, Boesem said, it has created hope that more is possible.