The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) was passed by Congress in an effort to address a problem. Native-American children were being removed from their families by well-meaning, but sometimes misinformed, social workers and agencies and being placed in non-Native homes for foster care and adoption. Tribes argued that in many of these cases, the children were not being neglected or abused, but were simply being reared in culturally-appropriate ways that were unfamiliar to non-Native child welfare workers. As a result, tribes were losing their children and children were losing connection to their tribal culture in which they had been raised.
Congressional response was well-intentioned, but ultimately short-sighted. Thirty-three years later, tribes are being given an inordinate amount of power in many child custody decisions, and the law is impacting far more children than it was ever intended to touch. In many cases, a tribal government, consisting of people who have never met the child, will persuade courts to overrule the wishes of a birth parent who has chosen an adoptive plan for his or her child. In other cases, a tribal government will persuade courts to move children out of foster homes in which the children have lived for a considerable amount of time and in which the children have formed deep, psychological attachments, to live with distant relatives in states far from where the children were raised. In so many of the cases impacted by ICWA, the children are multi-ethnic, with mere traces of Native-American blood and no previous connection to their tribes or customs. In one case, a tribe fought in court to prevent the adoption of a child who was 1/512 Native.
At Home Forever, we believe all children deserve permanency and stability, and that a tribe should never have the right to dictate the placement of any child, regardless of that child’s heritage. These children are American citizens and they should have the same rights as any other child, including the right to a safe and stable placement. As such, we have fought and will continue to fight for justice and equality for children of Native heritage.