Thursday, October 18, 2012

ICWA and Dr Phil - Oil and Water

**Disclaimer - I am not an expert on ICWA. Don't claim to be. But I am a foster parent who has studied Native American history extensively and spent much time on reservation in South Dakota and these are my thoughts. For all the facts on ICWA, see the Indian Child Welfare Association's website and this great FAQ.


Wow - the Dr Phil show on ICWA and Baby Veronica just aired here.

Well, lets just say it wasn't what I was expecting. Maybe I hoped for too much. I hoped for a history lesson on the foundations of ICWA, the cultural necessity of preserving native culture and maybe even some suggestions to protect culture when the child is not able to be placed with a native family. Or at least a respectful dialogue - instead this was so, so one sided and anti-tribe. As a white foster and hopeful adoptive parent who has spent much time on reservation - I felt sick and then I felt the need to blog.

As a non-native adoptive parent who has had native children in my home, I believe it is our responsibility to understand the heritage and the roots of adoption at large - and all the missteps (to put it lightly) that have been made along the way - but also specifically understand the roots of Native adoption.

The facts are this, "A 1976 study by the Association on American Indian Affairs found that 25 to 35% of all Indian children were being placed in out-of-home care. Eighty-five percent of those children were being placed in non-Indian homes or institutions. (source)   25 to 35% of ALL Native kids were removed from their family's and the majority of those were placed with non-natives! As white Americans, we have no scope for how many that is - and how itDr affected and continues to affect the native culture at large.

And if we dig deeper still, there has been a historical, specific and planned attack on Native American children and through them, diminish Native culture. There have been multiple attempts in our recent history to "Kill the Indian, and save the man." Boarding schools and unnecessary adoptions being two big hitters (learn more).

ICWA is there for a reason. It has a real purpose and it is keeping native children with native families - which is a good thing. I hope we all can agree that children do better when they can initially and continue to be fostered and adopted by amazing family of their same culture. But sometimes that isn't possible or doesn't happen initially.

The complications come up "on the ground" so to speak, when the tribe isn't informed or isn't involved in the child's removal or initial placement into foster care or adoption. Which by law, they should be. In my area - the social worker, lawyer and gardien, have a legal obligation to contact to contact the tribe to see if the child is enrolled or eligible for enrollment and if the tribe. At this point, two weeks into a placement a case should be know as ICWA (and the tribe is involved) or NON-ICWA (child is not a member or illegible for enrollment of the tribe or the tribe wishes not to be involved).

It also gets complicated on what children are impacted by this law. "ICWA defines an "Indian child" as "any unmarried person who is under age eighteen and is either (a) a member of an Indian tribe or (b) is eligible for membership in an Indian tribe and is the biological child of a member of an Indian tribe" (25 U.S.C. § 1903)."  But, tribal enrollment and its requirements vary by tribe. (This point I am honestly not as clear on, so if you know - comment below). So some children with Native heritage are eligible and some are not - and this is based largely on what tribes statues are and if their Mom, Dad and Grandparents are from or enrolled in the tribe themselves.

In Baby Veronica's case, it sounded to me that not only did the Father not know this child was being placed for adoption, the tribe didn't know the child was being placed for adoption. Both of which should have happened, like I said within the first few weeks of the placement of the child for adoption. Of course it is heart-wrenching for this family - every adoptive parent can place themselves in their shoes and empathize with them deeply. You can see how much they love this little girl and the hope really is that they could find a way to continue contact, but only if they are able to support her new and growing attachment with her father.

As for the family that is hiding in the hills somewhere - they never said their child's adoption was even finalized, so if they ran with a foster child... that's kidnapping people. ICWA or no - you can't just flee with a foster child, they are not yours legally, no matter how much you love them.

One thing I really appreciated about the show was when the Judge made the point of the complete separateness of the sovereign Indian Nations. In that light, a nation should have a huge say in what happens to our children. The analogy isn't perfect, but how would white Americans feel if one of "our children", an citizen of the United States was adopted by a couple in Iraq - legally by Iraqi standards, with full consent of the American mother, but with no notification of the American Father and no consultation with the American government at large? We'd be outraged. There would be cries of kidnapping and we would fully support our government stepping in to "rescue" "our" child and return them to their rightful, American, father.

We like to think of the entire United States as a melting pot. If it is, ICWA makes no sense. Yet, in light of US history and fact that Native American Tribes are sovereign, separate and complete nations - with government, culture and people that are distinct from American at large, the law starts to come into focus. The tribes need to be notified, involved and a preference for native families is at the discretion of that sovereign government.

That isn't to say that the law might not need tweaking, as so many laws do, so that it translates into best practice on the ground, but it is worth while for everyone to attempt to UNDERSTAND the entire issue before jumping down one another throats - because haven't we all had enough of that?

Anyway - there are my ramblings. This is an issue that is near and dear and HEATED for many people, so I would love to hear your thoughts, but please, please keep it respectful and thoughtful or I will delete comments. 

 It is high time we start listening to one another as well as speaking.  Lets share and then listen to one another...

14 comments :

  1. I watched Dr. Phil today too. It seemed to me that the baby Veronica case was more a case of a father that had not been informed that his child was going to be placed for adoption, not so much an ICWA case. In which case the adoption should not have gone through and the tribe had every right to help him. Had both he and baby Veronica's mother made an adoption plan and THEN the tribe had become involved it would be a totally different story.

    I understand the spirit of ICWA, but you are right that it is a heated subject for many. I have had no experience with it, but I can see how it could be contentious for many children trying to find stable homes.

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    1. I totally agree - this was an adoption that skipped steps and totally disregard contacting the father when and adoption plan was started, or when the adoption was finalized. Can't do that.

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  2. I adopted a Native American child, and my experience was difficult. My girl's mother was a member of the tribe, but hadn't enrolled her. Mom was a drug addict and alcoholic who left the baby alone in a motel where she was living. CPS stepped in and took her after numerous complaints over several months. We got the baby at 8 months old, and finally got her adopted 42 months later. Three and a half years. Three and a half years where the tribe knew where she was but didn't step in. They continually waved the ICWA laws at our caseworker, but never took financial or physical responsibility for the child. They kept stating 'we intercede without transfer' which is a fancy way of saying they wanted our state to foot the bill for her, but their right to take her remain intact. We lived in fear for over three years, just waiting for the tribe. When it was all said and done, there was no Native family willing to take her due to her Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and so we were allowed to adopt her.

    I am all for ICWA laws, and keeping a native child with native family when possible........but I think there needs to be a time constraint on how long after they are made aware of the child being placed in a non-native home for thier intervention. We would never do a Native American placement again. It was, by far, the hardest we have ever done.

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    1. I agree with you that there should be a time restraint on adoption cases. All adoption cases. I am a native woman who was entered into the system as a child. ICWA was involved with my case and later, with my sisters'case. The purpose of ICWA is to protect Native children from loosing their culture and heritage from being removed from it. ICWA does not fight for the parent, but for the child. In my case ICWA removed me from my Mother and recommended my placement with my grandmother. They were looking out for me as a child. I am very grateful for myself and my sister.

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  3. We adopted Native American siblings as basically a non-native family, but ICWA didn't apply because my children's tribe is not Federally recognized. After the adoption we did try to register our children with the tribe, and they agreed to allow it (we have some contact with biofamily members who are registered with the tribe), but now the tribe keeps losing our paperwork and not returning our contacts.

    Anyway, my point was that I'm all for ICWA laws, but I think the struggle is to find Native American families. PARTICULARLY with older child adoption where the children have lots of issues (like mine). I hate to think of children stuck in foster care because there's not a family of the right race for them.

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  4. I'm Australian, and a single white foster mum to two Indigenous boys (they've been with me a week today). We have laws in Australia that say that Indigenous kids should be placed with non-Indigenous carers as a last resort, when there are no other options. I get so frustrated when people say to me that it shouldn't matter what colour I am, because it really does matter. I haven't blogged yet about cross-cultural foster caring yet, but I hope to soon, because it is a big issue, especially with the history of white Australia's treatment of Indigenous people. My boys culture should be a part of their identity, who they are, how they see themselves. It should be something they are proud of, not something that doesn't really matter.

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  5. I think if tribes step in right away and have best interests of children at heart that is fine. I start to get upset when dss takes kids out of a dangerous situation, the tribe takes over and then returns them right back to the dangerous environment they were removed from. This happened with some of our placements and thats NOT whats best for the kids! I also dont agree with children being put on www.adoptuskids.com to look for an adoptive native american family before giving foster parents a chance to adopt in situations where kids have been with families for a year or longer. How is ripping kids from a family they are attached to and love just so they can be adopted by a native family in the best interest if the child? Especially if the foster parents are willing to embrace the native culture.

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    1. You say this because you are not Native. I was a native in foster care and I thank God that ICWA stepped in to find a Native home for me. I was dying inside because my caretakers(people like you)don't understand that being Native is a Culture not a cult. you can't embrace something that is too big for you. I am not trying to offend or be rude, but I was very fortunate to be raised where I was connected to my community. My cousin was adopted to a white home and tells me that she suffered with identity problems from being in foster care, as well as being mixed race.

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    2. I never said I was against ICWA. I just believe it should enforced in a timely manner and with childrens best interests at heart. Removing a child from a home where they feel safe, loved and comfortable after an extended period of time can cause severe attachment issues that can last a lifetime. They have already been removed from their parents and now that they are finally comfortable again some one else is going to step in because their foster parents arent from the same culture? I think ALL adoptive cases should be looked at individually and in best interests of children. Too often its whats best for birth family, adoptive family, childrens cultural group....not whats best for child. Dr. Phil said this too.

      Identity problems are very common among foster children. Not saying your cousin didnt have them because she wasnt with a native family but kids placed with families from same culture have that issue too.

      There are also kids who have no connection to their culture when they are with their birth parents...even before coming into foster care. Dr. Phil had two boys on his show who fall into that category. Just curious what you would say in regard to those kids? What if birth parents didnt embrace culture but foster/adoptiveparents did? What if older children dont want to embrace culture? What if they want to stay with foster family? All things to be considered dont you think? Back to what I said about each case being unique.

      Really we should be discussing all inter-racial/cultural adoptions, shouldnt we? Whats the difference?

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    3. I would also like to point out that many people do open adoptions now that involve children still seeing their parents and extended family. In some cases this would be another way to keep them connected to their culture....in others it might not be. All depends on situation. I dont think you can put it in a box.

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  6. Very good post. I have posted my thoughts as an adoptee at www.splitfeathers.blogspot.com in response to Dr. Phil.

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    1. Thanks for sharing Trace. Your blog is great and I am sure I will be checking back to it often as I continue to explore how we can do this adoption thing better and differently... I would love to hear your thoughts on my newest post about native adoptions - and will continue to read your blog as well as it already looks like a wellspring of knowledge.

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  7. Check out the follow up: http://bit.ly/PQN6T3

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  8. I am curious how an Indian child can be legally represented in a fair manner when ICWA places the best interest of the tribe over the best interest of the child.

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It'll be a pleasure hearing your thoughts. Alisa