23 July 2013

ICWA Indian Child Welfare Act

The Indian Child Welfare Act, ICWA, pronounced IK wa, was passed in 1978.  Children are very important in our tribes.  They are gifts sent to us by the Creator.  Yesterday, the Cherokee Nation filed a petition in the Adoptive Couple vs Baby Girl case.  All of Indian country is watching this case because of the implications it holds for a child in the system and for all tribes.

I have strong feelings about this matter.  We, my family, struggle with this issue.  I firmly believe that the welfare of the child comes first and the best interests of the child lie with the tribe, the family.  My thoughts, my feelings in this matter, come from experience with the system, both tribal and state.

1.  How many of us have had their child throw a tantrum in public and have to take the child to a "time out" or risk having the cops called?  If one is off reservation, the child ends up in the state welfare system.

2.  Social workers have heavy caseloads and don't always get their facts right.  They rely on outsiders who see an incident and report it without all the facts.  Whose values and beliefs are those decisions based on?

I spent a few years explaining our social customs to outside social workers.  They got their training in clinical situations.  Very few of them attended social gatherings or functions where they could see tribal customs in action.  By attending a few gatherings, I believe they'd have a much better basis from which to make their decisions that have such an impact on lives of tribal members.

My understanding of ICWA is that all available family members must be notified when a child enters the system.  If no family member is able to take the child, then and only then, is an outside source found.  And, here is a conflict: our definition of family extends to several generations and can include lateral sides of the family.  There is a push to limit "family" to just the child and parents, or "immediate" family which includes siblings of one of the parents.  Rarely are the grandparents considered.

Well, heavy caseloads or not, social workers need to make a good faith effort to contact people.  And this doesn't always happen.  Or maybe one or two people are contacted.  Who knows what's in those confidential documents?

I am not privy to all the facts in the above case.  I can only surmise, based on my own experience.

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