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Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Recently in ICWA Category

Looking at the assets of older adoptive parents

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Photo: Derek Montgomery for The New York Times

Today the New York Times published a story by reporter Phyllis Korkki about older adults who are choosing to open their homes to children instead of "retiring."

A Minnesota family, Rebecca and Jim Gawboy, are featured. Rebecca is a retired community organizer and Jim is a retired game warden. The couple are currently actively parenting 12 children.

This article challenges perceptions about the capacity of older parents when it comes to adopting. Instead of perpetuating myths about older adoptive parents, this article frames older parents as experienced, and suited to parenting children because of their wisdom and life experiences. This article also provides a warm photo gallery of the Gawboy family.

As Korkki notes,

"No organization or federal agency keeps statistics on the ages of adoptive parents, so it is hard to estimate their numbers. But executives at several adoption-related organization said they had definitely seen heightened interest among older adults. An informational Web site set up by Adoptive Families magazine has a special discussion forum for older adults with more than 500 members."

In addition to featuring older parent adoptions in a positive light, the article nicely (even if inadvertently) shows an Ojibwe family that has adopted Ojibwe children. American Indian children are disproportionately in out of home care in Minnesota (as in many other states) and in discussions about permanency there is a common misperception that American Indian families do not adopt.

To read the article about the Gawboy family, click here.

A custody battle headed to the U.S. Supreme Court

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This guest post was written by Faiza Ali.

A Custody Battle Headed to the U.S. Supreme Court

EP-130119670.jpeg [Veronica with her father, Dusten Brown. Image courtesy of Post and Courier]

This article (above) is about an adoption case involving a 3 year old Native American Child that is set to start trial in April at the U.S. Supreme Court.

After two years of waiting, Dusten Brown who is of Cherokee Indian Heritage, won a custody battle in a South Carolina Supreme Court involving his daughter Veronica who was living with her adoptive parents Matt and Melanie Capobianco. Veronica's mother, who at one point was engaged to Brown, is non-native and has two other children from previous relationships. Not being able to afford to care for a third child, and due to lack of financial support from Brown, she contacted and gave him an option of paying child support or give up his parental rights. Through a text message he chose the latter.

During the adoption process, she informed the adoptions attorney about Brown's Cherokee Indian Heritage. She also misspelt his name and did not know his birthdate, which made it hard for the welfare division of the Cherokee Nation to confirm his membership in the tribe.

Four months after Veronica was born, Brown was served and signed a legal document that stated he was not going to contest the adoption. He immediately realized what he had done and tried to take the paper back but it was too late. He decided to request a stay of the adoption and also establish paternity after he consulted with an attorney. It took two years before the case was heard.

Being a member of Cherokee Nation and the paternity confirmed, a family court judge granted him custody of his child. After adopting and raising Veronica for two years, the Capobiancos' were asked to hand her over back to her biological father who took her back to Oklahoma.

The strength in this article is the Judge's consideration when making his decision of the "Federal Indian Welfare Act of 1978, which not only protects the best interest of the child but also promotes the stability and security of Indian tribes and families". The supporters of ICWA and many Native American law scholars argue, "ICWA is the most important American Indian Law ever enacted". Taking away a child from the only home and only family that she knew for two years and the continuous long custody battle is not in the interest of the child and might later affect her development and her ability to form long-term relationships.

Lisa Blatt, who was named one of the most powerful women in Washington, is the attorney who will again represent the adoptive family in their appeal. Charles Rothfield will represent Veronica's biological father and he also has argued over 200 cases in front of the high court.

This will be the second case involving a native child to be heard at the U.S Supreme Court and, therefore, a lot of people are interested in the outcome which will affect how other future cases will be decided.

The Capobiancos have filed an appeal at the U.S. Supreme court, which will be heard in April.

Information about the court decision is here.

This guest post was written by Brittany Kellerman.

FOSTER-1-articleLarge.jpeg [Photo: Mark Holm for the NYT]

The New York Times published an article on January 26, 2013 entitled "Focus on Preserving Heritage Can Limit Foster Care for Indians" by Dan Frosch. The article discusses the impact that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978 continues to have today on Native American children and families. It highlights the fact that Native American children are highly overrepresented in child welfare systems around the country, including in Minnesota. It also points out the extreme shortage of licensed Indian foster families in particular states, such as in New Mexico, where in Bernalillo County there are 65 Indian children in state custody, but only 5 Indian foster homes. This discrepancy leads Native American children waiting in shelters for significant amounts of time while searching for relatives or native foster homes and in many cases ultimately placing the children in non-native foster homes.

While the article provides important facts around disparities that are beneficial to dispelling myths, it does not dig deep into why these disparities continue to exist. It is however quick to point to the poverty and the substance abuse endemic in American Indian communities as being the reasons for low rates of Native foster homes, while the issues of institutional racism and historical trauma are simply skimmed over.

As an example of a case where ICWA impacts the outcomes for native children, the article discusses a highly publicized case of Baby Veronica. In this case, a judge ordered a white couple to return a 27-month-old girl they raised since birth to her biological Indian father. In this case, the father was estranged from the mother and was unaware that his daughter was going to be put up for adoption. The facts of the case demonstrate that the father engaged in seeking custody as soon as he was notified of the request for adoption. The decision to return the child to her father was based upon the child's tribal status and the ruling that the birth mother tried to conceal the father's tribal affiliation.

The case of Baby Veronica, while governed by ICWA in this case due to the father's tribal affiliation, brings up questions around all fathers' parental rights that were not addressed in the article. If this case were involving a non-native father, would the child be returned to the biological father? If a biological father is willing/able to provide a loving home for the child, it only seems right to keep the child connected to their biological roots. The case of Baby Veronica will be held before the Supreme Court in April 2013 and the court will be asked to consider the constitutionality of ICWA.

In summary, ICWA has made a significant impact on the Native American population by keeping many children connected to their heritage. Clearly, Native American families continue to face significant challenges and discrimination in their interactions with child welfare agencies and cases such as Baby Veronica's demonstrate a continued need for additional protection for Native families.

For more information on the Baby Veronica case, click here.

Supreme Court to hear Baby Veronica case

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Last Friday it was announced that the Supreme Court would hear the case of Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, also known as the Baby Veronica case.

This highly contested and controversial case may be a watershed moment in determining the strength of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

For a detailed summary of the case from the perspective of the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), click here. Along with a summary, NICWA has included a timeline and many resources on ICWA and the details of the case.

Meanwhile, the adoptive parents went on the Dr. Phil show to tell their side of the story.

While race is being cited as a major factor in this case, those siding with NICWA point out that this is about the tribe's position as a semi-sovereign nation, not about race. If the Supreme Court reverses the lower court's decision that Veronica's biological father should have custody it will be a devastating blow to ICWA.

It appears no one is arguing that the adoptive parents love Veronica. However, the issue was that ICWA was not followed in the adoption of Veronica and as a result, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that ICWA had been violated.

fanciershawl_250x.jpgA controversial ruling by the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals regarding an Indian Child Welfare Act case has been brought to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee Nation is asking the U.S. Supremem Court to determine whether the tribe has the jurisdiction to define their members regarding Indian Child Welfare Act cases.

As this MPR news story (originally aired November 30, 2011) reports, American Indian children have high rates of removal and are much more likely to be placed into out-of-home care. In Minnesota, that rate is 14 times higher than white children. The Indian Child Welfare Act was created to give tribes jurisdiction over the placement of their children. Prior to the enactment of ICWA, American Indian children were placed in non-Native foster and adoptive homes and boarding schools where the goal was to strip them of their culture. Today, many of those who experienced these placements are speaking out, as in this article, The Adoption Era, defined: Native Americans expose a forgotten period in their history.

The question raised by the Cherokee Nation is whether the courts violated ICWA because of the Cherokee Nation Citizenship Act that grants tribal membership to all infants up to 240 days after birth. The 10th Circuit Court ruled that ICWA does not apply to the Cherokee Nation Citizenship Act because by definition, an Indian child under ICWA must be already enrolled in the tribe and in this particular case the child's mother was not an enrolled memeber of the Cherokee tribune until after the placement.

For the full article, Supreme Court Approached on ICWA Issue, click here.

You can also listen to the NPR story by reporter Sasha Aslanian below:

or at the MPR website.

For more resources on Indian child welfare and the Indian Child Welfare Act, here are some resources: