ICWA is nothing but “Routine Cruelty” – by Professor Thomas Sowell

October 30, 2001
– Mr. Sowell is currently a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute in Stanford, California.

In a world where the media are ready to magnify innocuous remarks or a minor problem into a trauma or a disaster, there is remarkably little attention being paid to cruelties routinely inflicted on children by our laws and our courts. That cruelty is ripping children away from the only home they have ever known, to be sent away — often far away — to be raised by strangers.
Such drastic action may be necessary when children have been abused or neglected, but kids have been seized from loving homes where there has never even been an accusation of abuse or neglect. As with so many irrational acts, race and political correctness are involved. One of the children who is currently being threatened with this fate is a little boy in California named Santos, who may be sent off to live on an Indian reservation in Minnesota, among people he has never known, speaking a language he does not understand. Moreover, the single woman who is trying to adopt him there has said that she plans to put him in day care, which he has never been in before. He has been cared for at home by a married couple since he was 3 months old. He will be 3 years old on Nov. 25.

How could such an insane situation have arisen? Easy. It is called the Indian Child Welfare Act. And it began, like so many catastrophes, with good intentions. Back in 1978, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act to prevent Indian children from being removed from their families and tribes by outside know-it-alls and social engineers. So far, so good. But, once a law is on the books, it means whatever the lawyers and the courts say it means. That is how little Santos got trapped in a nightmare.

Santos is part Indian, but neither he nor his biological parents lived on a reservation or among an Indian tribe. When he was born and began suffering withdrawal because of his mother’s cocaine addiction, the authorities took custody of him. He was put into a foster home with a Spanish-speaking couple whom he now regards as his parents and who want to adopt him. Santos’ biological mother has shown very little interest in him — and even that little bit of interest has not been reciprocated by Santos. He has hung up on her when she phoned and cried when she visited. The woman on an Indian reservation did not even know of Santos’ existence until informed by the tribal council, which wants to claim him under the Indian Child Welfare Act. Six months later, she saw the little boy for the first time.

It gets worse. Two psychologists have become involved in the case. Shrink A has “spent approximately 10 minutes alone” with Santos, according to the California Court of Appeal in its ruling this past Oct. 19. She did not interview the couple with whom he has been living all this time, even though a Spanish-speaking social worker was available to enable her to converse with the boy’s foster parents. Nevertheless, Shrink A has decided that Santos would be better off being “moved to be with his tribe and his family” on a reservation in Minnesota. This strained definition of “family” is based on the fact that the woman on the reservation is a distant relative of his mother. Incidentally, Shrink A has never interviewed this distant relative either.

Undaunted, Shrink A has said that Santos would not be “catastrophically damaged” by the change because Santos has not “bonded” with his foster parents, but has “bonded to his birth mother, who is unable to care for him.” This strained definition of bonding is based on counting the time spent in his mother’s womb, as well as the 9 days he spent with her after birth. A second psychologist based his conclusions on what he had actually seen, rather than on such speculations. What he saw was that little Santos clings to his foster mother and became distressed when his foster father was asked to leave the room, crying “papa, papa.” At another time, when Santos was with his foster father and Shrink B wanted to see the little boy alone, Santos became “clingy” with his foster father and “hugged him tightly while exclaiming ‘papa, papa.'” Little Santos has not yet been sent to Minnesota. The appellate court said that the “matter is remanded for further proceedings,” which means a continuing cloud of uncertainty hanging over a little boy who has become a little pawn. How could anyone do this to him? Tragically, it has happened to many others.

Sowell, Thomas, Routine Cruelty, October 30, 2001. Online document, available from http://www.townhall.com/columnists/thomassowell/ts20011030.shtml Accessed Monday, May 31, 2004. Reprinted with permission.

Update: Santos was legally adopted in 2003 by the foster parents who had cared for him most of his life. Their attorney was Native American.

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