Does the ICWA Serve Children’s or Government’s Welfare?

The following is excerpted from a letter written five years ago to Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell and other members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs by a foster mother. Senator Campbell never responded. This letter, and lack of response, mirror the frustrations and despair of parents, foster parents, extended family, and adoptive parents all over the United States:

Senator Campbell,

We are white foster parents to an Indian child who is just over 3 1/2 years old. He has been in our home since he was 18 months old, over 2 years. His birth mother, a member of an Indian tribe, voluntarily placed him in foster care with county Social Services in December 1997.

In January 2000 the tribe moved to take jurisdiction of the case because the county had filed for termination of parental rights. The Tribal Chairman wrote the county in late October 1999 suggesting that the tribe would prefer that the county seek long term foster care for the child rather than termination and adoption. The county, because of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, was unable to meet the tribe’s request. It was only then that the tribe filed its motion to have jurisdiction transferred.

In the county DSS case file are at least two psychological profiles that indicate the child’s interests are best served by remaining in a stable, familiar environment. There are also psychological reports that indicate that contact between the child and his mother are harmful to the child, that the birth mother has reached a developmental “ceiling” of around 9 -12 years of age, and that she’ll never be able to care for the child (The Tribal Court has ordered that visitation between the child and his birth mother resume).

We understand the importance of the Indian Child Welfare Act. However, we have a very difficult time understanding how the Act is benefiting this child. As it stands, because of the Act, he’s about to lose his home, his family, his stability, his security. He sees a speech therapist twice weekly, an occupational therapist twice weekly and a mental health therapist bi-weekly. Tribal Social Services, if it can’t find an Indian home willing to take this special needs child for the next 15 years, will begin looking for a series of short-term placements. Do you really believe that this is in his best interest? To be shuffled from foster home to foster home to foster home for the next 15 years?

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