Monday, 6 July 2015

Children's Bureau Policy Now Recognizes Customary Adoption for Title IV-E Requirements

A great deal of attention has rightfully been focused so far this year on the changes occurring at the federal level on the implementation and interpretation of the Indian Child Welfare Act. There have been new (non-binding) guidelines issues, and for the first time, a proposed binding rule has been put forward. But these are not the only changes happening at the federal level that are note-worthy. Perhaps hidden because of the higher profile of the ICWA-related changes is a very significant change in the policy of the Children's Bureau.

The National Indian Child Welfare Association explains that

"On February 13, 2015, the Children’s Bureau issued a new policy clarifying that tribal use of customary adoption to modify, as oppose to terminate, parental rights will meet Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance requirements. Previously, the Children’s Bureau interpreted Title IV-E requirements to mandate that tribes operating the Title IV-E program must have a tribal code provision that terminates parental rights to be in compliance with Title IV-E. Many of the tribes that operate the Title IV-E program use customary adoptions to honor tribal customs and remove the use of nonIndian practices that resulted in the separation of many AI/AN children from their extended families and tribes"

This is an important recognition, in practice, of American Indian views of adoption, which may differ from that of the typical Western "clean-break" approach that demands the complete legal severance of ties between the child and the parent. The federal policy recognition of the place that customary adoption has in the traditions of some American Indian tribes is a significant step in the acknowledgement and respect for these in the legal arena-- and no doubt will have an impact where it matters the most, in the lives of children and families.

The Children's Bureau policy can on the recognition of customary adoption can be found here at number 3.

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