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Child custody matter focuses on Native American ancestry

A highly polarizing case has led to the removal of a child from her foster home, and has sparked debate in Colorado and across the nation about how racial identity should be factored into such cases. The child was placed in another home due to the fact that she has a small percentage of Native American ancestry. This child custody matter is possible due to the Indian Child Welfare Act, and many are using the case to point out the flaws of that law.

The child at the center of the matter is a 6-year-old girl, who was placed in foster care after it became clear that her parents' drug addictions rendered them unable to properly care for their child. She has remained in that foster home until recently, and her foster parents have both formed deep attachments to her. However, a recent court decision determined that, under the ICWA, the child should be placed in the care of distant relatives.

The ICWA was put into place in the 1970s, when social workers were regularly removing Native American children from their homes for no reason other than the fact that they were living in poverty. The law states that tribal courts can have a say in the custody of children who are of Native American descent. In this case, the little girl has been deemed to be 1/64 Choktaw, even though her father never lived on a reservation or had any ties to the tribe.  

This is how the child was removed from her foster home and placed with a couple who is linked to the child through a paternal step-grandfather. While the foster parents were not promised that the child could be eventually adopted, they seem to have taken her on as their own and have fought bitterly to return the child to their care. Many people in Colorado and elsewhere are pointing to the child custody matter as an example of the ways that the ICWA is outdated and fundamentally flawed.

Source: New York Post, "An obsession with racial identity is put above the needs of a child", Naomi Schaefer Riley, March 27, 2016

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