Adoption of Native American children outside of their cultural tribes happens more frequently than one might imagine.
I recently had the opportunity to visit with a caseworker in Arizona whose sole responsibility it is to find appropriate placements for local Native American children who have been displaced from their homes. I was interested to find that even with the ICWA in force, almost half of the adoptions he is involved in are Native American children into non-Native families. There are problems and details specific to Native adoptions that create their own set of extra work for hopeful adoptive families, social workers, agencies and tribes—yet there is also great success.
When contacted by a hopeful adoptive family, the social worker provides them with information on the agencies in the area. The hopeful adoptive parents then choose an agency who guides the parents as they complete paperwork, home studies, and background checks. The process takes about three months from start to finish. And those who are choosing to adopt in Arizona through the foster care system have no up-front costs. The agency covers the cost of fingerprinting, etc. When the family is matched with a child in foster care, whether a Native American child or not, the government then reimburses the agency for the costs associated with getting the prospective adoptive parents licensed.
Surprising to me, also, was to learn that not only are there no costs associated with adopting through foster care in Arizona, but successful placement also makes it more possible for families to care for their adopted children. Until the age of 18, children adopted through foster care, Native Americans and others, are covered by government insurance. Additionally, there is a monthly stipend paid to families for each child adopted through foster care to help with the costs of raising their children. Families outside of the state of Arizona who adopt a child from the Arizona Foster Care system receive the same benefits, as their state and the state of Arizona share the costs.
When a Native American child becomes adoptable in Arizona, all effort is made to find the family that will best suit the child. This includes searching for adoptive parents within the child’s tribe. If a suitable match cannot be found within the tribe, keeping the child’s best interest in mind, adoptive parents are chosen from among the agencies in the area. Part of the adoption process of Native children to non-Native parents includes a visit to the family by a social worker representing the child’s tribe. The tribal social worker then appears in court when adoption papers are signed to give approval from the tribe. This happens because of cooperation between the Sovereign Nation and the State of Arizona, as all are seeking what is best for the child.
For those wishing to explore adoption through the Arizona foster system, more information can be found at azdes.gov.