Can I Adopt a Native American Child If I’m Not Native American?

Even though you may not be Native American, it is still possible to adopt a Native American child.

Derek Williams April 26, 2018
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I did. I am not Native American, and I am not officially registered with any tribe but, by God’s grace, I was able to adopt not one but two children who are of Native American heritage! Native Americans have a rich history, tradition, and culture that ought to be preserved, regardless of who adopts them. The sad truth is that much of this was lost by non-natives adopting Native Americans without regard to keeping these children connected to their family, community, or culture. The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA, 1978) governs foster care and adoption laws concerning Native American children. The ICWA website states:

“The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was enacted in 1978 in response to a crisis affecting American Indian and Alaska Native children, families, and tribes. Studies revealed that large numbers of Native children were being separated from their parents, extended families, and communities by state child welfare and private adoption agencies. In fact, research found that 25%–35% of all Native children were being removed; of these, 85% were placed outside of their families and communities—even when fit and willing relatives were available.”

Bottom line: if a child is registered with a Native American tribe or resides on a Native reservation, that tribe takes jurisdiction over that child. If you are a registered member of a Native American Tribe, you can adopt a Native American child. But, if you are not, can you still adopt? Yes. Here’s how:

1. Due diligence search

Child Protective Services in your state must show due diligence in searching for a suitable adoptive placement for a Native American child such as a child’s own family member, persons within the child’s own community, other members of the child’s tribe, or other Native American persons. These people take precedence over all non-native persons wishing to adopt. If reasonable efforts are made to search for such a person and no one is willing or able to adopt that child, then a non-native person may adopt a Native child. However, if reasonable efforts are not made, or if a more suitable placement is found, a Native child may be removed from a non-Native home up until the day of adoption.

2. Approval by the tribe

In many cases, two home studies must be performed on a non-native wishing to adopt a Native child: one by the state-contracted agency and the second by the tribe that child belongs to. If that particular tribe approves that non-native family, then that family may adopt.

3. Adoption agreement

Finally, a non-native may adopt a Native child if the child’s biological parents voluntarily relinquish their parental rights and consent to the adoption. In many cases, this may involve an adoption agreement, which is a legal document where both parties agree to have an open adoption. The adoption agreement stipulates visits, contact, and connection to the child’s culture. All this is done in the best interest of the child.

Adopting an Indian child can be difficult, especially if you are not Indian yourself. However, it is not impossible. Just remember, ICWA may apply in many cases. If you do proceed, it is very important to keep that child connected to his or her own culture. If you do, it is a “win-win” situation for all involved.

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Derek Williams

Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journeys. He and his wife started their own adoption journey in 1993 and have 8 children, 6 of whom are adopted. His adopted children are all different ethnicities, including East Indian, Jamaican, and Native American. He loves traveling with his family and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption is a passion and calling for Derek and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.


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