If you have a desire to foster or adopt a Native American baby, you are choosing to do a great thing! Overall, there are over 400,000 children from every race who are in foster care. About 100,000 of those children are available for adoption. Many of those are Native Americans, some of which are infants. A lot of these children who are not free for adoption simply need a loving, stable, caring home where they can depend upon their daily needs to be met. Due to many unfortunate circumstances within the Native American community such as alcoholism, suicide, and incarceration, the need to come alongside this community and lend assistance is great—not to rescue babies from the community, but to be a support to that community. The first goal should be to keep the child in their family, then in their Native community. But when this is not possible, great care should be taken to keep that child as closely connected to his community as possible. This article explores how to foster or adopt a Native American baby, whether you are Native American or not.
Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)
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 concerning Native American children.
ICWA was brought into existence due to historical injustices that many Native communities suffered through over the years. As recently as 1978, 25-35% of Native American children were removed from their homes by state child welfare agencies. Of those, 85% were placed outside of their families and communities even when able and fit relatives were available to care for the children. ICWA places protections on Native children against unscrupulous and biased child welfare practices and ensures that voluntary adoptions are truly voluntary. If you wish to foster or adopt a Native American baby, you must abide by ICWA.
If you are a registered member of a Native American community and the child you wish to care for is also a registered member, then all you need to do is contact the Tribal Social Services to determine how to get started. Each tribe has different rules and laws regarding child welfare.
Fostering a Native American Baby
So, how do you get started on providing foster care for a Native American baby? First of all, realize what foster care is: temporary placement of a child who has experienced abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Abuse can be anything from physical abuse to sexual abuse. Neglect means that the primary caregiver (the biological parents) was unable or unwilling to provide daily care for the child such as food or shelter. It can also mean that the primary caregiver exposed the child to things or other persons that were dangerous such as drugs. It may also mean the biological mom consumed drugs while pregnant. When this is detected by a mandated reporter, such as a medical professional, or a social worker, etcetera, Child Protective Services becomes involved, and the child may be removed and placed in a foster home. If the child is Native American and resides on a Native American reservation, then that tribe takes jurisdiction and will be placed in a relative or foster home on that reservation. If the child is Native American and does not reside on a Native American reservation but is registered with a Native American tribe, both the state CPS and that tribe can become involved. Best efforts must be made to search for an appropriate relative or Native American foster home, but if this is not possible, a non-native home may be chosen. If a non-native home is chosen, best efforts must be made to keep the child as connected to his culture as possible.
How do you become a foster parent for a Native American baby? Well, different states have different rules, but this is generally the process. You must 1) choose a foster care agency that understands and is willing to abide by ICWA. 2) Have this foster care agency complete a home study. 3) Complete foster care licensing/certification. This usually entails background checks, home inspections, training, etc. 4) If you are Native American and are a member of a tribe, present your membership documentation so that you will get preference when a Native American baby becomes available to foster. Again, foster care is temporary but is necessary to give struggling biological parents the opportunity to recover so they can be reunified with their children. If reunification is not possible, adoption may be an option.
Adopting a Native American Baby
There are two ways to adopt a Native American baby: private adoption and foster care adoption. First, if you know a mom who wants to voluntarily relinquish her rights so an adoption can take place, you will need an adoption attorney and an adoption agency. You can also view a photo listing that lists children that are available for adoption in your state. This is great because you can match a name with a face and make an instant connection with the child.
The second way to adopt a Native American baby is to go through foster care adoption. This option is sometimes preferable because there are minimal fees involved. The downside is that there is always a legal risk to adopt a Native American baby, especially if the prospective adoptive parents are not Native American. ICWA will always take precedence. If this is the case, then two home studies must be written: one by the foster care agency and one by the Native American tribe the child belongs to. It is a long process, but if there are no relatives available and if there are no other Native American parents who are willing or able to adopt, then the child’s foster parents may be chosen to adopt.
Many people who desire to care for a Native American Baby may choose guardianship. Guardianship is a legal act, approved by a judge, in which a parent or primary caregiver turns over physical and legal custody to another responsible adult who agrees to be the legal guardian for that child or vulnerable adult. A legal guardian has the power to act on health matters, educational matters, and personal matters on behalf of that child or vulnerable adult. Legal guardianship can be permanent or temporary. Permanent guardianship may be granted to another person if it is documented that the primary caregivers committed abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Temporary guardianship could be given to a person if parental rights have not been involuntarily severed. In this case, the birth mother keeps her parental rights, still has visitation rights, and can petition the courts to end guardianship should she feel that she is now in the position to raise the child. Guardianship costs are zero, and in some states, the legal guardian may receive a subsidy to do so. Many Native American tribes choose guardianship rather than adoption. Check your county statutes for more information as details of the guardianship process may vary.
Non-Native Adoptive Parents
You may be asking, “Is it possible to foster or adopt a Native American baby if I am not Native American?” The answer is yes; it is possible as long as all ICWA laws are carefully followed. Child Protective Services in your state must show due diligence in searching for a suitable placement for a Native American child such as the following: 1) relative of the child, 2) persons within the child’s own community, 3) other members of the child’s tribe or 4) other Native American persons. All of these possible placements take precedence over all non-native persons wishing to adopt. If reasonable efforts are made to search for such a person and no such person 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. In many cases, two home studies must be performed on a non-native wishing to adopt a Native child as stated above: one by the state-contracted agency and the second by the tribe that child belongs to. If that tribe approves that non-native family, then that family may adopt.
If you are a non-Native wishing to adopt a Native American baby, there is an elephant in the room that must be discussed. First, is the matter of transracial adoptions. Your child will not automatically become white when she becomes a part of your family. Nor will you become Native American, instantly. You are now a transracial family. Therefore, you must prepare yourself for those implications. Odd stares in public, inappropriate questions from family and friends. And questions the child may have as he or she grows older. The most important thing is that you keep that child connected to his culture. This can be accomplished through an open adoption with relatives or attending cultural events that celebrate her heritage. Reading books and having your child educated on his rich history is also another great way to keep your child connected to his culture.
The second matter is that of racism. You may have the most loving, inclusive, tolerant family on earth! But the reality is that there are some in the world who are not. You must prepare your child for how to deal with people who are mean and hateful. But most importantly, to create a safe space at home when things go wrong. You need to be the person they go to for comfort and love.
Any path you choose is going to be a unique one. Caring for a child whether she is related to you or not, the same race as you or not is a monumental task. It will be hard. It will be difficult. But it will be worth it. You will be blessed as you intend to bless that child. Don’t let the fear of the unknown stop you. Educate yourself. Talk with others who have cared for a Native American baby and learn from them. Take that first step and make a difference in the life of a child!
Considering adoption? Let us help you on your journey to creating your forever family. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.