December 26, 2008

Utah Couple Forced to Return Baby to Indian Tribe

NICWA responds to Brown’s comments

Story Published: Dec 22, 2008

Recently, national media outlets have reported on the case of an American Indian child who was placed for adoption with a non-Indian couple in Utah. The child is considered a member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Tribe, and the adoption was facilitated by a private adoption agency in Utah called Heart and Soul. Last week, a Utah state court recognized that the adoption was flawed, and on Sunday night the child was given to the child’s tribe for placement in a home with two of his other siblings.

Coverage by CNN, ABC, and other media concerns has been deeply flawed with ill-informed and sometimes deeply offensive rhetoric. We denounce these comments as the lowest point of journalistic endeavor. The true facts of this case speak volumes, beyond the frenzied attacks of irresponsible media spokespeople. Unfortunately, harmful utterances are common but the recent commentaries and coverage stretch outside the bounds of responsible journalism.

These comments do little to help the adoptive parents, the birth family, tribe, and children involved. The welfare of an American Indian child is at stake, and the painful experiences for all those involved were the result of inappropriate and illegal acts by those who were facilitating this adoption. We believe that once the facts in this case become widely available, viewers and the public will better understand the underlying reasons this event transpired.

Since the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978 was specifically cited as a “ridiculous” law and presented in a foolish and negative light, we would like to address the role that ICWA plays and speak to its usefulness.

The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) – a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of American Indian children and families – deals with these kinds of cases on a regular basis. We have seen ICWA protect children and preserve and strengthen families. NICWA finds that when people who are making decisions that impact the lives of Indian children are committed to working together at an early stage in the private adoption process, these kinds of challenging and difficult decisions do not have to be made.

Following the straightforward adoptive requirements of ICWA is not difficult. It simply requires that the birth parent or parents wait 10 days after giving birth and then go before a judge to certify that the mother does understand and desires to give her child for adoption. After this, the law asks that a placement be pursued that considers the child’s relatives and other Indian families, which would usually mean talking with the birth family and child’s tribe. Following our inquiries into this specific private adoption and its chronology, at this time it appears that none of these actions, which are necessitated by federal law, were performed by the Utah adoption agency in this case.

The delicate issues surrounding adoption deserve every diligence and the free-flowing of information for everyone involved. NICWA is ready to have those conversations, and we remain a resource working with parents, tribal governments, case managers, adoption agencies, attorneys and adoptive families. Our children are a gift from the Creator, and they deserve nothing less than our cooperation, honesty and deepest respect.

Terry L. Cross, MSW, LCSW
NICWA Executive Director
Portland, Ore

Below is an interesting 5-minute listen, which interviews the experiences of
both the adoptive family & the birth mother.

A couple in Utah adopted a son 6 months ago, but the courts have forced
them to return the baby to his birth mother, a member of the Ojibwe
American Indian tribe, in a complicated and emotional case.

*After listening to this NPR segment, what struck me the most was the fact that the natural mother of this baby CHANGED HER MIND immediately before or after the baby's birth, but she was still "convinced" by adoption "professionals" to sign the relinquishment forms. If a mother decides against adoption, she should not be influenced by "professionals" who make their living serving potential adoptive couples (their customers) and who benefit financially from adoption. Yet, unfortunately, this occurs more often than anyone wants to admit to. Under pressure of "doing the right thing for the baby" mothers are encouraged to "follow-through" with adoption plans, even when they have strong reservations and are feeling unsupported.

Can an "adoption professional" REALLY ethically counsel a pregnant mother without blatant disregard for the basic principles of "conflict of interest" and "non-directive counseling" which other professional counselors are ethically bound to? The answer is NO.

When natural mothers try to appeal in court, it is usually too late, (who exactly does adoption law serve?), and court proceedings are many times drawn-out to give the adoptive placement the advantage because of the months or years the child is in legal limbo ~ JUST long enough for the courts to determine that the adoptive placement is in the child's "best interest" so as not to disrupt the only home the child has "ever known". Is this really ethical for the child? To be separated & suffer that loss of their natural family when the mother has fought for her child from day one?

Does adoption law adequately protect mothers and children from this happening? NO.

Isn't something terribly wrong here?

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