A number of media outlets recently reported on the placement of an American Indian child named Lexi with her relatives in Utah, instead of remaining in foster care in California. The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) stands firmly with the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), who released a statement calling for an informed, balanced response to Lexi’s case. NCAI encourages a better understanding of why Lexi and all children should be afforded placement with their families if possible.
Long considered a best practice in childcare, kinship placement creates stability while nurturing ties to the child’s extended family and community. Under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), kinship-based placements must be considered as soon as it becomes clear that the eligible child will be removed from their home. There is nothing unusual about child placement with relatives after a stay in a foster home. The only unusual factor in this case is that the foster family in California used extended litigation to prevent placement of a Native child with her family.
Kinship child placement is the law in 45 states, and also under ICWA. Federal law under title IV-E of the Social Security Act also requires that states “consider giving preference to an adult relative over a non-related caregiver when determining placement for a child….” NCAI works tirelessly with partners like NICWA to raise awareness of the benefits and legality of kinship placement for Native children, and encourages informed discussion around cases like Lexi’s.
“Lexi should have gotten a stable, long-term kinship placement years ago,” said Jacqueline Pata, Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians. “This is why laws like ICWA exist. Regardless of a child’s Indian status, the goal of foster placement has always been to provide a safe and loving temporary home. It is regrettable that Lexi and her relatives have been dragged through a lengthy legal process, and NCAI extends its support to her family for their long-term stability and well-being.”