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