Dilemmas and Solutions in Tribal Child Welfare: A Case for Customary Adoption

Authors: Terry Cross, Sarah Kastelic, and Kathleen Fox

Disciplines: Health, History, Native American Studies, Political Science and Public Administration, Psychology, Social Work and Sociology

Themes: Activism, Community Development, Family and Youth, Health and Wellness, Human Services, Self Determination and Self Governance, Tribal Membership, Enrollment and Citizenship

: This two part case study opens with a fictional example of what life is like for grandparents who are struggling to balance the love of their daughter and the long term safety and wellbeing of their grandchild. Part one examines the challenges that family members might face when they step forward to help and the very real and emotional decisions that have to be made regarding permanency for the long term well being of the child. Part two examines the cultural underpinnings of legal and cultural concepts that underlie permanency. Tribal culture has traditionally placed children whose parents are unable to care for them with relatives and extended family members without severing the bonds of kinship and love between parent and child. However, in modern times, in order for adoptive homes to be recognized by state and federal funding and child welfare authorities, termination of parental rights (TPR) has been required. Most tribes reject termination of parental rights culturally, and many have had solely negative histories with foster care and adoption such that they shun the concept. Some have taken the initiative to create their own versions of adoption based in their traditions.