A new report on the alleged murder of an Edmond boy reveals he was reunited with his mother because of a controversial federal law even though state officials wanted her parental rights terminated because of “shocking” abuse. Declan Stewart, 5, died Aug 12. He had been returned to his mother, Janet L. Stewart, 29, about five weeks before. The mother’s boyfriend, Marcus I. Clancy, 30, is charged with first-degree murder. A state oversight agency reported that a judge found decisions involving Declan were covered by the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law that promotes reunification of separated Indian families. The Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth reviewed actions taken by the state Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma County district attorney and the judge. It issued a 16-page report Wednesday evening. Declan had been removed from his mother’s care in January 2006 after he was taken to a hospital emergency room for treatment. The report shows both the district attorney and the Department of Human Services had wanted the judge to terminate the mother’s parental rights “based on the heinous and shocking nature of the abuse.” The oversight agency’s report shows the state withdrew a request for termination of the mother’s parental rights because the Cherokee Nation didn’t agree with it. Declan was placed back in the mother’s home July 3 but remained officially in DHS custody. “A journal entry in the court record stated that the mother had completed her treatment plan and that the Cherokee Nation was in agreement with the reunification,” the report shows. What was law’s intent? The Indian Child Welfare Act, adopted by Congress in 1978, grants Indian tribes the authority to step in and have a say in how child welfare cases are handled when Indian children are involved. The act’s purpose was to protect Indian children from the break up of their families by a white society that was “openly hostile” to their way of life, according to a handbook prepared by Oklahoma Indian Legal Services. A 1974 study by the Association of American Indian Affairs showed 25 to 35 percent of all Indian children had been removed from their families and placed in foster, adoptive or institutionalized care at some point in their lives, according to the book. “The national adoption rate for Indian children was eight times higher than for other children, with 90 percent of those placements in non-Indian homes,” the report said. Because of the historical treatment of Indians by the child welfare system, some attorneys and child welfare workers privately contend tribal child welfare workers maintain a strong bias in favor of reuniting families and against removing Indian children from homes — even when state workers recommend removal because of strong evidence of abuse. It has caused friction between tribal and state child welfare workers.
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Declan Stewart: The Edmond 5-year-old died Aug. 12, about five weeks after a judge ordered the state Department of Human Services to return him to his mother.