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U.S. law pushed boy home before he died
Tribal statute advocates reunifying split families

By Nolan Clay and Randy Ellis Modified: October 4, 2007 at 3:34 pm •  Published: October 4, 2007

> 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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