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From NICWA: “In a review of the literature, Paget, Phillip, and Abramczyk (1992) cited studies linking alcohol abuse as a consistent correlate with child neglect in Indian families. While several authors have speculated about the influence of boarding schools, cultural identification, or extended family supports, none of these ideas have been tested (Nelson et al., 1994; Cross, 1986; Hull, 1982). Findings in a study by Nelson et al. (1994) confirmed that substance abuse and poverty were the two key contributing factors to child neglect in a sample of 77 Indian families.

Special stress or dysfunction, alcoholism, and/or any type of violence place American Indian children at risk of sexual abuse. Also, geographically or socially isolated families are at higher risk for child sexual abuse. Unrecognized and untreated child victims are at a high risk of growing up to become dysfunctional adults, and the repeated risk of sexual abuse greatly increases, generation after generation, within the community. The victims themselves become used to being victimized and see victimization as a fact of life.

Overall, the impact of child maltreatment in many Indian communities has been devastating. It has disrupted extended family support networks, broken up families through placements outside the community, and contributed to the cycle of violence and substance abuse that continues to hamper positive development.”

Coalition Response:

As a society, let us come together to help address the root of the issues. Compliance with ICWA is not going to protect the tribes. Solving these issues will allow more preservation then pointing the finger at adoption and foster care.


From NICWA, “Determination of Indian Status”:

“Early identification of Indian child status and comprehensive assessment of the child’s history and the family’s needs are important when an Indian child is placed outside the home. Delays or the failure to properly determine that the child is Indian in a foster care or termination of parental rights case can have devastating consequences to the child.”

Coalition Response:

This statement essentially admits that moving a child out of a stable home in which the child has lived a considerable amount of time can be “devastating” to the child. They fail to admit that they have the power to help prevent it by giving their blessing for that child to remain in that stable home (good cause). Instead, so many involved with ICWA cases argue and fight for the removal of children from homes in which they have attached, in spite of their knowledge that it could have “devastating consequences” to the child. Very often in court the experts and tribal attorneys deny that it will be devastating and testify instead that children are resilient and will be totally fine (and in fact better off) with a tribal home.

From the Oklahoma Department of Human Services:

“We reviewed eight studies of the effects of placement moves and placement disruptions on children in foster care. The majority of the studies found that frequent placement changes result in negative consequences for children, including increased mental health service utilization, increased presentation of disturbed behaviors, and increased chance of additional placement moves. With regard to increased mental health service usage, one study of youth in foster care found that those who experienced more than three foster home moves were almost twice as likely as other children in the sample that did not have three moves to account for the top percent of mental health costs in the research sample. Another study found that outpatient mental health visits increased by eight percent with each additional placement change. Still another study found that children who had a higher number of out-of-home placements in the sample presented with a higher rate of psychiatric symptoms, and that the number of out-of-home placements was the most significant predictor of impairment and change in psychiatric status over time.

The research also identified links between placement instability and poor developmental outcomes, aggression, coping difficulties, poor home adjustment, low self concept, an increased sense of rejection, and a decreased ability to form emotional ties with caregivers with each change in placement. Psychological studies have found that attachment disturbances, i.e., being removed from the home of the biological parents, early in life have a profound effect on social development. For children in foster care, each subsequent change of caregiver is a further disruption to the child’s individual development and attachment process.”

Coalition Response:

Why are judges, social workers and tribal courts okay with moving a foster child with traces of Indian blood from a home in which they’ve formed deep attachments, for no other reason than that the foster family is non-Indian?

Children need stability.


“Obviously, as a tribe we want to keep our children within our reach. The children need to be close by and have access to the tribal community to pick up on the language, the culture, and other tribal traditions that make up being Meskwaki or Native American Indian. Studies have shown that social issues such as substance abuse, domestic violence, suicide, and other negative outcomes result from a loss of or a sense of loss of cultural identity.”

Coalition Response:

If that is the case, we would expect the rates of substance abuse, domestic violence, suicide, and other negative outcomes to be very low on reservations where Native Americans have access to the tribal community, the language, the culture and other tribal traditions that make up being Native American. Here is some comparative data:

Substance Abuse

However, according to a 2006 report from the U.S. Department of Justice: “Nationally Native Americans (American Indians/Alaskan Natives and Native Hawaiians) have the highest rates of methamphetamine abuse. In studies of “past year methamphetamine use” Native communities have the highest use rates, 1.7 percent for American Indians/Alaskan Natives and 2.2 percent for Native Hawaiians. This rate is substantially higher than other ethnicities: whites (0.7%), Hispanics (0.5%), Asians (0.2%) and African-Americans (0.1%).

Reservation and rural Native communities meth abuse rates have been seen as high as 30 percent. In May 2006, the White Mountain Apache Tribe in Arizona testified in front of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that 30 percent of their Tribal employees recently tested positive for meth use.”

Domestic Violence

According to a 2009 report by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy: “American Indian women residing on Indian reservations suffer domestic violence and physical assault at rates far exceeding women of other ethnicities and locations. American Indian women experience physical assaults at a rate 50 percent higher than the next most victimized demographic, African-American males.”

Suicide Rates

According to a 2010 article in the Native American Times: “Tribal suicide rates are 70 percent higher than for the general population, and the youth suicide rate is even higher. On some reservations youth suicide rates are 10 times the national average.”

Based on this information alone, it does not appear that tribal “connections” are helping reduce rates of substance abuse, domestic violence or suicide rates.


A group of Blackfeet Indians wants to lower the blood quantum requirement for membership in the Blackfeet Tribe. Read the number one benefit they argue the tribe will receive for doing so:

1. Funding. Much of the federal funding that the Tribe receives is based on enrollment numbers. Currently, tribal programs service both enrolled members and descendants, but only receive funding for the enrolled. This means that we are providing cut-rate services or no services at all to a large amount of people. If descendants are enrolled, there will be more Federal funding available to all interested persons who are in need of assistance. Additionally, there are certain State monies received by the Tribe that are based on the number of enrolled members living on the Reservation. If descendants are enrolled, those living on the Reservation would increase the revenues received by the State.”
Read full article

Coalition Response:

Could federal funding be behind some of the thousands of ICWA cases tribes are involved in each year? You decide.


From the Utah Department of Human Services: “The tribe is entitled to NOTICE as a party, because from an Indian perspective, a child is a sacred and precious resource that belongs to the entire tribe.”

Coalition Response:

A child who has no previous connection to any tribal custom or community, etc. “belongs” to the tribe? This understanding of ICWA strips parents of their rights.

Except if the biological parents are fit and wish to maintain custody they are allowed to keep their children unenrolled and refuse all contact with the tribe. So, how can the government then logically say the tribes have an equal interest with parents and the child belongs to them as well?

According to the Center for Social Services Research at Cal-Berkeley, Native American children were more likely than children of any other ethnicity to experience a recurrence of substantiated abuse allegations within 24 months of reunification in 9 of the 13 years from 1998-2010. The percentage of children with a recurrence of substantiated abuse ranged from 13.3-25.7% for Native American children, compared with 14.2-19.2% for African-American children, 14.3-18.8% for Caucasian children, 11.9-14.8% for Hispanic children, and 8.1-12.3% for Asian/Pacific Islander children. ICWA has added protections for Indian parents to supposedly help prevent the breakup of Indian families. California has strengthened ICWA through its Legislature.

Coalition Response:

More Indian kids are being abused after returning to their parents than kids of any other race. Is ICWA helping or harming Indian children in California?


From the Montana Supreme Court: “While the best interests of the child is an appropriate and significant factor in custody cases under state law, it is an improper test to use in ICWA cases.”

Coalition Response:
In child welfare cases, social workers, CASA workers, attorneys and judges are all supposed to ask, and answer, one very basic question, “What is in the best interest of this child?”

Once ICWA enters the picture, that question becomes secondary to the question, “What does the tribe want done with this child?” And in the majority of the cases, the individuals asking that question have never met the child.