PORTLAND, Ore., April 29, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Citing strong participation at each hearing hosted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in Portland, Oregon, last week and overwhelming feedback from constituents, the executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, today offered continued support for proposed regulations that will strengthen Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) protections for children.
"The first week of hearings and consultations demonstrated a tremendous groundswell of support in Indian Country," said Dr. Sarah Kastelic. "It's exciting to see the momentum created by such a diverse cross section of our communities. Foster and adoptive parents, Native adoptees, foster youth, attorneys and law professors, child psychologists, families still searching for displaced relatives, and staff from state agencies all stood up to express their support for the proposed regulations. Their message is clear. Our children need these protections."
Kastelic pointed to some key provisions of the regulations that could prove most impactful. For example, the proposed regulations provide clarity in how parents, custodians, and tribes must be notified in cases—including voluntary cases like private adoptions—involving Native children. They require that active efforts be made immediately to prevent the breakup of a Native family, and specify that certain key witnesses in placement hearings must be qualified to speak on the child's specific cultural considerations.
The proposed regulations also definitively reject what is commonly known as the "Existing Indian Family Exception," a clarification that Kastelic says is long overdue.
"In the past, some courts created exceptions that allowed state judges the discretion to decide who is an Indian and who is not based on what was often very limited knowledge and expertise. Even though an overwhelming number of states and the U.S. Supreme Court have rejected this exception, we applaud the BIA for leaving no question about its intention to close this destructive loophole once and for all."
Additional hearings are scheduled in New Mexico, Minnesota, and Oklahoma. The deadline for submitting comments to the BIA is May 19, 2015.
The National Indian Child Welfare Association is dedicated to the well-being of American Indian and Alaska Native children and families and works to support the safety, health, and spiritual strength of Native children along the broad continuum of their lives.
SOURCE National Indian Child Welfare Association