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A Guide to the Indian Child Welfare Act

By Isabelle Bryan

When placing your baby for adoption, it’s important to find an adoption agency that will care for your well-being. Adoption-related services, such as helping you create your adoption plan and providing you with an attorney, are one thing. But assistance programs including financial aid and counseling services are equally necessary. And if you are a birth mother considering adoption agencies in Arizona, we can provide all of this and more. At Adoption Choices of Arizona, we seek to ensure that birth mothers experience a caring and informational adoption process. Our adoption specialists can offer you a variety of assistance, including a willing ear for any questions or concerns. When you work with us, you’ll never be left on your own.

The right adoption agency will also help you think through your options when it comes to choosing an adoptive family. And for some birth mothers, there may be a lot to think about. Multiracial and multicultural adoption, for example, may come with a variety of pros and cons. In adoptions involving Native American children, these additional factors come in the form of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). 

The Indian Child Welfare Act and Its Adoption Protections

The ICWA, passed in 1978, serves to prevent the unnecessary separation of Native American children from their families and communities. Prior to its enactment, around a quarter of Native American children were being taken from their families. Often, they were removed due to discrimination or a lack of cultural awareness on the part of child welfare workers. These children were then placed with foster and adoptive families of different races. 

The act was passed when Congress determined that this practice was not in the best interest of Native American children. Keeping children with their tribe—or other Native American families—ensures they can maintain a connection with their family and culture. Additionally, it promotes the survival of Native American tribes.

The ICWA applies in all 50 states, in any custody proceedings involving an Native American child under 18 who is:

  • A member of a federally recognized tribe
  • The biological child of a tribal member. In this case, the child must be eligible for membership themselves.

Ruling on Custody Proceedings Before Considering Adoption

During involuntary child custody proceedings, the ICWA requires that the parent or guardian, as well as the tribe, be informed. Both of the custody case and their right to intervene. Additionally, the parent or guardian can request counsel, which the court must provide. 

To ensure that children are not being unduly removed, all child custody proceedings must be based on evidence. This includes hearing the testimonies of qualified witnesses who are knowledgeable regarding the cultural norms of the tribe in question. Following this, the court must determine whether the child in question is in a safe environment. If keeping them with their family is unlikely to result in mental or physical harm, they will not be removed.

Emergency removals can only occur if a court determines that the child is in immediate danger. In these cases, the separation of the child from their family cannot last more than 30 days. However, there are exceptions, including the continued presence of danger for the child upon their return.

Placing a Child During the Adoption Process

Should a Native American child be placed with an adoptive family, placement preferences are decided by the child’s tribe. However, if the tribe does not have any unique requests, preference is given to a standardized group of people. That is, the child’s extended family, members of the child’s tribe, and Native American families from outside the child’s tribe.

Certain rules must also be followed when a Native American birth mother chooses to place her baby for adoption. These are meant to ensure that the adoption is entirely voluntary, and include:

  • Consent must be provided in writing as well as in court by the birth mother
  • The birth mother must be fully informed as to what it means to choose adoption
  • The adoptive family can be chosen by the birth mother. However, families that fall within the standardized placement options must be considered.

Your Rights and Benefits as a Birth Mother Considering Child Adoption

As a birth mother, there’s plenty to consider during the adoption process. And one of the most important decisions is choosing an adoption agency that will take care of you. Choosing a local, licensed, and private adoption in Arizona with our agency can provide you with several benefits. These include:

  • Pregnancy help, including all the information you need to make decisions and a willing ear if you need to talk. Additionally, most pregnancy-related medical expenses that private insurance or state funds won’t pay for are covered by the adoptive family.
  • Providing eligible birth mothers with financial and housing assistance, which continues for up to six weeks post-delivery
  • Transporting you to appointments and arranging rides to locations including work and shopping
  • Assistance in choosing and meeting with an adoptive family
  • The choice of an open, semi-open, or closed child adoption
  • Professional counseling services
  • Screening measures for prospective adoptive families including background and home checks, interviews, child abuse clearance reports, and reference requirements
  • A staff knowledgeable regarding local adoption laws and regulations to make sure your adoption process is snag-free

When choosing between adoption agencies in Arizona, it’s important to consider what benefits each agency brings to the table. Our agency isn’t just here to get you through your Arizona adoption process as efficiently as possible. We’re here to care for your mental and physical well-being and to support you throughout the entirety of your adoption.

Choosing Adoption Choices of Arizona

Adoption can be a complicated process, and those experiencing an unplanned pregnancy may find it especially overwhelming. There are a variety of decisions to make and pros and cons to consider, particularly in regards to adoptive families. And when it comes to the adoption of Native American children, there is the ICWA to think about. Designed to protect Native American children, the law seeks to prevent their removal from their families without an evidence-based cause. Birth mothers and adoptive families alike can benefit from being aware of its rules and protections.

No matter what challenges you’re facing, our adoption agency is here for you. Our adoption specialists can assist you in areas including decision making, finding aid, or just talking through your feelings. And as an Arizona private adoption agency, you’ll have complete control over your adoption journey. We want you to be able to make the choices that you feel are best for you and your child.

If you would like to learn more about your options, contact Adoption Choices of Arizona by email, phone, or text.