New CA Law May Affect Adoptions
of Some Native-American Children

      A recent Native America Calling radio program, on KUNM-FM, focused on a new law in California that may result in changes in Native-American adoptions. It deals with what they are calling Customary Adoption Practices.
     The new law states that, in some circumstances, a Native American child’s birth parents will not be required to sign away all parental rights, as is the current policy in most adoptions in the U.S., including open or semi-open adoptions.
     This law applies only to Native-American children at this time, and only in California. It is the intent of the law to further strengthen the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a federal law that already exists, which states that a Native child who is available for adoption because the birth parents are unable to properly care for the child will be adopted within the child’s Native community, preferably extended family, if at all possible; if that is not possible, the next alternative is within the child’s clan or tribe; if that is not possible, the next alternative is within another Native group or tribe; only if that is not possible is the child allowed to be adopted by non-Native parents.
     In some regions, the ICWA has been followed closely and implemented carefully, while in other parts of the country, the foster/adoption system has not been so faithful in sticking to the ICWA guidelines, with the result that Native children still lose their family and tribal connections, language, and culture.
     The intent of the new California law is to help birth families maintain those connections through continued contact wherever possible and advisable, with an emphasis on extended family raising the child if at all possible. The birth parents would not be financially responsible for the child, but would be able to have contact and not be estranged from the child.
     In many states, open adoption is not legally enforceable, although it is in New Mexico, for both adoptive parents and birth parents. This new law does not mean that a birth parent can come in at any time and take the child back without any oversight or legal procedures. It does mean they are not cut off with no recourse, no information and no further contact with their child, as has often been the case in adoptions through the foster system.
     An audiotape of this radio program will be available through the O.I. Lending Library. There was a considerable amount of call-in comments from adult adoptees, adoptive parents, birth parents, and others, including interviews with the legislators who sponsored the bill.
     “Native American Calling” is broadcast Monday-Friday at 11:00 a.m. on KUNM (89.9 FM), and frequently features adoption-related Native-American topics. The broadcast is also streamed live on KUNM’s website,

Excerpted from the January 2010 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2010 Operation Identity