Protecting Our Grandchildren’s Connection
BY ROBYN WIND
Nine years ago, like millions of other grandparents in this country, I thought I had my future planned out. All that changed with a phone call from the Department of Human Services. My three-month-old grandchild was being taken into custody and would need a foster home. Did I want to become a licensed foster parent for him? Of course, I did. But I had twelve hours to prepare. I needed a crib, car seat, diapers… all the things to care for a severely injured and neglected infant. It’s been difficult at times, but I have never regretted that decision and today I am privileged to be raising a handsome, loving, and busy nine-year-old boy. Instead of going on cruises and day trips with friends my age, I attend football practice and hang out in the drive-up line at the elementary school.
I am fortunate that my family and I are citizens of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, one of the four largest tribes in the country. As a result, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) applied to my grandson’s case and I, as a family member, was considered first as a caregiver for him when the child welfare agency intervened. Had this not been the case, my grandson may well have been taken to live with strangers. ICWA is considered the “gold standard” when it comes to child welfare practice simply because the law mandates children be placed with family members or within their communities. We know children fare better when they are allowed to remain with their extended family members and are connected to their communities. This should be the norm for every family involved with the child welfare system, but we still have work to do to make that happen.
Congress passed ICWA into law in 1978 when the federal government acknowledged that at least 25% to 30% of all Native American children were being taken from their homes and up to 85% of those children were permanently removed from their communities and adopted into non-native families. Taking our children from us and permanently severing their connections to tribes and communities has a devastating effect. Imagine one-third of the children in your immediate and extended family disappearing, never to return. Native communities have been dealing with the effects of lost children for decades. The resulting incidents of emotional, social, and behavioral challenges can be tied directly to historical trauma. The intent of the Indian Child Welfare Act is to protect the best interest of native children and promote the stability of native families and tribes. It ensures that we can keep our native communities intact. Keeping families and communities intact for children who cannot live with their parents helps children feel loved, have less social, emotional, and behavioral health issues and maintain their close connections with siblings and other members of the community who are important to them.
“The intent of the Indian Child Welfare Act is to protect the best interest of native children and promote the stability of native families and tribes.”
But now, Brackeen v. Haaland, a case brought before the U.S. Supreme Court, challenges ICWA and the protections it provides for children, families, and communities. Simply, this case has its origin with non-native families wishing to adopt native children and seeking to overturn the protections ICWA has in place for those children, families, and tribes. It’s critical that grandparents and other family members maintain the right to keep their children within their families while providing those children with safe, loving, stable, and nurturing homes. Protecting ICWA requires us all to stand together against the special interest groups and adoption agencies who have their own agendas, which have nothing to do with protecting children or preserving families.
“It’s critical that grandparents and other family members maintain the right to keep their children within their families while providing those children with safe, loving, stable, and nurturing homes.”
I am thankful every day that my grandson came home to me so that I have been able to give him a strong base of support for his future. He knows he is loved and has maintained all his ties with close family members. We have come together as a group of people he knows he can depend on and who are always there for him. If we want children who have the foundation to be strong future leaders, they must have the chance to remain close to those who love them most. Kin who will care for them and tell them of their histories and traditions should be a right for each and every child.
To learn more about the Indian Child Welfare Act and how children fare better with kinship caregivers, here are some excellent resources:
Children Thrive in Grandfamilies
National Indian Child Welfare Association- About ICWA
American Indian and Alaska Native Grandfamilies: Helping Children Thrive Through Connection to Family and Cultural Identity
Featured image: An ancient Muscogee village – NPS Despite the conveniences, technology, and influences of the twentieth century, the Muscogee people maintain many traditional values. Family ties are strong as values and beliefs continue to be passed down from generation to generation. An ancient Muscogee village
Robyn Wind is the GRAND Voices Support Coordinator for Generations United. Robyn has worked for nearly 15 years in Indian Child Welfare, primarily in foster care leadership. She served for several years as the Chair of the Oklahoma Indian Child Welfare Association’s Substitute Care Committee. Additionally, Robyn is a caregiver for her grandchild and mother. She lives in Oklahoma and holds tribal citizenship with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.