Making Relatives, Supporting Families: A Tribal Customary Adoption Curriculum

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NICWA, with the support of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption is pleased to publish this second and much revised edition of the Tribal Customary Adoption Curriculum. NICWA, with technical assistance from the AILC and Forman & Associates, has developed a curriculum and model Tribal Customary Adoption code based on tribal customs and values that can be used by tribes to accomplish culturally appropriate permanency for children in tribal child welfare programs.

This curriculum and model code discuss judicial processes for the recognition and certification of customary law regarding the adoption of children and set out a culturally based framework for conducting formal adoptions without the termination of parental rights (TPR). The curriculum and code were born of necessity and present potential solutions to a complex set of problems affecting Indian children, families, and tribes today. Increasingly, U.S. child welfare law and policy has expressed a clear preference for TPR and adoption for children who cannot return to their own natural families. This is in direct conflict with most tribal teaching. Almost every American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) tribe has customs associated with adoption, so it is not a foreign concept. In fact, in surveying tribes, we have yet to find a tribe that does not have current or historical customary processes for adoption. None, however, has expressed customs or traditional practices that would have been equivalent to TPR. While it is safe to assume that such things probably did happen, we could not find ceremonies, rituals, or common practices that ended relationships between parents and children. In fact, many tribes actively abhor the idea and will not subject their children to this unthinkable act. Other means are seen as appropriate for achieving permanency.