Non-Indian adoption group disputes BIA's new ICWA guidelines

Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Photo from Bureau of Indian Affairs / Twitter

A group of adoption attorneys claims it wasn't consulted about new Indian Child Welfare Act guidelines issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The BIA held a series of listening sessions in 2014 to discuss ways to ensure better compliance with ICWA. The Department of Justice also has taken public positions in high-profile Indian child welfare cases in South Dakota, Alaska and Oklahoma as far back as March 2013.

Yet the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys claims it was blind-sided by the BIA's guidelines even though a notice published in the Federal Register in February specifically says the group submitted written comments.

"As distinguished professionals in the field of adoption and foster care, we and many other groups who work in the courts and the child welfare system are appalled by this surprise publication," AAAA President Laurie Goldheim said in a statement. "The federal government’s unwillingness to hear from those groups who have been in the field for many years working directly with those families and children who will be negatively impacted by these guidelines is alarming."

The guidelines, however, are merely guidelines. They are not binding on any state court or child welfare agency, something that is not mentioned in the group's statement.

The BIA has proposed a separate ICWA regulation that will carry a greater force. That rule is open to public comments and won't be finalized without hearing from groups like the AAAA.

Get the Story:
Indian Country Braces for Battle With Adoption Industry Over ICWA Guidelines (Indian Country Today 3/30)

Federal Register Notices:
Regulations for State Courts and Agencies in Indian Child Custody Proceedings (March 30, 2015)
Guidelines for State Courts and Agencies in Indian Child Custody Proceedings (February 25, 2015)

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