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Adoption advocates ‘disappointed’ with new Indian Child Welfare Act guidelines

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A statewide adoption advocacy group says they are disappointed with a new set of expanded federal guidelines for the Indian Child Welfare Act.

The Florida Adoption Council is the state’s largest nonprofit association of adoption attorneys, law professors, adoption agencies, and social workers. On Thursday, they released a statement expressing “grave concerns” over amended guidelines of the ICWA from the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

Established in 1978, ICWA is a federal law to protect Native American children, families and tribes. Congress passed the act to address the mass removal of Native American children from reservations by state welfare agencies.

The goal was to protect “the relationship between Indian tribes and Indian children domiciled on the reservation.” The act applies to any child who is a member or eligible to be a member of a federally recognized Indian tribe.

While the BIA focuses on expanding the reach of the ICWA, the council says parts of the newly published guidelines entirely disregard the best interest of children.

In the statement, the council points out a “blatant failure to provide legal protections for children,” especially those in the foster-care system.

One example is cases involves removing a child from current placement, even if the child will suffer serious harm as a result. The act now prohibits courts from considering attachment or bonding issues.

New guidelines explicitly state the “best interest of the child” is not a consideration, which the council says will lead to treating children as chattel or possessions, without any constitutional rights. They also are concerned children would lose due process and equal protection rights.

The lack of due process in formulating the new guidelines is also alarming, the group adds. Several months ago, the BIA informed interested child welfare groups that there would be an opportunity for comment and feedback to any proposed revisions. That did not happen.

In what the council calls a “purposeful effort to bypass input,” the BIA published amended guidelines, declaring them effective immediately.

The Florida Adoption Council is urging the Department of Interior to reevaluate the process of drafting new rules, and allow organizations that work in the child welfare field more involvement.

“The Florida Adoption Council welcomes the opportunity to work with the United States attorney general, the staff at the BIA, and all interested organizations to ensure that federal guidelines are developed in such a way as to respect the rights of all, and most importantly, to avoid harm to any child,” the statement concludes.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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