CCAI Executive Director Kathleen Strottman’s
Statement Regarding Supreme Court Decision in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl
“Through my work with current and former foster youth, I have learned that having a strong sense of one’s culture, heritage and identity is a vitally important part of child and adolescent development. It is for this reason that CCAI has continued to work to ensure that these components are not only recognized but protected by the United States child welfare system. The Indian Child Welfare Act is an important piece of federal legislation that, when well implemented, carefully safeguards the best interests of Native American children.
It has been over 25 years since the Indian Child Welfare Act was enacted into law. In recent years, the media and tribal community have rightly pointed to the disproportionate number of native youth in care as evidence of its continued need. At the same time, child welfare advocates have pointed out cases in which application of ICWA is resulting in native children being denied a safe, loving and permanent family through adoption. I sincerely hope that today’s decision sparks a necessary and open discussion of ways that this critically important law might be used to better protect the best interests of children.”
CCAI Summary Regarding Supreme Court Decision in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled 5-4 in favor of the adoptive parents of “Baby Veronica” in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl and reversed the decision of the South Carolina state court that removed the child from the adoptive parents’ home at the age of 27 months and placed her with her biological father, a member of the Cherokee tribe, whom she had never met.
The Supreme Court’s decision held that the provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) that the state court relied upon in its decision do not apply to the facts of this case. Specifically, the Court found that ICWA “was designed primarily to counteract the unwarranted removal of Indian children from Indian families. But the ICWA’s primary goal is not implicated when an Indian child’s adoption is voluntary and lawfully initiated by a non-Indian parent with sole custodial rights.”
The Court stated that the biological father abandoned the child before birth and never had “continued custody” (legal or physical) of the child so there was no relationship that could be discontinued by terminating the biological Indian father’s rights to the child.
The Court also held that ICWA’s adoption placement preferences for Indian families do not apply in this case, because the biological father and extended family did not seek to adopt the child.