Feds: State Courts Must Work Harder to Keep American Indian Families Together Despite Abandonment, Abuse or Neglect

Children abandoned, abused or neglected.

State steps in to protect them, typically by removing them from the home on at least a temporary basis.

If suitable relatives are willing and available, the children will usually be temporarily placed with them over strangers.

And then begins the process of assessing the weaknesses in the parents’ parenting skills and how to support the parents in building them up – if they are willing and able.

In a recent Maryland case, the children were placed with their aunt. The children did well with her.

And their parents failed to enhance their parenting skills.

One and one-half years later, a court awarded the aunt custody and guardianship of the children.

Not an unusual outcome under the circumstances.

The parents appealed. Also not unusual.

But the rest of the story is.

Because the mother is American Indian.

Therefore, the children are subject to the Indian Child Welfare Act.

That means that the Court was required to make “active efforts” to keep the family intact because the children were American Indian.

(Not that the Court doesn’t or shouldn’t make every reasonable effort to keep every family together, but the requirement is stricter for American Indian children … )

The intermediate appellate court reversed the award of custody and guardianship to the aunt, ruling that the State had, in effect, given up on the parents prematurely, after six months.

Read more in this Baltimore Sun article: Md. court makes unique custody ruling.