The Children’s League of Massachusetts (CLM) stands with tribes, Native American rights activists, youth advocates, child welfare experts, and partners in urging the Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Oral arguments for Brakeen v. Haaland begin on November 9.
At a larger policy level, ICWA represents respect for the sovereignty of tribal nations and a step toward actively reforming the practices of cultural genocide perpetuated by the Indian boarding school system that sought to destroy Native communities by erasing their children’s identities. The legal threat to ICWA is also seen as an opening to undermine tribal sovereignty in other aspects of government relations, such as land rights.
Central to the Brakeen case is ICWA’s requirement that child welfare agencies engage in “active efforts” to prevent a Native American family’s breakup and to promote reunification. With heightened emphasis on family preservation and kinship, ICWA mandates that tribes be notified and included in children’s legal proceedings and state and tribal child welfare agencies take clear steps to keep children connected to their families and tribes when a Native American child is removed from their home for abuse or neglect. These steps include prioritizing placement with relatives, a Native American family, or a setting approved by the child’s tribe.
The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families FY2021 annual report shows that while overall a small number of Native children and families enter the DCF system each year, they are over-represented when compared to the general Native population in the Commonwealth. Native children in Massachusetts are nearly twice as likely to be placed out-of-home than white children, they experience the second highest average number of placement moves, and their average length of stay in placement is more than double any other racial or ethnic category. Data from a national study of child protective services (CPS) showed that from 2014-2018 Native children in Middlesex County, MA had among the highest cumulative risk for CPS involvement in the nation.