In 1978, the Indian Child Welfare Act, was passed by Congress in response to an alarming number of Native American children being separated from their parents and placed them in non-Indian homes without good reason. Before its enactment, Native American children were being removed from their Indian homes at a rate as high as 35%. The result was a per capital rate of Indian children in foster care that was nearly 16 times higher than the rate of non-Indian children. With the prevalence of Native American history the Western Pennsylvania, the Indian Child Welfare Act is of great importance when it comes to practicing family law in Allegheny County and the surrounding counties (Washington County, Westmoreland County, Beaver County, Butler County, etc.)
Tomorrow the U.S. Supreme Court will take up an important adoption case that consider whether the Indian Child Welfare Act gives a father who is a member of the Cherokee Nation the right to revoke the adoption of his biological child. In the case before the Court, the non-Indian biological mother, who was not married to the Indian father, voluntarily placed her child for adoption with a non-Indian couple after the Father renounced his parental rights and refused to provide any support for the child. The biological mother chose a South Carolina couple interested in an open adoption, which would permit the biological mother to visit the adoptive family and the baby. The South Carolina couple raised the baby until she was 27 months old, when the father challenged the adoption and South Carolina family court ordered that the child be transferred to the father’s custody.
The South Carolina Supreme Court the family court’s ruling on the grounds that once it was established that he was the biological father, the Indian Child Welfare Act conferred “preference to the Indian parent.” Under Oklahoma law, where the biological mother lives, and South Carolina, where the adoptive parents reside, a biological father is not permitted to intervene in an adoption once he has relinquished his parental rights. But state courts are split over the meaning of “parent” under the Indian Child Welfare Act, and whether the answer should be based on state law. The case presents an interesting question about the vital role that the Indian Child Welfare Act has played in protecting Native American families.