Family Law

The case of a 6-year-old Native American child taken from her Southern California foster family by state authorities garnered local media attention and has become a national story. Images of her being led, clutching her teddy bear, from her Santa Clarita home, with distraught family and neighbors watching, have fueled the story.

The girl's foster family has been trying to adopt her since she moved in with them four years ago. However, she was taken from the family on March 21 to live with relatives of her biological father in Utah.

Her biological father lost custody of the girl because of his "extensive criminal history." The girl's mother lost custody of her, with six other children, because of a "lengthy substance abuse problem."

Indian Child Welfare Act

Because her father is a member of the Choctaw tribe, the custody of the young girl is governed by the Indian Child Welfare Act, passed in 1978. That law was enacted to protect Native American children from losing touch with their heritage by being adopted by non-Native American families. It allows the tribe to which a biological parent belongs to have a say in where children are placed if they aren't able to remain with their parents.

A statement by the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma in this case reflects the goals of the law. A spokesperson said, "The tribe's values of faith, family and culture are what makes our tribal identity so important to us ... We will ... work ... toward the long-term best interest of this child."

The couple who is taking the girl is not Native American. Their relationship to her father is only by marriage. However, because they are part of the father's extended family, the Choctaw tribe as well as the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services recommended that she live with them. The girl has visited them and they have traveled regularly to California to visit her for the past few years.

Foster Family Is Continuing Legal Battle

The girl's foster family and their attorney are continuing to fight in the courts for her. That fight has been taken up by friends, neighbors and supporters via a GoFundMe page and a Facebook page.

Families seeking to adopt a child of Native American ancestry can encounter legal impediments. However, family law attorneys can provide guidance and help them work to adopt a child whom they've come to consider their own.

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