Native Case Studies

Enduring Legacies Native Cases
Tribal Customary Adoption: A Culturally Based Permanency Solution for Relative Caregivers
Terry Cross, Sarah Kastelic, and Kathleen Earle

This two-part case study opens with a fictional example of what life is like for grandparents who are struggling to balance the love of their daughter and the long-term safety and well-being of their grandchild. Part one examines the challenges that family members might face when they step forward to help and the very real and emotional decisions that have to be made regarding permanency for the long-term well-being of the child. Part two examines the cultural underpinnings of legal and cultural concepts that underlie permanency. Many widespread tribal cultural practices have traditionally placed children whose parents are unable to care for them with relatives and extended family members without severing the bonds of kinship and love between parent and child. However, in modern times, in order for adoptive homes to be recognized by most state and federal funding and child welfare authorities, termination of parental rights (TPR) has been required. Many tribes reject termination of parental rights culturally, and many have had solely negative histories with foster care and adoption such that they shun the concept. Some have taken the initiative to create their own versions of adoption based in their traditions. A 2015 review of 107 tribal child welfare codes found that 19 codes (15%) included tribal customary adoption, some in addition to conventional adoption and some in place of conventional adoption.