The following is a personal account from the life of my coworker who I also consider to be a trusted friend. I have her permission to share this story but have redacted the names to give her family privacy.
Over fifteen years ago, my friend was caring for two of her grandchildren when she received a call from Child Protective Services (CPS). CPS told her that her son and daughter-in-law had been involved in a car accident while driving drunk with her other granddaughter in the vehicle. CPS had the child in protective custody and were on their way to pick up the other two children. Her grandkids were 6 years, 4 years, and 18 months old at the time.
Back then, my friend had both stable employment and a home to raise the children in. Despite this, the child welfare agency in Madison County, KY placed her grandkids in a foster home with people they didn’t know. The day after being placed in foster care, the foster family cut her 6-year-old grandson’s long hair, disrespecting Native tradition. The children would also experience abuse at the hands of their foster family throughout the duration of their stay.
My friend and her grandchildren are all registered members of the Navajo Nation. The federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) requires that child welfare agencies work with the Navajo Nation to identify a placement with a relative or member of the Navajo Nation if at all possible. However, the child welfare agency in KY did not follow federal law and, in fact, insisted there were no Native children in the state. It took 8 months of legal battle for a judge to finally determine that CPS employees had not complied with the law. My friend was finally able to take her grandchildren home and begin the process of helping them heal from their ordeal.
Today, the eldest is a high school graduate working towards his degree. The middle granddaughter is finishing her final year of high school and is an accomplished photographer. The youngest granddaughter is a junior in high school and one of my favorite baking buddies. All three are thriving and happy thanks to their grandmother’s love and perseverance. But it should never have taken 8 months, their abuse, or her tears.
* This blog is meant to be read in conjunction with Breaking Down ICWA Basics.