Committee votes unanimously in favor of Sen. Bailey bill to create the Maine Indian Child Welfare Act

Posted: June 07, 2023 | Judiciary, Senator Bailey

AUGUSTA – On Tuesday, the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee voted in favor of a bill from Sen. Donna Bailey, D-Saco, that would enshrine protections for Maine Indian children and their families into state law. An amended version of LD 1970, “An Act to Enact the Maine Indian Child Welfare Act,” received unanimous support from present committee members.

Senator Donna Bailey

“Maine and the U.S. have come a long way over the past decades to reconcile, heal and improve how our government interacts with tribal nations and Indian families. Unfortunately, even as we seek to further this progress, there are some who seek to roll things back,” said Sen. Bailey. “This bill will ensure Maine keeps doing the right thing, regardless of what happens in Washington, D.C., or elsewhere in the country. I thank my fellow committee members for their strong support.”

The Maine Indian Child Welfare Act would establish procedures and standards for cases concerning custody proceedings, foster care placements, termination of parental rights and adoptions involving Indian children.

In 1978, Congress enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act to address policies and practices that resulted in the wholesale separation of Indian children from their families. State and private agencies were removing as many as 25 to 35% of Indian children from their families and placing many of these children in non-Indian foster and adoptive homes. Congress determined that cultural ignorance and biases within the child welfare system were significant causes of this problem. In light of this, Congress recognized that it is in the best interest of the child to maintain Tribal connections and that children are vital to Tribes’ continued existence. The ICWA aims to “protect the best interests of Indian children and promote the stability and security of Indian Tribes and families.”

The Federal ICWA governs State child-custody proceedings in multiple ways:

  • Recognizes Tribal jurisdiction over decisions for their Indian children;
  • Establishes minimum federal standards for the removal of Indian children form their families;
  • Establishes preferences for placement of Indian children with extended family or other Tribal families;
  • Institutes protections to ensure that birth parents’ voluntary relinquishments of their children are truly voluntary.

The future of the ICWA is currently uncertain, due to a pending case before the US. Supreme Court, Haaland v. Brackeen. Depending on how the court rules, important safeguards for custody and child welfare proceedings involving Indian children and families could be eliminated. LD 1970, which is supported by the Maine Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS), would enshrine these protections in state law, ensuring continuity. The committee amendment adds an emergency clause, ensuring the bill will take effect immediately upon becoming law.

LD 1970 now faces votes in the Senate and House.