Sen. Bailey introduces bill to create the Maine Indian Child Welfare Act

Posted: May 31, 2023 | Judiciary, Senator Bailey

AUGUSTA – On Wednesday, Sen. Donna Bailey, D-Saco, introduced a bill that would enshrine protections for Maine Indian children and their families into state law. LD 1970, “An Act to Enact the Maine Indian Child Welfare Act,” was the subject of a public hearing before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee.

Senator Donna Bailey

“The U.S. has a tragic history of separating Indian children from their families and placing them, intentionally, either in residential schools or with white families. This only compounds on the trauma they endure, as they are separated both from their community and their culture. Maine is part of this history as well,” said Sen. Bailey. “Decades of hard work and soul-searching have led to corrections in policy and practice. It’s vital that we ensure these changes are written into Maine law.”

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 rights and protections in state law, ensuring continuity.

LD 1970 faces further action in committee.