Preserving Connections: Rethinking the approach to cultural identity

Three questions we MUST ASK, in order to change the way we help children stay connected with their cultural identity and their families?

1) Shouldn’t ALL of our child protection laws be like the Indian Child Welfare Act?  This is  the only legislation that places emphasis on family, culture, and community.  This law should be found constitutional by the Supreme Court when it hears the Haaland v. Brackeen Case.  But even if the Supreme Court has other ideas, the tenets of this law should be integrated into ALL laws domestic and international that affect the placement of children if they become separated from their families.

2) Shouldn’t adoption be a last resort for children in general?  HHS Children’s Bureau states that “Children in foster care should not have to choose between families. We should offer them the opportunity to expand family relationships, not sever or replace them.” P.10. through kinship care.

Similarly, “The Biden administration proposes spending $20 billion over a decade to help some of the most vulnerable families in the country, including relatives suddenly thrust into child rearing, ” otherwise known as kinship care.  Kinship care must be invested in and carried out using other tools such as legal guardianship; only using termination of parental rights and adoption as a last resort. We caution though that there will be no equity in kinship care, unless the HHS Children’s Bureau and states create awareness, policies, and tools so that children with kin OUTSIDE the U.S. can also be considered for placement with their kin. One fourth of all children in the U.S. have an immigrant family member.  The family in New York Times article cited above was living in Spain permanently at the time their grandchildren ended up in foster care.  With ISS-USA’s help, they might have been able to continue living in Spain and take care of their grand children at the same time. The assumption that a family MUST return to the U.S. or live within the U.S. is discriminatory. Some family members will not have the option to live in the United States and others may choose not to.

3) Shouldn’t we make it easier for adoptees (and children of assisted reproductive technology) to get information about their origins from the very beginning? The research says YES, those who have been adopted say YES, and so resoundingly, we need to remove barriers to adoptees and others uncovering their origins.  DNA databases have already made secrecy (to a large extent) pointless.  In addition, we need to make the process more transparent and open from the beginning and throughout a child’s journey into adulthood.  Finally, we need to provide more support to adoptees (and others) before, during and after their search processes.  Native Americans have created an ideal model for this. The First Nations Repatriation Institute (FNRI) is the first organization of its kind whose goal is to create a resource for First Nations people impacted by foster care or adoption to return home, reconnect, and reclaim their identity.  Research by Landers, A. L., Danes, S. M. & White Hawk, S. (2015). Finding their way home: The reunification of First Nations adoptees. First Peoples Child & Family Review, 10(2) 18–30. highlights that First Nation adoptees are more satisfied with reunion outcomes when they feel connected to extended family and to their cultural roots and ancestral land.

Cultural identity is VERY important to people who have become separated from their families

We have an opportunity to rethink HOW we help children stay connected to their cultural identity.

This must include:
Maintaining or finding connections to family, community and land.
Supporting kinship care arrangements financially and with services;
And in situations where adoption is the best option for a child, helping the child and adopting family maintain relationships with the child’s family, culture, and land.
Finally, whether family or kin are part of a Native American nation or live in a different nation- we have the tools to connect them, and we must learn to use all the tools we have available to us.
Children both need and deserve to know who they are and where they come from and grow up with or connected to their people when possible.


About the Author

Julie Rosicky

Julie Rosicky is the chief executive officer of ISS-USA, a national organization, based in Baltimore, MD that is part of a global network that works to reunite children and families separated by international borders. Prior to leading ISS-USA, Julie worked in domestic child advocacy, alternative dispute resolution, and providing social services to refugees and Native Americans. Julie has a BS from the University of Colorado, and a MS from the University of OR, in Developmental Psychology.  In her free time she rows, travels across the U.S. and globe with her husband and their adult sons and spends time locally with her parents and elderly dog.