National Child Welfare Association

Customary Adoption

girl and boy at a basketball game - photo by

In an effort to address the disproportionate number of Indian children placed in permanent and adoptive homes outside their tribes and culture, the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) and the Dave Thomas Foundation have developed a national clearinghouse for tribal adoption issues. This dedicated adoption page will help to connect tribal communities and non-Indian adoption communities in serving the best interests of Indian children and families involved in adoption.

Meeting Children's Needs While Honoring Tribal Values and Beliefs

Historically and traditionally, adoption has been practiced in most tribal communities through custom and ceremony. In general, tribes did not practice termination of parental rights. Unfortunately, adoption became a negative thing due to forced assimilation policies; it was used as a tool to destroy Indian families and culture. Due to this historical trauma, many tribes actively abhor adoption as understood by the larger culture’s definition. Today, tribes are healing those old wounds and reclaiming their positive tradition for “making relatives.” In a customary adoption, tribes are allowed to meet the permanency needs of their children while honoring their own tribal values and beliefs. NICWA supports this developing movement in Indian Country and believes that offering a link to understanding this exciting option to the larger culture is imperative. An adoption outreach program must understand these cultural influences in order to be successful with Indian families.

This page is intended to help broaden the number of Indian families available to care for Indian children by offering a forum for tribal communities, state agencies, and private agencies to come together and share information regarding adoption issues such as outreach, advocacy, recruitment/retention programs, ICWA issues, customary adoption, post-adoption services, policy, and funding. In addition, we are happy to have available a resource directory for information regarding tribal adoption issues.

Customary Adoption References

Adoption History

Benet, M. (1976). The politics of adoption.
New York: Free Press.
Bussiere, A. (1998). The development of adoption law.
Adoption Quarterly, 1(3), 3-25.
Carter-Black, J. (2002). Transracial adoption and foster care placement: Worker perception and attitude.
Child Welfare, 81(2), 337-370.
Cole, E. S. (1984). Societal influences on adoption practice.
In P. Sachdev (Ed.), Adoption: Current issues and trends (pp. 14-29). Toronto: Butterworth & Co. Ltd
Cole, E. S. & Donley, K. S. (1990). History, values, and placement: Policy issues in adoption.
In D. K. Brodzinsky and m. D. Schechter, (Eds.), The psychology of adoption (pp. 273-294). New York: Oxford University Press.
Collmeyer, P. M. (1995). From “operation brown baby” to “opportunity”: The placement of children of color at the Boys and Girls Aid Society of Oregon.
Child Welfare, 74(1), 242-263.
Courtney, M. E. (1997). The politics and realities of transracial adoption.
Child Welfare, 76, 749-780.
Flood, R. S. (1995). Lost Bird of Wounded Knee: Spirit of the Lakota.
New York: Scribner.
Freundlich, M. (2000). Adoption and ethics: The role of race, culture, and national origin in adoption(Vol1).
Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America.
Friedlander, M. L. (2003). Adoption: Misunderstood, mythologized, and marginalized.
The Counseling Psychologist, 31(6), 745-752.
Goodluck, C. T., & Eckstein, F. (1978, Spring). American Indian Adoption Program: An ethnic approach to child welfare.
White Cloud Journal, 1, 3-6.
Hayes, P. (1993). Transracial adoption: Politics and ideology.
Child Welfare, 72(3), 301-310.
Kadushin, A. (1984). Principles, values, and assumptions underlying adoption practice.
In P. Sachdev (Ed.), Adoption: Current issues and trends (pp. 3-14). Toronto: Butterworth & Co. Ltd.
Lee, R. M. (2003). The transracial adoption paradox: History, research, and counseling implications of cultural socialization.
The Counseling Psychologist, 31(6), 711-744.
McPherson, C. F., & Minton, J. M. (1994). Our Native American child: A guide for those who adopt and their supporters.
Southfield, MI: Spaulding for Children.
Meezan, W. (1980). Adoption service in the states (OHDS Publication No. 80-30288).
Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Human Development Services.
Melanson, Y. & Safran, C. (1999). Looking for lost bird: A Jewish woman discovers her Navajo roots.
New York: Avon Books, Inc.
Simon, R. J., & Alstein, H. (1977). Transracial adoption.
New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Zamostry, K. P., O’Brien, K. M., Baden, A. L., & O’Leary Wiley, M. (2003). The practice of adoption: History, trends, and social context.
The Counseling Psychologist, 31(6), 651-678

Customary Adoption

Hassrick, R. B., Maxwell, D., & Bach, C. M. (1977). The Sioux: Life and customs of a warrior society.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Morrison, C. (2006, Summer). Bringing the spirit of truth and reconciliation to tribal communities’ adoption work.
Pathways Practice Digest, 1-2.

First Nations Adoption

Bagley, C. (1991). Adoption of Native children in Canada: A policy analysis and a research report.
In H. Alstein and R. J. Simon (Eds.), Intercountry adoption: A multinational perspective (pp. 56-79). New York: Praeger Publishers.
Fournier, S. & Crey, E. (1997). Stolen from our embrace: The abduction of First Nations children and the restoration of Aboriginal communities.
Vancouver, BC: Douglas & Mcntyre, Ltd.
Johnston, P. (1983). Native children and the child welfare system.
Toronto: James Lorimer and Company.
Lipman, M. (1984). Adoption in Canada: Two decades in review.
In P. Sachdev (Ed.), Adoption: Current issues and trends, (pp. 30-42). Toronto: Butterworth & Co. Ltd.
Morse, B. (1984). Native Indian and Metis children in Canada: Victims of the child welfare system.
In G. K. Verma and C. Bagley (Eds.), Race relations and cultural differences (pp. 259-277). New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Swift, S. (1999). One of those kids: AFN and other try to restore faded tribal ties for Canada’s Native adoptees.
American Indian Report, 15(10), 22-24.
Ward, M. (1984). The adoption of Native Canadian children. Cobalt, Ontario: Highway Book Shop.

Identity Development

Bagley, C., & Young, Y. (1979). The identity, adjustment and achievement of transracially adopted children: A review and empirical report.
In G. K. Verman and C. Bagley (Eds.), Race, education and identity (pp. 192-219). New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Bennet, L. (1978). Personal choice in ethnic identity maintenance. Palo Alto, CA: Ragusan Press.
Costin, L. B., & Wattenberg, S. H. (1979). Identity in transracial adoption: A study of parental dilemmas and family experiences.
In G. K. Verman and C. Bagley (Eds.), Race, education and identity (pp. 220-235). New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Hoopes, J. L. (1990). Adoption and identity formation.
In D. K. Brodzinsky and M. D. Schechter, (Eds.), The psychology of adoption (pp. 144-166). New York: Oxford University Press.
McRoy, R. G, Zurcher, L. A., Lauderdale, M. L., & Anderson, R. E. (1984). The identity of transracial adoptees.
Social Casework: The Journal of Contemporary Social Work, 65, 34-39.
Mihesuah, D. A. (1998). American Indian identities: Issues of individual choices and development.
American Indian Cultures and Research Journal, 22(2), 193-226.
Slaughter, M. M. (2000). Contested identities: The adoption of American Indian children and the liberal state.
Social & Legal Studies, 9(2), 226-248.
Thunder Hawk, A. (2000, February). Hidden identity.
Paper presented at the meeting of the National Association of Native American Studies Section, Houston, TX.
Vidal de Haymes, M., & Simon, S. (2003) Transracial adoption: Families identify issues and needed support services.
Child Welfare League of America, 72(2), 251-272.

Indian Adoption Project

Bilchik, S. (2001, April 24). [Keynote address]. Speech presented at the 19th Annual Protecting our Children Conference, Anchorage, AK.
Child Welfare League of America. (1960, April). Indian Adoption Project. New York: Author.
Demer, L. (2001, May). Native receive apology for 1950s racial adoptions. Pathways Practice Digest, 1-2.
Lyslo, A. (1962, December). Suggested criteria to evaluate families to adopt American Indian children through Indian Adoption Project.
New York.: Child Welfare League of America.
Lyslo, A. (1964). The Indian Adoption Project: An appeal to catholic agencies to participate.
Catholic Charities Review, 48(5), 12-16.
Lyslo, A. (1967, March). 1966 year end summary of the Indian Adoption Project.
New York: Child Welfare League of America.
Lyslo, A. (1967). Adoptive placement of Indian children.
Catholic Charities Review, 51(2), 23-25.
Lyslo, A. (1968, April). The Indian Adoption Project – 1958 through 1967: Report of its accomplishments, evaluation and recommendations for adoption services to Indian children.
New York: Child Welfare League of America.

Outcomes for Transracially Adoption Native American Children

Bagley, C., & Young, Y. (1979). The identity, adjustment and achievement of transracially adopted children: A review and empirical report.
In G. K. Verman and C. Bagley (Eds.), Race, education and identity (pp. 192-219). New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Berlin, I. N. (1978). Anglo adoptions of Native Americans: Repercussions in adolescence.
American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 17(2), 387-388.
Brooks, D. & Barth, R. P. (1999). Adult transracial and inracial adoptees: Effect of race, gender, adoptive family structure, and placement history on adjustment outcomes.
American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 69(1), 87-99.
Fanshel, D. (1972). Far from the reservation: The transracial adoption of American Indian children. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.
Green, B. E., Sack, W. H., & Pambrum, A. (1981). A review of child psychiatric epidemiology with special reference to American Indian and Alaska Native children.
White Cloud Journal, 2(2), 22-36).
Green, H. J. (1983). Risks and attitudes associated with extra-cultural placement of American Indian children: A critical review.
Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 22(1), 63-67.
Knapp, J. (2002, March). My adoption meant personal loss, but I don’t look for blame.
Pathways Practice Digest, 1-2.
Kowal, L. A., & Schilling, K. M. (1985). Adoption through the eyes of adult adoptees.
American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 55(3), 354-362.
Locust, C. (2000, October). Split feathers: Adult American Indians who were placed in non-Indian families as children.
Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies Journal, 44(3), 11-16.
Magagnini, S. (1997, June 5). Indian adoptees go in search of roots. The Sacremento Bee, p. A20.4
Massatti, R. R., Vonk, E. M., & Gregorie, T. K. (2004). Reliability and validity of the transracial adoption parenting scale.
Research on Social Work Practice, 14(1), 43-50.
McDonald, T. P., Propp, J. R, & Murphy, K. C. (2001). The postadoption experience: Child, parent, and family predictors of family adjustment to adoption.
Child Welfare, 80(1), 71-94.
Melmer, D. (2004, February 18). ‘Split Feather’ syndrome addressed at S.D. committee hearing.
Indian Country Today. Retrieved May 8, 2006, from
Rathbun, C., McLaughlin, H., Bennett, C., & Garland, J. A. (1965). Later adjustment of children following radical separation from family and culture.
American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 35, 604-609.
Robin, R. W., Rasmussen, J. K., & Gonzalez-Santin, E. (1999). Impact of childhood out-of-home placement on a southwestern American Indian tribe.
Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 2(1/2), 69-89.
Rosene, L. R. (1985). A follow-up study of Indian children adopted by white families. Dissertation Abstracts International.
Rosenthal, R. A. (1981). Triple jeopardy: Family stresses and subsequent divorce following the adoption of racially and ethnically mixed children.
Journal of Divorce, 4(4), 43-54.
Ryant, J. C. (1984). Some issues in the adoption of Native children.
In P. Sachdev (Ed.), Adoption: Current issues and trends (pp. 169-180). Toronto: Butterworth & Co. Ltd.
Schmidt, B. W. (2001, March). Adopted Indians seek roots. Pathways Practice Digest, 1,10 -11.
Sharma, A. R., McGue, M. K., & Benson, P. L. (1996). The emotional and behavioral adjustment of United States adopted adolescents: Part I. An overview.
Children and Youth Services Review, 18, 83-100.
Silverman, A. R., & Feigleman, W. (1990). Adjustment in interracial adoptees: An overview.
In D. K. Brodzinsky and m. D. Schechter, (Eds.), The psychology of adoption (pp. 187-200). New York: Oxford University Press.
Topper, M. D. (1979). Mormon placement: The effects of missionary foster families on Navajo adolescents.
Ethos: The Journal of the Society for Psychological Anthropology, 7(2), 162-160.
Verrier, N. M. (1993). The primal wound: Understanding the adopted child. Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press, Inc.
Westermeyer, J. (1979). The Apple Syndrome in Minnesota: A complication of racial-ethnic discontinuity.
Journal of Operational Psychiatry, 10(2), 134-140.
White Hawk, S. (2001, May). An honor song and pow wow for returning lost birds. Pathways Practice Digest, 4-5.

Tribal Child Welfare – General

Association on American Indian Affairs. (1974a, Winter). The destruction of Indian families.
Indian Family Defense, 1, 1-2.
Association on American Indian Affairs. (1974b, Winter). Senate probes child welfare crisis.
Indian Family Defense, 2, 1-6.
Bagley, C. (1985). Child abuse by the child welfare system.
Journal of Child Care, 2(3), 63-69. 5
Blanchard, E. L. & Barsch, R. L. (1980). What is best for tribal children? A response to Fischler.
Social Work, 25, 350-357.
Byler, W. (1977, Summer). Removing children: The destruction of American Indian families.
Civil Rights Digest, 9(4), 19-27.
George, L. (1997). Why the need for the Indian Child Welfare Act?
Journal of Multicultural Social Work, 5(3/4), 165-175.
Hogan, P. T., & Siu, S. F. (1988). Minority children and the child welfare system: An historical perspective.
Social Work 33(6), 493-498.
Horejsi, C. C., & Heavy Runner, B. (1992). Reactions by Native American parents to child protection agencies: Cultural and community factors.
Child Welfare, 71(4), 329-342.
Johnson, T. R. (Ed.). (1991). The Indian Child Welfare Act the next ten years: Indian homes for Indian children.
Los Angeles: American Indian Studies Center, University of California.
Jones, D. M. (1969). Child welfare problems in an Alaskan Native village.
Social Service Review, 43, 297-309.
Kunesh, P. (1996). Transcending frontiers: Indian child welfare in the United States [Electronic version].
Boston College Third World Law Journal, 16(17), 17-34.
McMahon, A., & Gullerud, E. N. (1995). Native American agencies for Native American children: Fulfilling the promise of the Indian Child Welfare Act.
Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, 22(1), 87-98.
Shore, J. H. (1978, Summer). Destruction of Indian families – beyond the best interests of Indian children.
White Cloud Journal, 1(2), 13-16.

Tribal Child Welfare - Policy

Bennett, M. K. (1993). Native American children: Caught in the web of the Indian Child Welfare Act.
Hamline Law Review, 16, 953-973.
Brown, E. F., Limb, G. E., Clifford, C. A., Munoz, R., & Whitaker, L. S. (2004). Using tribal/state Title IV-E Agreements to help American Indian tribes access foster care and adoption funding.
Child Welfare League of America, 73(4), 293-316.
Carleton, J. N. (1997). The Indian Child Welfare Act: A study in the codification of the ethnic best interests of the child.
Marquette Law Review, 81, 21-45.
Delos-Reyes, L. Z. (1984). The Indian Child Welfare Act and its effect on adoption.
Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Human Development Services, Administration for Children, Youth, and Families, Children’s Bureau.
Deserly, K. (2001, May). Customary tribal adoptions eligible for IV-E adoption assistance.
Pathways Practice Digest, 9-10.
Dorsay, C. (1993). Adoption and the Indian Child Welfare Act.
Youth Law News, 14, 14-19.
Gallagher, B. D. (1994. Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978: The Congressional foray into the adoption process.
Northern Illinois University Law Review, 15, 81-106.
Guerrero, M. P. (1978). Indian Child Welfare Act of 19778: A response to the threat to Indian culture caused by foster and adoptive placements of Indian children.
American Indian Law Review, 7, 51-77.6
Howard, M. (1984). Transracial adoption: Analysis of the best interests standard.
Notre Dame Law Review, 59, 503-555.
H.R. Rep. No. 1386 at 9 (1978). Indian Child Welfare Act of 1977:
Hearing Before the United States Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, 95th Cong., 1 (1977).
Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. P. L. 95 – 608. 25 U.S.C. 1901.
Jones, B. J. (1999). In their native lands: The legal status of American Indian children in North Dakota.
North Dakota Law Review, 75(2), 241-273.
Jones, B. J. (2001, May). Another look at lost birds and the ICWA.
Pathways Practice Digest, 8.
McCarthy, R. J. (1993). The Indian Child Welfare Act: In the best interests of the child and tribe.
Clearinghouse Review, 27, 864-873.
Sudia, C. (1987, July). Impact of the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act and the 1980 Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act on the out of home placement of American Indian children.
Washington, DC: Children’s Bureau, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families.
Task Force Four: Federal, State, and Tribal Jurisdiction. (1976). Final report to the American Indian Policy Review Commission.
Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
U.S. Senate Report. (1977). Hearing on S. 1214 before the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs. 95th Congress, 1st Session, 43.
Wynne, L. L. (n.d.). The historical development of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.
Unpublished manuscript., University of Washington School of Social Work at Seattle.