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Child custody dispute focuses on little girl’s ancestry

In most child custody cases, the parties are divorced parents who are struggling over the care and custody of a shared child. There are cases in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, however, that do not fit his mold. An example is found in a child custody dispute in which two families want to provide a home for a child in need. Because the matter includes issues of Native American ancestry, the case has garnered national media attention.

The little girl at the center of the dispute is 1/64 Choctaw. That is enough to include her in the protections afforded by the Indian Child Welfare Act, which is a law from the 1970s that was put into place to prevent the removal of Native American children from their homes. Currently, the ICWA comes into play in cases in which a child is of Native American descent and only one of the parties seeking custody shares that ancestry. These cases are some of the most challenging to go before the courts, and many climb through the appeals process.

In this case, the child was placed into foster care at a very early age. After moving through two foster homes, a placement was found with a family that wanted to care for the girl long term. The child was able to maintain contact with some of her distant relatives through visits and Skype communications. That family has custody of the girl’s biological sister. When the foster family made efforts to adopt their foster daughter, her relatives also made a bid for custody.

Because of the provisions of the ICWA, as well as the fact that the girl’s sister was already residing within the home of the distant relatives, the courts determined that placing the child with her family was the best course of action. This, however, meant removing her from the care of her foster family, where she has lived for nearly four years. This child custody dispute has led to debate on the matter, and a renewed call for revisiting the Indian Child Welfare Act to determine if those protections are still necessary in today’s world. Many in Pennsylvania feel that singling out one ethnic group for preferred treatment in child custody cases is not the proper course of action.

Source:, “Choctaw Nation issues statement on child custody dispute“, Maria Moore-Kass, March 24, 2016