Supreme Court case about a little known law could be a big deal for Michigan's kids

Apr 17, 2013

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a case involving the Indian Child Welfare Act.

The law is designed to make sure Native American children in the child welfare system stay connected with their tribes.  

The court's decision will affect Michigan, as the state recently passed a stronger version of Indian Child Welfare Act.

I produced a story on these laws and the people they affect for State of Opportunity.

You can listen to the full version here.

And for those with limited time, here are three important points to know about this story:

  • Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act 35 years ago to put a stop to private and state workers taking Indian children away from their homes and tribes often with little reason other than a desire to assimilate them to white and Christian culture. Many families in Michigan are still dealing with the effects of this, including Judge Alli Greenleaf Maldonado who tells her personal story of her mother and her grandmother being removed from their homes. 
  • A Michigan law that is clearer and stronger than the federal law was passed in January with almost unanimous, bi-partisan support. The abusive practices of the past have stopped, but Indian children are still over-represented in the state's child welfare system.
  • Some child welfare advocates are looking to Michigan's law, the Michigan Indian Family Preservation Act, as a model for the state because it takes a different approach to child welfare. It tries to keep children out of the state system in the first place. The law requires child welfare workers to work actively with parents to make changes that will benefit their children. The law also allows Indian children to have their cases in a smaller and more personal tribal system.  But the success of the law depends on everyone knowing the law and following it. Many people have concerns, like the Burrows family, who personally experienced a devastating loss when the law was applied incorrectly. 

Read more about the personal stories behind this law and why people have hope it can change Michigan's child welfare system at State of Opportunity