Couple Seeking to Adopt Native American Child Balks at Indian Child Welfare Law

December 08, 2017 04:36 PM

Whether the Indian Child Welfare Act applies to a young girl is at the center of a legal custody fight playing out in Hennepin County.

The ICWA is supposed to help Native American children find foster families in Native American Communities. But there aren't enough qualified foster homes for some of the 2,000 foster children who need them.


That's why Jason and Danielle Clifford signed up. The couple said they heard Hennepin County social services' call for help at their church, in which the agency said it needed more foster families urgently.

The Cliffords said they fell in the love with the little girl who came to live with them a year-and-a-half ago, whom KSTP is identifying as "P" at their request. The foster care system's privacy policies protect the identities of children in the system.

The Cliffords said the county had given them reason to believe their adoption of the child would be approved. But 11 months ago, the White Earth Ojibwe tribe intervened, invoking the spirit of the ICWA that attempts to prevent Native American children from being separated from family or extended family.

The Cliffords said they couldn't understand why, because the county had said the child is not eligible for membership in any Indian tribe and the Indian Child Welfare Act doesn't apply.

The Cliffords said the White Earth Tribe wanted the maternal grandmother to adopt. 

A county lawyer told a family court judge that P's biological grandmother, Robyn Bradshaw, didn't qualify as a foster parent because of her criminal history. But Bradshaw's lawyer Ron Walters said his client's record had been expunged. Bradshaw would not speak on camera, but Walters sent this statement: 

"Ms. Bradshaw appreciates the difficult situation the foster parents are facing in this matter. Ms. Bradshaw also believes, however, that her granddaughter's long term best interests are best served by a permanent placement that preserves her connection to her family and her tribe." 

P is Native American and African-American. "We were told she'd been neglected severely. We were told she had witnessed a lot of violence," Danielle Clifford said.

Documents show Hennepin County terminated the rights of the child's biological parents because of criminal incarcerations and her mother's drug addiction. The Cliffords said the county told them they would be the best parents for the little girl, and that they'd be able to adopt her.

Pictures of the young child are all over the Cliffords' home. Jason Clifford said his foster daughter helped him put up Christmas lights inside the house. The third stocking on their fireplace represents the answer to the prayer for the gift they'd always wanted.

They remember when they first met P. 

She was "sweet, obviously smart, who has been through a lot and needs someone to give her consistency and love her," Danielle Clifford said. 

The Cliffords said that in the last year-and-a-half, P went from a shy, disconnected little girl to a happy, social child who has lots of friends, is exceeding her reading level, is a Girl Scout and in ballet class.

"We were on the fast track to adopt her," the Cliffords said. Now, they are hoping a court decides in their favor.

The Cliffords said the Guardian Ad Litem, P's official advocate in court, believes that P should stay with the Cliffords and have contact with her biological family.

The Cliffords said they are determined to keep fighting for their foster daughter. The case will be back in court on Jan. 16. 


Farrah Fazal

Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company


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