Navajo child will stay with adoptive parents

The Arizona Supreme Court has denied a petition by the Navajo Nation to review a lower court ruling affirming that an almost 3-year-old Navajo child should continue living in his non-tribal adoptive home. Attorney General Tom Horne said that he decision means that the child, identified in court only as “Z”, can remain with the only parents he has ever known and will not be forcibly removed to a placement with a tribal relative he had never met.

“This child deserves to live with the family with whom he has bonded,” Horne said. “Since Z’s placement in an adoptive home, he has bonded with his family and the courts have agreed that removing him to a tribal relative’s home is not in his best interest.”

The Navajo Nation intervened in the matter after tribal representatives learned the state had taken custody of the child. Under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA), Native American children who are put up for adoption are to be placed in a home in which their tribal heritage is maintained unless there is good cause to deviate from that standard. In this case, the state Supreme Court, by declining to review the matter, affirmed an Appeals Court ruling that the deviation from the ICWA was justified based on the specific circumstances of this case.

The Court of Appeals found that the “juvenile court properly found good cause to deviate from ICWA placement preferences because the placement family provided good care for “Z”. “Z” had attached and bonded with the family, and “Z” would suffer severe distress if he was removed from that placement. The Court found that the placement family would expose “Z” to his Navajo culture, and the placement family had been approved to adopt “Z”.”

The Court said that “While the interest of the Nation and the Congressionally-presumed interest of “Z” in maintaining his heritage weighed against a finding of good cause to deviate from ICWA’s preferences, on this record we cannot say the court erred in weighing all these interests.”

The Court found that the Navajo Nation did not find a suitable replacement family in a timely manner, and by the time they did find one, with the sister of “Z’s” maternal gradmother, “Z” had already formed a bond. “Balancing that delay against the benefits to having “Z” stay with the current placement, the court concluded that “it is contrary to the best interests of the Child, and would be horribly detrimental to the Child, to rob him of the only parents he has ever known, loved and bonded with.”

The case was handled by the Attorney General’s Child and Family Protection Division.