Adoption Triad: Tribal Customary Adoption

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June 2023   |   Archive   |   National Adoption Month   

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Tribal Customary Adoption

Tribal customary adoption is a cultural practice within Indigenous communities that aims to ensure a child is taken care of when there is a parental death or inability to provide care. This practice offers children stability and continuity of care and strengthens the bond between families and communities. Furthermore, it recognizes and promotes the role of extended family and community in raising children and ensures that children remain connected to their Indigenous culture, community, and identity.

Child welfare professionals have a responsibility to be intentional in recognizing and respecting Indigenous cultural practices and traditions during their work with Indigenous communities. The legacy of colonization left a profound impact on Indigenous communities, including the disruption and harm of Tribal customary adoption through deliberately implemented laws and policies to erase Indigenous culture. Indigenous children were placed in residential schools or foster care with non-Indigenous families without the opportunity for customary adoption and forced to assimilate. This history continues to have an impact on Indigenous communities, including the loss of culture, language, and identity.

When child welfare professionals work with Indigenous families, the extended family and community should lead the decision-making process. Child welfare professionals should also seek guidance and support from Indigenous organizations and elders and be mindful of the historical and ongoing trauma from colonialism and the need to work toward healing and reconciliation. This may look like acknowledging and addressing these past harms and working collaboratively to build trust and understanding.

Child welfare professionals can also collaborate with the Tribe to ensure potential caregivers receive any training and support they need to care for the child. The established familial relationship is a strength of Tribal customary adoption. However, it is equally important to prepare parents to address the impacts of separation, loss, and trauma. The National Training and Development Curriculum, funded by the Children's Bureau, offers modules cocreated with Tribal members specifically for Indigenous foster, adoptive, and kinship families. Explore the resources below for additional information on working with and building collaborative relationships with Indigenous families and communities.

Use the following resources to explore more in-depth information on tribal customary adoption:


Tribal Customary Adoption



By Capacity Building
Center for Tribes



Working With American Indian Children and Families in Adoption



By Child Welfare
Information Gateway


Foster Care and Adoption



   By National Indian
Child Welfare Association


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