October 01, 2013

ABA Policies Protect Indian Children and Children Exposed to Violence

Howard A. Davidson

At the American Bar Association’s August 2013 annual meeting, the ABA House of Delegates endorsed new policies that protect Indian children and children exposed to domestic violence. 

The ABA formally urged fully implementing the 1978 federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). ICWA was the subject of a recent high-profile U.S. Supreme Court decision, Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl also known as the “Baby Veronica” case. The ABA encouraged governments at all levels to provide the training and resources to fully implement and enforce compliance with ICWA. It urged:

  • state-tribal collaborations to ensure appropriate treatment of American Indian and Alaska Native families and children; 
  • an increase in use of federal agreements so Indian Tribes can operate their own child welfare programs; 
  • enhanced legal services and other tribal functions in these cases; 
  • fewer removals of these children from their homes and placement in foster care; and 
  • increased support to tribes, tribal courts, and services for the children and families they serve.  

The ABA also called for the organized bar, legal services, law schools, child welfare/adoption counsel, and others to educate the legal profession on the requirements of ICWA and improvement of its implementation.

The second policy supports promptly implementing recommendations in a fall 2012 report of the U.S. Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence. The ABA endorsed the recommendations of 14 leading national experts and urged governments at all levels to implement the report’s 56 recommendations.  It also urged improvements in juvenile justice by training legal professionals on issues and practice recommendations in the report.  

Recommended reforms include:

  • having juvenile court lawyers and judges use trauma-informed practices, such as better addressing juveniles’ mental health needs, and reducing use of pretrial detention; 
  • cultural sensitivity to special populations of children exposed to violence, including LGBTQ youth, girls, racial minorities, juvenile status offenders, and child trafficking victims (all topics of earlier ABA policies); 
  • eliminating harsh and exclusionary school discipline policies; 
  • promoting legal representation for all youth who appear in court; and 
  • not holding youth in adult prisons and avoiding prosecuting them in adult courts.  

The ABA seeks to reduce the number of children exposed to violence. Strategies include identifying all children who appear in court who have been victims of violence, promoting treatment and healing of these children, creating safer and nurturing homes for them, organizing better community responses, and abandoning correctional practices that traumatize children and further prevent them from becoming productive members of society.  

Implementing both policies will be the responsibility  of the ABA Commission on Youth at Risk, Center on Children and the Law, Litigation Section’s Committee on Children’s Rights, Commission on Homelessness and Poverty, and other Association entities concerned with children’s issues. 

Howard Davidson, JD, director, ABA Center on Children and the Law

More child-related ABA policies.