UNITED STATES SENATE
SELECT COMMITTEE ON INDIAN AFFAIRS
AUGUST 4, 1977
STATEMENT OF RENA UVILLER, DIRECTOR, JUVENILE RIGHTS
PROJECT, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION
Ms. UVILLER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
My name is Rena Uviller. I am a lawyer, and I am the director of
the juvenile rights project of the American Civil liberties Union.
I am here today because one of the major concerns of the work
that I do is to resist governmental tyranny into the lives of families
and to resist State intrusion into the privacy and liberty interests that
the Constitution bestows upon the family unit, as is pointed out by
recent Supreme Court decisions.
Indian tribes, of course, are, a special victim of this push toward
foster home placement by State child welfare agencies. I think a
previous witness has very eloquently described this tyranny of social
work in which poor families are often subjected to the imposition of
standards upon them in the rearing of their children which are wholly
inappropriate, to say nothing of their questionable constitutionality.
I am going to be very brief today. I would like just to direct some
observations to the actual text of the statue. Needless to say, the Civil
Liberties Union does applaud this bill and supports it insofar as it
does appear to strengthen the family autonomy and the tribal auton-
omy with regard to children.
One of my concerns is that I think there has been some literature
about the extensive failure rate of the adoption of Indian children by
non-Indian families. I think that some of the literature reveals that
there is a disproportionately high number of Indian children who
find their way into juvenile delinquency institutions and mental hos-
pitals. These are children who have been separated from their culture.
The crisis of identity, which was previously noted, becomes manifest.
I would think that there should be inserted into this bill a provision
that would make it automatic that the tribe and/or the biological
parents be notified at any point in which an Indian child previously
adopted by others is relinquished from the care of that facility into
any kind of hospital or institution or any other kind of foster care.
They should be notified.
The second thing that concerns me is that there seems to be in
this bill a failure to define what is meant by "temporary placement" in
emergency situations I think, indeed, temporary placement to a boy
in imminent danger to life or health should be possible. However, it
seems that temporary placement -- which is the ruse I have found in
my experience in litigating matters like this -- is very often the means
by which State officials or, in this case, nontribal authorities get initial
hold of a child. Then, by increasing delays and a plethora of unneces-
sary studies and more studies, the separation of the child from the
This bill does not make adequate provision for controlling the tem-
porary, so-called emergency placement. Many of them, I think, upon
inspection, turn out to be not emergencies at all. It is my view and my
experience that temporary placement, even in exigent circumstances,
should never last more than 48 hours without immediate notice both to
the parents and to the tribal authorities, in this ease, and with pro-
vision for an immediate hearing as soon after the placement as possible.
As I say, the bill does not presently contain this.
Then I have concern with another section, but I think some of my
concern has been allayed by speaking to people who have been in-
volved in drafting this bill. That is section 101(d). In its present form,
on its face, it seems to authorize private persons, groups, or institu-
tions to seize an Indian child for up to 30 days without even giving
notice to the parent or to the tribal authorities.
I would have difficulty imagining how even a State agency would
have justification for that. But to allow private groups and institu-
tions to take a child for 30 days without any notice at all seems to me
to be quite an egregious circumstance.
I gather that this section will be redrafted to provide that the pri-
vate party or institution must give notice 30 days before taking the
child. That would certainly be more consistent with the purpose of
this bill than the way it is presently drafted.
Senator HATFIELD. Ms. Uviller, I must interrupt you at this point.
Any of these matters which you would like to submit, a redraft or
an amendment to the bill, we would welcome any of your comments
reduced to an amendment form or redraft form. So feel free -- or any-
one else here today, for that matter. This bill is a working draft, in a
sense. We are welcoming any changes or suggestions.
It would be very helpful if you would draft the language that you
think should be modified or clarified.
Ms. UVILLER. Thank you, Senator. I certainly will.
I think others have noted that, again, as the bill is written, there
seems to be some confusion about whether intratribal placements are
going to be regulated. I am sure that that is not the purpose of this
bill. Therefore, actually just in the definitional section in 4G, child
placement should be defined as placement of a child by nontribal au-
thorities so that this bill is not viewed in any way as interfering with
the tribe's desire to effect its own placement.
I would also finally say I have not heard anyone yet comment on the
question of the opening of adoption records. Perhaps I came in a bit
late and did not hear it discussed, and my written statement does not
contain any reference to it.
Although I think that child welfare agencies have resisted the no-
tion of the opening of adoption records out of concern for the privacy
of the biologic parent, while that may have some relevance in the
greater society, I think in this situation, where we are dealing with
children taken from a tribal situation, that privacy concern is not
nearly as great. I see nothing the matter with an Indian child at the
age of 18 having access at least to the information about his or her
It seems to me that, then, the tribal authorities could make some
sort of informal inquiry as to whether the specific, biologic parents
should or should not be contacted. I am sure there are situations in
which the decision might be made not to make that contact. But the
resistance, I think, of some of the social work community to access to
adoption records is very ill-founded in the context of this bill.