HEARING BEFORE THE SELECT SUBCOMMITTEE ON INDIAN AFFAIRS UNITED
ONE HUNDREDTH CONGRESS FIRST SESSION
NOVEMBER 10, 1987
60 STATEMENT OF JOHN CASTILLO, CHAIRMAN, ICWA TASK
FORCE, ORANGE COUNTY INDIAN CENTER, GARDEN GROVE, CA
CASTILLO. My name is John Castillo. I am the Indian Child Welfare Task
Force chairperson. I have summarized my statement as best as possible. We
are honored to have the opportunity to speak before this committee today.
The American Indian Mental Health Task Force is a southern California
grass-roots organization concerned about the mental health and welfare of
Indian communi- ties, particularly Indian children and families. The task
force is comprised of members from the following Indian community orga-
nizations: Southern California Indian Centers, Los Angeles County
Department of Mental Health, American Indian Program Develop- ment,
Los Angeles County Department of Children's Services, American Indian
Child Service Workers, Escondido Indian Child Welfare Consortium, Los
Angeles Indian Free Clinic, Southern California American Indian
The following is our testimony. Today, 63 percent of
American Indian people live in the cities, and Los Angeles is the home of
the largest urban Indian population in the United States. We are the
second largest urban Indian population. We are the second largest
Indian community in the Nation. Members from over 200 different tribes
now live in the area, and three-fifths of all urban Indians live below the
poverty level, and in Los Angeles the poverty rate for American Indian
people is 45 percent.
Indian people have the highest high school
dropout rate, 23 per- cent, and if you were to include the number of
students who never enter high school, this figure would increase to 65
Substance abuse is highest for Indian people versus other
ethnic groups. Indian children suffer from mental illness at a rate of 20
to 25 percent.
These factors combined with other psycho-social
stressors leave urban Indians at a high risk for mental illness and
impaired ability to care for families and children. It is estimated that
one out of every 46 Indian children within Los Angeles is placed within
the custody of the juvenile dependency court. This figure does not in-
clude Indian children who have been put up for adoption out of the
home and other institutions.
In 1985 a study estimated an 85
percent ICWA noncompliance rate within the State of California. It has
been our experience that compliance is elevated with careful monitoring of
Governmental services by Indian-run ICWA programs. In Los Angeles there
cur- rently is identified 206 Indian children within DCS -- DCS being the
Department of Children's Services -- 99 of whom are placed outside of
family homes. Since identification of Indian children is a severe problem
and past history indicates that the error rate might be as high as 100
percent, it appears that 200 Indian children in place- ment may be more of
an accurate figure.
Providing the appropriate Federally mandated
services is violat- ed in many ways. Misidentification of Indian children
is a very severe problem. Criminal attorneys and county counsel have
little knowledge about ICWA, and they perceive this legislation to be a
tool of manipulation for the parents. Most of the attorneys are re-
luctant to do the work involved. In Los Angeles County there is
only one attorney who willingly works with ICWA cases.
Private attorneys are frequently ignorant of ICWA law or choose not to
follow it by instructing clients not to let the State social workers
know the Indian heritage of the child up for adoption.
service workers are sometimes prejudiced and inten- tionally violate ICWA.
At a recent child abuse workshop three case workers openly admitted that
they would intentionally violate ICWA because they believe it would be
detrimental to the welfare of the child.
ICWA training results in
improved communication between Gov- ernment workers and the local Indian
community more appropri- ate to the utilization of community services and
in ICWA compliance. Inadequate funding for legal services affects all
aspects of Indian child welfare. In Los Angeles there is no mental health
services available which have been designated to meet the unique
cultural needs of the Indian people. Even when Indian people do
utilize county services, they generally do not return, because serv-
ices are insensitive to their needs.
Today, the Bureau of Indian
Affairs chooses to determine that mental health psychological services are
not fundable by their pro- grams, even though such services are mandated
in most cases by the courts.
These services are what enable
parents to raise their level of functioning so that they can adequately
care for their children. Not only should all ICWA programs contain funds
for psychotherapy services, including psychological testing, but this must
also be spelled out as part of the definition of remedial, preventive, and
re- unification services.
Although there is no hard data, American
Indian clinicians, social workers, and psychologists agree that the most
frequent psy- chological diagnosis is major depression that evolves from a
long history of removal of Indian children from their homes. This re-
moval has disrupted the bonding process prerequisite for a healthy
The depression is frequently masked by
substance abuse, is fre- quently debilitating, and the parents are unable
to get out of bed to care for their children or necessary business. It is
estimated in Los Angeles about 80 percent of Indian parents whose children
are re- moved from the home wind up homeless. This makes unification
even more difficult.
Although the population of American Indians
is only six-tenths of a percent, 5.5 percent of the skid-row homeless are
American In- dians. Furthermore, over one-third of the Indian people
served by native American housing and emergency housing programs are
children, yet only three percent of these people achieve stable
These families are at high risk for having their children
re- moved. Urban ICWA programs must include case management and mental
health services for these high-risk people as well.
of Indian foster and adoptive homes, particu- larly in urban areas,
contributes to the erosion of Indian culture throughout the United States.
The State of California has more In- dians than any other State, yet only
11 counties are covered by ICWA. Few directors of the Department of Mental
ever heard of the Indian Child Welfare Act.
ICWA must spell out that urban Indian communities are entitled to funding
for ICWA programs.
To ignore 63 percent of the Indian population
is to contribute to the genocide of Indian people. The Indian Child
Welfare Act is one of the most significant pieces of pro-Indian
legislation. However, it accomplishes nothing if it is not backed by
funding which accom- plishes its goals.
Certainly, by providing
extremely inadequate funding, as is now the case, the Government
perpetuates intertribal conflict and con- flict between reservations and
urban communities. If that is the goal of Congress, then they are doing a
In conclusion, we would like to recommend this: that ICWA
fund- ing be expanded to include urban programs, that each urban, rural,
and reservation community assess their ICWA needs, and receive funding
based on need.
ICWA programs should include money for: adequate legal
repre- sentation; adequate mental health; case management; psychological
services as part of preventive, remedial, and reunification services;
services for homeless Indian families as part of preventive services;
the development of adequate foster and adoption resources; and the
training programs for the dissemination of materials. Any Indian child
in Canada or the U.S. who is 25 percent or more Indian should be eligible
for Indian child welfare, regardless of enrollment status. There should be
no special group, no special interest group to be exempt for ICWA
restrictions. And finally, that the Title II of the Indian Child Welfare
Act be included as an entitlement pro- gram under the Social Security Act.
Thank you very much for your kind attention. Home | Index