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April 2011Vol. 12, No. 3California Courts to Begin Recognizing Tribal Customary Adoption

Tribal customary adoption is the transfer of custody of a child to adoptive parents without terminating the rights of the birth parents. A new law in California, the first of its kind in the United States, will allow traditional forms of adoption practiced by Tribes to be recognized by California courts. The law allows, at the Tribe’s option, for Tribal customary adoption to be included as an alternative permanent plan to family reunification throughout the dependency case. The law also provides that when the juvenile court finds that full faith and credit will be extended to the Tribe’s Tribal customary adoption order, the juvenile court will issue a State court order of adoption. It also permits an Indian child who is the subject of a Tribal customary adoption to be eligible for adoption assistance program benefits.

The organization Tribal STAR has assembled an array of resources about Tribal customary adoption, including factsheets, agency memoranda, a PowerPoint presentation, and sample forms for Tribal customary adoption orders.

Tribal STAR is a program of the Academy for Professional Excellence, San Diego State University School of Social Work. The resources can be found on the website: