THE CASE FOR A BLACK FAMILY WELFARE ACT – K. Adeniyi, Esq.
One of the most devastating collateral consequences that I experienced as a result of being separated from my birth parents and placed into the foster system was the disconnect that I have from family on both sides. To my knowledge, my maternal lineage hails from the South Side of Chicago—by way of the motherland of course and probably somewhere down south. My paternal lineage hails from Ilesa, Nigeria.
After “aging out” of the system at 18, and going to college, it was the first time in my life that I realized that my siblings and I were the “top of our family tree”—at that time in my life, I had no contact and or information about either side of my birth family, other than the 4 siblings I was raised with.
At the end of 2005, I learned that my birth mother and father had been living in Anaheim—less than 30 minutes from where I was going to college! Talk about a surreal moment! I had so much mixed emotions! My emotions ranged from fear—scared and anxious about the prospect of my birth parents connecting with me and excitement—excitement about connecting with folks—MY family who looked like me and shared the same roots as me. I was particularly excited about the prospect of meeting my other siblings and all of my aunties, uncles, grandparents, and cousins—my family!
My excitement was quickly squelched by feelings of guilt. Unfortunately, I was put into a position to have to make a decision about whether to explore my curiosity and excitement with meeting my birth family or remain content with limiting my family to the family I was raised with. I was told, my birth family “didn’t deserve” to be in relationship with me after all these years. And there wasn’t “a need” to be in community with my birth family.
I was “disowned” for ultimately choosing my birth family--- but really this journey that I have been on to learn as much as possible about my family is a selflove journey for myself. A search to learn more about my roots… my identity. I am really choosing me. In 2017, I traveled 7,705 miles from Los Angeles to Lagos to meet my father for the first time. It was one of the most beautiful, life changing and emotionally challenging experiences I have ever had. It was exactly what my soul, spirit and inner child and person needed. I got the chance to be completely immersed in a culture and community—which included connecting with cousins, aunties and uncles that family separation robbed me of. I can’t describe how much my soul sings every time I hear stories about my late grandmother and how much I look like her. <3 I am convinced that the prayers of my grandmothers—now my ancestors-- are what has kept and sustained me over the years.
Although my paternal relatives have embraced me, the shattered familial bonds on my maternal side haven’t been as easy to put back together. When I initially attempted to reach out and get to know my maternal relatives in 2009, I unfortunately wasn’t welcomed the same way I was welcomed by my paternal relatives years later. I felt really discouraged and emotionally unsafe to keep trying. Truthfully, I am still working on that piece! Whew chile! I will sum it up to say that family reunification hasn’t been as easy here—still a lot of healing needed to reach this end. The trauma caused by shattered maternal bonds cuts a little deeper for ya girl.
My experience—being completely cut off from all kin and having to make an intentional and consorted effort to learn more about my identity, culture and family, is unfortunately not unique. Family separation and the complete dismantling of Black families and their bloodlines is deeply rooted in the history of this country. Separating families and even the pervasive threat of family separation, was one of the most vile and violent practices of chattel slavery in America. To date, Black families still face the pervasive threat of family separation and Black children are still routinely separated from their parents and placed in homes with non-family members. Additionally, a significant number of Black children experience transracial adoptions and transracial foster system placements.
The impact the so-called child welfare system has on Black families cannot be understated. ENTIRE bloodlines of Black Families are literally being wiped out, disconnected and dismantled. I know this may sound extreme—but the last time I checked, this fits the definition of genocide. The system is systematically destroying Black families, disrupting Black bloodlines and killing the Black community by dismantling the strength, power and foundation of the community—our families.
In 1978, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) to protect Indian families from this exact same destruction. Indian families like Black families experienced government sanctioned destruction of their families and community as a whole. ICWA was passed to prevent Indian children from being separated from their families and to preserve sacred familial and cultural bonds. ICWA provides Indian families and tribes with the maximum protections afforded to families in child welfare cases.
Recently, ICWA was challenged by folks who felt entitled to adopting Indian children. Today, after months of anticipation, the Supreme Court issued a decision upholding ICWA! This is a major win for the Indian community. It is also a huge win for other communities of color, like the Black community who have been advocating for years to have our own Black Child Welfare Act. Families are the fabric of the community; we have to fight to ensure that our sacred family bonds do not continue to be broken.