Reframing the Orphan Mandate

Main Article Content

Bonni Goodwin
Angela B. Pharris
Dallas Pettigrew


Adoption, ICWA, child welfare, social work, Christian, reparation


Caring for the orphan is a biblical mandate for those who follow the Christian faith tradition. Yet, far too often, this charge has led to coercion and exploitation of marginalized populations. This manuscript will examine this phenomenon through the adoption of Indigenous people starting in colonial America, when Christian missionaries from Europe believed it was their spiritual obligation to “save” young Indigenous children from their “heathen” culture. This belief still shapes many adoption practices today. The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is presented as a step towards legal reparations for the harm done to Indigenous people during this time period. The idea of reparations is discussed as a vital step towards another Christian biblical mandate calling for active repair of broken relationships. Ultimately, this manuscript concludes with an application of the model of praxis from liberation theology to reframe how Christian social workers may approach caring for the orphan.

Abstract 633 |


Burich, K. R. (2007). “No place to go”: the Thomas Indian School and the “forgotten” Indian children of New York. Wicazo Sa Review, 22(2), 93-110.
Coolidge, D., (1977). “Kid catching” on the Navajo Reservation: 1930 in S. Unger (Eds.), The Destrution of American Indian Families (pp. 18-21). New York: Association of American Indian Affairs.
De La Torre, Miguel A. (2004). Doing christian ethics from the margins. Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books.
Flynn, Megan. (2018, October 10). Court strikes down Native American adoption law, saying it discriminates against non-Native Americans - The Washington Post. The Washington Post. Retrieved from
George, L. (1997). Why the need for the Indian Child Welfare Act? Journal of Multicultural Social Work, 5(3–4), 165–175.
Graham, L. (2001). Indigenous peoples: Reparations and the Indian Child Welfare Act. The Legal Studies Forum, 25, 619-665.
Gutiérrez, G. (1988). A theology of liberation: History, politics, and salvation. Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books.
Harvey, J. (2011). Which way to justice? Reconciliation, reparations, and the problem of Whiteness in US Protestantism. Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics, 31(1), 57–77.
Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. 25 U.S.C § 95-608.
In Memoriam – Roland J. Morris Sr. (2018). Retrieved April 13, 2019, from
Mannes, M. (1995). Factors and events leading to the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act. Child Welfare, 74(1), 264–282.
Policy Update, NICWA. (2019, March). Retrieved April 13, 2019, from
Sargent, S. (2017). Truth and consequences: Law, myth and metaphor in American Indian contested adoption. Liverpool Law Review, 38(1), 47–61.
Schreiber, J. C. (2011). Parenting, policies, and practice: Christian influence on child welfare in America. Social Work and Christianity; Botsford, 38(3), 293–314.
Singletary, J. E. (2005). The praxis of social work: A model of how faith informs practice informs faith. Social Work & Christianity, 32(1), 56-72.
Smith, A. (2004). Boarding school abuses, human rights, and reparations. Social Justice, 31(4 (98)), 89–102.
Smith, T. (2014). Capture these Indians for the lord: Indians, methodists, and Oklahomans, 1844-1939. Tucson, AR: University of Arizona Press.
Turner, C. M. (2016). Implementing and defending the Indian Child Welfare Act through revised state requirements. Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems; New York, 49(4), 501–549.
Vanderwoerd, J. R. (2011). Reconsidering secularization and recovering Christianity in social work history. Social Work and Christianity; Botsford, CT 38(3), 244–266.
Warkentin, B., & Sawatsky, A. (2018). Points of discourse: Reconciling Christianity and social work through Critical Theory. Social Work and Christianity; Botsford, 45(2), 57–67.
Who We Are. (2018). Retrieved April 13, 2019, from