Indian Child Welfare Act


Prior to the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in 1978, many states with Indian populations had disproportionate numbers of Indian children in foster care. The number of children removed and subsequently adopted by non-Native American families was particularly disturbing to Native American Tribal communities. Native American Tribes had child rearing practices which differed significantly from European practices, upon which most social services practices were based.

Tribal governments, Native American urban communities, and legislators responded to this National crisis by creating and supporting the passage of Public Law 95-608, the Federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). ICWA was passed to preserve the rights and cultural heritage of Native American children and their families. The law is precise and very specific regarding the treatment of Native American families when children are removed, or may be removed, from their families.

"It is in the best interest of the child that the role of the tribal community in the child's life be protected."

As an advocate, you may be involved in a case with an Indian child. Your role will not be any different regarding how you interact with the child. Regardless of a child's ethnicity, your purpose is to do what is in the best interest of that child. With an Indian child this may include being sure the child has opportunities to participate in Tribal events. But mostly it involves making sure the child's needs are being met and that there is a good permanency plan to help move the child out of dependency as soon as possible.

"To protect the rights of an Indian child as an Indian, and the rights of the Indian Tribe and community in retaining the child in its society."

Prior to the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act, Indian children were being removed from their homes and placed in foster care at a rate high above the average. In some states they were put in out-of-home placement 20 times more often than Caucasian children.

During Senate investigations it was determined that Indian children were not treated well in the foster care system. The parents and Tribe were not always notified of court proceedings. But the most damaging effect was the children were separated from their culture. After aging out of the foster care systems, these young adults would be returned to their Tribes without knowing how to interact culturally or socially.

ICWA was written to try to correct these problems.

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