With a strong understanding of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) rights and responsibilities, Tribal leaders and child welfare professionals can help ensure compliance, protect their communities, and protect Tribal sovereignty.
Protect your children. Know your rights.
The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is a federal law passed in 1978 in response to the devastating number of American Indian and Alaska Native children being removed from their families and placed in non-Native homes. ICWA requires states and courts to protect the best interest of Indian children by keeping their connections to family, community, and culture intact. Compliance is mandatory yet many state and court systems are still struggling to understand and effectively meet these requirements.
Law & Regulations
The purpose of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is “…to protect the best interest of Indian Children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families by the establishment of minimum Federal standards for the removal of Indian children and placement of such children in homes which will reflect the unique values of Indian culture… “(25 U.S. C. 1902).
In 2016 Bureau of Indian Affairs issued both official regulations and accompanying guidelines to help state courts and child welfare agencies implement ICWA; they provide clarification on important aspects of the law including standard of practice with families.
Resources for a Clearer Understanding of the Indian Child Welfare Act
This Guide is intended to answer questions and provide a comprehensive resource of information on the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).
The BIA social services program supports bureau agency staff and over 900 Tribal staff that have been hired by contracting Tribes to run their programs.
Produced by the Casey Family Programs, this eight-page Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) desk guide is a general reference about the major provisions of the ICWA and the laws and policies regarding the application of the law in different jurisdictions. (Some states provide guidance regarding ICWA in their policy manuals and through training; other states have codified ICWA in state law or have defined terms used in the ICWA in state statute, while others have codified only certain aspects of ICWA.) Additional resources are identified on page five of the guide.
NICWA is a private, nonprofit, membership organization based in Portland, Oregon. Our members include Tribes, individuals—both Native and non-Native—and private organizations from around the United States concerned with Native child and family issues.
Turtle Talk is the leading blog on legal issues in Indian Country.
Labeled the “gold standard” in child welfare policy and practice by a coalition of 18 national child advocacy organizations, ICWA recognizes and protects the right of all Indian children to be loved, safe, and connected to their family, culture, and Tribal nation.
ICWA serves the best interest of Indian children by requiring state courts and agencies to:
- Provide active efforts to both prevent removal and to reunify
- Follow placement preferences
- Obtain testimony from a Qualified Indian Expert Witness
ICWA Guide for Tribal Governments and Leaders
As leaders, it is time to determine our destiny where our children are concerned…
Recommendations from Tribal leaders, Tribal child welfare staff, and knowledgeable ICWA experts on actions that Tribal leadership can take towards ensuring compliance with ICWA.
download or print the guide!
View the app version online!
download the printable poster!
DISPROPORTIONALITY & Non-Compliance
Compliance with ICWA is mandatory yet many state and court systems are still struggling to understand and effectively meet these requirements. Non-compliance with this law perpetuates the disproportionate numbers of American Indian and Alaska Native children represented in state and county child welfare systems today. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) addressed this continued non-compliance by disseminated federal regulations governing ICWA in 2016. These regulations serve to create more consistency in ICWA implementation.
Native youth are overrepresented in foster care systems. American Indian/Alaska Native children enter into foster care nationally at a rate of 2.6% times higher than non-Natives. For some individual states, this rate is drastically higher. In Minnesota, for example, the disproportionality index is 13.9
Issues of non-COMPLIANCE
Improving the Well-being of American Indian and Alaska Native Children and Families through State-Level Efforts to Improve Indian Child Welfare Act Compliance indicates “the most critical issues of noncompliance involve:
(1) lack of regular oversight of ICWA implementation,
(2) AI/AN children not being identified early in child welfare proceedings,
(3) tribes not receiving early and proper notification of child welfare proceedings involving their member children and families,
(4) lack of placement homes that reflect the preferences defined within ICWA,
(5) limited training and support for state and private agency staff to develop knowledge and skills in implementing ICWA, and
(6) inadequate resources for Tribal child welfare agencies to participate and support their state and private agency counterparts.”
Without Tribal, state and court collaboration to address how ICWA can meet the needs of Native children, the goals of ICWA cannot be fulfilled as the law was intended.
Recorded Webinar: ICWA Implementation Partnership Grants
State-Tribal Partnerships: Coaching to ICWA Compliance
Learn about supporting culturally responsive services for American Indian and Alaska Native children, youth, and families and increasing ICWA compliance. Use this 3-day in-person training to engage in collaborative learning and action planning for stronger state-tribal partnerships.
Register for free access to this curriculum and materials from the Capacity Building Center for States!
WORKING TOWARD BETTER OUTCOMES
Federal law sets the minimum standards that must be met. Some states, however, have chosen to do more and are working with the Tribes in their regions to implement higher standards. Below are some of their practice materials gathered during a Tribal ICWA Peer-to-Peer group meeting with the Capacity Building Center for Tribes.
- State of Michigan ICWA/MIFPA Field Guide
- 2017 Michigan Indian Family Preservation Act of 2013 and Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978: A Court Resource Guide
- ICWA/MIFPA Comparison Chart
- MnCFSR Onsite Review Instrument ICWA Addendum
- Understanding and Applying ICWA: Purpose, Strategies, Practice, and Resources
- Tribal/State Agreement
- Missing Threads: The Story of the Wisconsin Indian Child Welfare Act
- Wisconsin Indian Child Welfare Act (WICWA)
- ICWA Regulations – WICWA Comparison Chart
- Wisconsin Indian Child Welfare Desk Aid
- WICWA Online Resource for Case Workers
- Judicial Checklist – Wisconsin Indian Child Welfare Act
- A Child Welfare Practitioner’s Guide for Meeting the WICWA Active Efforts Requirements
- Indian Child Welfare Act eLearning
- Best Outcomes for Indian Children in out of Home Care Project: Indian Child Welfare Resources Manual and Directory
- Wisconsin State Tribal Relations Initiative
- Tribal/State Agreement
icwa active efforts as prevention
Active efforts, a legal requirement included in the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), is the gold standard of child welfare practice. Designed to keep families together, active efforts outline the actions caseworkers must take to prevent removals and prioritize reunification. Tribal and state child welfare professionals were invited to join this participatory webinar from the Capacity Building Center for Tribes to discuss how active efforts benefit both tribal and state child welfare systems and the best interests of Indian children and families and hear from states and tribes about how they’re working together to continuously improve their active efforts practice. We have also created a helpful list of resources regarding active efforts.
View the webinar!
View the Resource List!
Qualified Expert Witness
All Indian children deserve a strong, protective circle of caring adults to ensure they are loved, safe, and connected to their community, tribe, and culture. ICWA recognizes how important those connections are while also ensuring the continued existence of tribal nations as unique, distinct, and sovereign. ICWA requires state child welfare agencies and courts to obtain the testimony of a qualified expert witness (QEW) at the removal hearing and in the event of a termination of parental rights.
View this resource list to learn more about ICWA and the critical role QEWs play in protecting Indian children and tribal nations.
This document includes information and resources on:
• ICWA and the 2016 Federal Regulations
• Serving as a Qualified Expert Witness and required characteristics
• Providing QEW testimony
• QEW training
• Resources for courts and attorneys
resources for following ICWA placement preferences
Search State Statutes Related to ICWA
The National Conference of State Legislatures has compiled “states statutes related to strengthening, enhancing or complying with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act in states”.
A Guide to Compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act (National Indian Child Welfare Association)
Measuring Compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act: An Assessment Toolkit (National Center for Juvenile and Family Court Judges)
A Research and Practice Brief: Measuring Compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act (Casey Family Programs)
Improving Compliance Through State-Tribal Coordination (Center for Court Innovation)
Child and Family Services Reviews: Fact Sheet for Tribal Child Welfare Officials (Children’s Bureau)
Racial Disproportionality and Disparity in Child Welfare (Children’s Bureau)
Enforcement of ICWA Requirements (Native American Rights Fund)
Dragonfly artwork courtesy of Marissa Joly
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