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.

About ICWA

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.

Mom & Baby

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).

The Indian Child Welfare Act (25 U.S.C. §§ 1901–1963)

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.

BIA Federal Regulations (25 C.F.R. Part 23, Indian Child Welfare Act Proceedings, Final Rule)

BIA Guidelines for Implementing the Indian Child Welfare Act

Resources for a Clearer Understanding of the Indian Child Welfare Act

A Practical Guide to 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).

Bureau of Indian Affairs, United States Department of the Interior, Indian Affairs

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.

ICWA INFO (Casey Family Programs & NARF)

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. 

National Indian Child Welfare Association

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

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
Child at powwow

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.


ICWA Guide Cover

download or print the guide!


View the app version online!

ICWA Poster Image

download the printable poster!


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.

Disproportionality rates

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

US Map

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.”

ICWA Compliance

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.

Quick Reference Sheet for Tribes

Building an Effective Tribal-State Child Welfare Partnership

Coming Together for the Children: The Maine Tribal-State ICWA Workgroup (Webinar Recording)

Partnership Agreement Examples

Recorded Webinar: ICWA Implementation Partnership Grants

Tribes, states, and court improvement programs in Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Minnesota are working together to achieve better outcomes for Native children and youth. Learn about these three collaborative projects, funded by the Administration for Children and Families, that aim to create timely and effective models of partnership practice around ICWA.  

For States

Quick Reference Sheet for State Agencies

Quick Reference Sheet on Active Efforts

BIA List of Designated Tribal Agents by Region (June 2018)

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!


Higher Standards

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.

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.

Active Efforts Webinar cover

View the webinar!

Active Efforts Resource List Cover

View the Resource List!

Qualified Expert Witness Cover

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

ICWA compliance depends on having an available pool of Native resource families available when Native children must be placed into out of home care.

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”.

Additional RESOURCES

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
Find Marissa on Instagram: @art_by_mmj


CBCT logo

The Children's Bureau, within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, funds the Child Welfare Capacity Building Center for Tribes.

Stay Connected!

Email: info@cbc4tribes.org
Phone: 1-800-871-8702