Indian Child Welfare Act

The Indian Child Welfare Act or ("ICWA") is a law that applies to state, county and private child welfare agencies.  It covers tribal children from all American Indian and Alaska Native tribes listed in the Federal Register.  ICWA supports Indian tribes' authority over their members and the well-being of Indian children and families.
Under ICWA, a child is Indian if he or she has a mother or father who is a member of an Indian tribe.  The child must also be a member of a tribe OR be eligible for membership.
History tells us why...Indian tribes are sovereign nations.  The U.S. government has a unique political relationship with Indian nations through treaties that it does not have with any other peoples in our county.
Sadly, countless number of Indian children have been removed from their families and tribes.  Boarding schools run by the government and other groups kept school-age children away from their homes.  Many children lost their traditions and culture and experienced serious problems later in life. 

Often, child welfare agency workers used their own cultural believes to decide if Indian children were being raised properly.  Also, many have not understood the importance of the extended family--relatives other than mother or father--in bringing up children in native cultures.
Many believe that the law only applies to Indian children living on reservations...the law applies to ALL Indian children, wherever they may live.  Therefore, it is important that child welfare workers assess ancestry of all children referred for neglect and abuse.  If known, the child's tribe must always be notified by certified mail of any court proceedings involving placing children in foster care, termination of parental or adoption.  Where ancestry is not clear, the Bureau of Indian Affairs should be notified.
First, ICWA means that every efforts will be made to try to keep families together.  If removal is necessary, "active rehabilitative efforts" must be made to bring the families together.  This means that everything possible must be done to help the families resolve the problems that led to neglect or abuse, including referral to services that are sensitive to the family's culture
If a child is removed, ICWA requires that child welfare agencies must actively seek to place a child with :
  • relatives,
  • a tribal family, or
  • an Indian family before placing the child in a non-Indian home
Papers that need to be kept in a safe place include: enrollment numbers and certificates of Indian Blood (CIBs); census numbers or blood quantum cards; and birth certificates with the mother's and father's names listed.  Other things that may help include a family tree or a genealogy record. If you are referred for child neglect or abuse and need legal help, you have the right to a court appointed attorney if you cannot afford one.