National Child Welfare Association

Latest ICWA Information and Resources donate button

On June 14, 2016, the Bureau of Indian Affairs released binding regulations on the implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). This marks the first time the agency has offered comprehensive enforceable regulations since the passage of the act more than three decades ago. The 2016 ICWA Regulations, guidelines, sample forms, and other ICWA resources can be found here. You can read a summary of the new regulations written by NICWA and the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) here. NICWA has also written a summary of the ICWA guidelines, which are available here.

We kindly ask you share this information widely.

This page in intended to provide updates on both the status of the regulations and what you need to know about the pending litigation. We highly recommend also visiting Turtle Talk's robust blog and NARF's ICWA page to stay further informed.

ICWA Publications

Setting the Record Straight: The Indian Child Welfare Act Fact Sheet

Setting Record Straight thumbnailNICWA has produced this fact sheet to combat widespread misinformation on the Indian Child Welfare Act. It includes data on the need for ICWA, ICWA in practice, implementation concerns, the guidelines and regulations. It corrects some of the most egregious inaccuracies currently advanced by anti-ICWA opponents.

Top 10 ICWA Myths Fact Sheet

Myths Fact Sheet thumbnailIs ICWA a race-based law? (answer, no) Does ICWA apply in divorce proceedings and custody battles? (again, no) Review these top ten myths about the Indian Child Welfare Act and get the facts on what the law actually does and does not say and do.

A Guide to Compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act

ICWA compliance guide cover thumbnailThe Indian Child Welfare Act passed into law in 1978. The law protects American Indian and Alaska Native children in state child welfare systems and helps them remain connected to their families, cultures, and communities. Compliance is mandatory. This guide is designed to help individuals understand ICWA's requirements and should be read in conjunction with the law.

Effective Leadership for Tribal Child Welfare

Tribal leaders guide cover thumbnail Tribal leaders set the tone, hold the vision, pass the laws, and empower the systems that protect American Indian and Alaska Native children. There is no aspect of sovereignty more important or more demanding than the protection and well-being of Native children. This guide provides some basic information on how to establish effective tribal governance and the role of tribal leadership in tribal child welfare systems.

 


5 Things YOU Can Do to Defend ICWA

two hands holding

Here are five things you can do to help our efforts.

1. Educate yourself and stay apprised of the latest developments.

  • ICWA is a complex law and there are new legal developments weekly.
  • NICWA has created this web page to house resources including fact sheets, compliance guides, our training calendar, and important links.
  • Bookmark this page, and share it with your tribal leaders.

2. Ask your tribe or organization’s governing body to officially pledge to defend ICWA.

  • Our opposition portrays Indian Country as deeply divided over ICWA, cherry picking the critical comments of a few and presenting them as evidence that Native people do not stand united behind ICWA.
  • Waves of tribal and organizational ICWA defense resolutions passed in cascading fashion across Indian Country would send a powerful message that there is indeed near-universal support of ICWA by Native people.
  • NICWA has shared our resolution so that your tribe or organization can replicate it.

3. Meet with your state child welfare director, attorney general, and governor and request that your state not sign on to any amicus briefs opposing ICWA in these court cases.

  • Undoubtedly, these officials are being approached by anti-ICWA attorneys asking that they file briefs against ICWA.
  • In Adoptive Couple, NICWA quickly mobilized against similar tactics, and instead secured amicus support from 19 states.
  • Tribes and tribal organizations are not currently being asked to file amicus briefs (as of November 19, 2015).

4. Share ICWA stories of parents, children, Native foster families, and others.

  • There is overwhelming need to share with the media, public officials, and each other success stories of what happens when ICWA works. Children thrive. Families remain together. Communities and relatives come together to care for our children. Our culture is passed on to a new generation.
  • Use social media to share your stories. Participate in our crowd-sourced social media campaign.
  • Contact your legislators to share your stories and our Setting the Record Straight Fact Sheet. Encourage others to do the same.
  • Ask NICWA how your story can support the national work.
  • Develop your plan and calendar of how to develop a relationship with reporters by feeding them a continuous, strategic stream of story ideas and information on ICWA.

5. Contribute to our work and ask your tribe to contribute to our work.

  • NICWA has built a strong coalition of tribes and other advocates willing to defend ICWA. We want to continue building this coalition and our capacity.
  • At the same time, we estimate that we spent over half a million dollars in unanticipated expenses in our defense work around the Adoptive Couple case.
  • Simply put, we need resources to continue to do this work effectively. Help us connect with your tribal council or tribal foundation to ask for help with this critical work. Donate today.

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Native American Journalists Association issues media guide to covering ICWA

(June 28, 2016)—The Native American Journalists Association issued this guide to reporting on the Indian Child Welfare Act. Please share with all reporters who have covered ICWA.


Faith partners support ICWA regs, saying "Keep families together"

(June 27, 2016)—Joint statement of the Friends Committee on National Legislation; Mennonite Central Committee U.S., Washington Office; United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries; the Office of Social Justice of the Christian Reformed Church; Franciscan Action Network; American Friends Service Committee; Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice; National Advocacy Center, Sisters of the Good Shepherd, and Father Ed Witt SJ, Pastor of St. Isaac Jogues Church in Rapid City, SD.

We join together in support and appreciation of the final regulations issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs this month to clarify and implement the Indian Child Welfare Act. As communities of faith, we know that family ties are irreplaceable and that efforts to support the stability and security of families bring strength and resilience to all of our communities – including Indian communities.


The Indian Child Welfare Act, adopted by Congress in 1978, protects Indian families by promoting active efforts to keep families together, and to keep Indian children within their cultural communities. The final rule promotes consistency and clarity in the implementation of the Act, and reflects the highest standard in child welfare for all children, according to Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell.


In the late 1970s, the Indian Child Welfare Act was needed to reverse the ill-advised policies and practices of previous decades, which effectively removed nearly a third of Indian children from their homes and communities into permanent, non-Indian placements. In the intervening years, the Act has been implemented unevenly by state and local agencies. As a result, according to the National Indian Child Welfare Association, Indian children are still today twice to three times as likely to be removed from their homes into foster and adoptive placements, compared to non-Indian children, even in similar circumstances.


Keeping families together is a sound and basic principle. We applaud the work of the tribes, states, and courts who helped the Bureau of Indian Affairs to create the clarity of these new and final rules.

Signed,
Mennonite Central Committee U.S., Washington Office
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Office of Social Justice of the Christian Reformed Church
Father Ed Witt SJ, Pastor of St. Isaac Jogues Church in Rapid City, SD
Franciscan Action Network
American Friends Service Committee
Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
National Advocacy Center, Sisters of the Good Shepherd
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Contact: Ruth Flower – flower.consultant@fcnl.org


NICWA pledges to #DefendICWA

(June 10, 2016)—Although we are not surprised that today’s hearing in the California Court of Appeals was accompanied by another staged media event and invited media attention, it remains disappointing how this Choctaw child’s privacy continues to be violated. We must reiterate the child is with family, including biological siblings. Family reunification, whenever possible, is in the best interest of foster children. In this specific case, this child was never available to be adopted. It was never to be an option.

Cases like these provide absolute proof why we need this week's historic Indian Child Welfare (ICWA) regulations. The problem is not ICWA; it is when individuals choose to disregard the law. Fortunately, the new regulations will go far to help state courts enforce the federal law with consistency and uniformity.

There is consensus in the field of child welfare that ICWA is “the gold standard” of child welfare law. As NICWA Executive Director Sarah Kastelic said just yesterday, “In establishing these regulations, the federal government joins the ICWA Defense Project, 18 non-Native child advocacy organizations, the American Bar Association, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and legal scholars representing 15 law schools in acknowledging that ICWA must be strengthened, not weakened.”

We have faith that the California Court of Appeals will uphold federal law and will allow this child to remain with her sisters and family.

While we celebrate the historic nature of the new ICWA regulations, today’s well-resourced public relations events are a sober reminder that we must remain vigilant in defending ICWA. We remain steadfastly committed to engaging with our supporters to ensure those who wish to undo ICWA’s protections do not succeed.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to see our new #DefendICWA social media campaign.


Child Welfare League of America endorses ICWA regs

(June 10, 2016)Washington, DC. Since 1920, the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) has been the nation’s pre-eminent organization dedicated to ensuring that abused and neglected children are protected from harm and have the tools and resources they need to grow into the healthy and happy adults we want them to become. Today, they issued this statement in support of the new ICWA regulations:

"This week, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) issued new regulations to update and improve the enforcement of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).  We believe that ICWA and its effective implementation are consistent with CWLA’s National Blueprint for Excellence in Child Welfare, that serves as the foundation and framework for achieving the vision that all children will grow up safely, in loving families, with everything they need to flourish–and with connections to their culture, ethnicity, race and language.


CWLA believes that these regulations which are the culmination of over 2100 comments from individuals, organizations, states, and tribes, and which guided the development to ensure there will be more uniformity and certainty in how ICWA protections are provided for all parties involved are long overdue.  We believe they will provide greater clarity when it comes to helping states, courts and tribes ensure that all American Indian and Alaska Native children and families who are in state child welfare systems receive the protections they need.


In 1978 Congress created ICWA in an effort to recognize the rights, needs and well-being of tribal children and tribal families.  Despite this, we know that children from tribal communities enter the child welfare system at disproportionate rates.  That Act, (ICWA, P.L. 95-608) was an effort to preserve cultural and family ties among Native American children and families and to ensure respect for tribal authority in decisions concerning the placement of Indian children in out-of-home care. But further clarification and implementation was required.


CWLA believes that the regulations help states understand more clearly when ICWA applies, how to verify if a child is an” Indian Child” under the law, promotes uniformity in State ICWA proceedings, as well as identify what actions are necessary to protect the best interests of Indian children and provide efforts to prevent the breakup of the family.


The regulations put forward a standard of practice for Indian children and families that is consistent with other federal law and nationally-recognized practice standards (including CWLA’s) for all children.  As part of a coalition of 18 nationally-recognized child advocacy organizations, we recognize ICWA as the “gold standard” in child welfare practice.


With these regulations, CWLA will redouble its work to ensure that service providers fully implement ICWA and the CWLA standards of excellence in child welfare."


Cherokee Principal Chief issues statement on ICWA regs

Tahlequah, Okla. –Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker issued a statement Wednesday in response to the U.S. Department of Interior’s updated regulations to strengthen the rights of Indian children, their parents and their tribes in state child welfare proceedings.

“Cherokee children are the future of the Cherokee Nation,” Principal Chief Baker said. “Today is a historic day for those children. The BIA has announced legally binding federal regulations to help effectuate the historic purpose of the Indian Child Welfare Act: to protect tribes' most vital resource, their children.

“The new ICWA regulations will ensure children remain with their families, tribes and communities. Among the most notable provisions is that the regulations will ensure identification and tribal notification when Indian children are involved in state court custody proceedings. Additionally, the regulations recognize that Indian children's best interests are served when ICWA, which is the gold standard in child welfare, is strictly enforced. The regulations also confirm the presumptive jurisdiction of tribes over their children. Finally, and maybe most importantly, the regulations instruct state courts on how to provide reunification services to meet the ultimate goal in all foster care cases: family.”


NICWA executive director commends BIA on new ICWA regs

(June 9, 2016)— In response to yesterday’s announcement of new Indian Child Welfare Act regulations, National Indian Child Welfare Association Executive Director Dr. Sarah Kastelic issued the following statement:

"The historic step that the Bureau of Indian Affairs has taken with the announcement of these binding, enforceable Indian Child Welfare Act regulations is not one I thought I would see in my lifetime. The protections for Native children that the regulations now guarantee are much needed today, as ICWA is currently under attack by those wishing to overturn this vital law that has served to keep Native children with their families, culture, and communities for over 35 years.

These regulations prove that there is widespread support for the protections of ICWA, despite what a vocal few would say to the contrary. In establishing these regulations, the federal government joins the ICWA Defense Project, 18 non-Native child advocacy organizations, the American Bar Association, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and legal scholars representing 15 law schools in acknowledging that ICWA must be strengthened, not weakened. For far too long, our Native children and families have borne the brunt of a system lacking the clarity, consistency, and protections that these regulations provide. This is a monumental step toward protecting the most vulnerable among us: our children."


Federal government issues new regulations to protect Native children for first time since 1979

ICWA Defense Project praises new steps toward enforcement

(June 9, 2016)—Yesterday, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) released binding regulations on the implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). This marks the first time the agency has offered comprehensive enforceable regulations since the passage of the act more than three decades ago.

Congress passed ICWA in 1978 in response to the alarmingly high percentage of Indian children being removed, often unwarranted, from their families. The law is designed to protect the best interests of Indian children and promote the stability and security of Indian families.

“This is a historic step toward guaranteeing greater safeguards for Indian children,” said Dr. Sarah Kastelic, executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA). “These regulations offer an important and necessary line of defense as the child welfare system still falls short for our Native children.”

Kastelic notes that even today, Native children are four times as likely as white children to be removed from their homes on their first encounter with the courts—even if the circumstances are exactly the same.

The regulations come at a critical time, as a well-resourced legal and public relations campaign coordinated by interest groups outside of Indian Country has prompted four national Native organizations—NICWA, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), and the ICWA Appellate Project at Michigan State University College of Law—to create the ICWA Defense Project.

“The BIA has twice released guidelines for state courts and agencies, but until now compliance and implementation across states has been erratic and inconsistent, and there has been a complete lack of uniform enforcement,” said Kathryn Fort, director of the ICWA Appellate Project.

John Echohawk, executive director of NARF agreed, “The regulations will ensure more families remain together, while providing clear, consistent rules for child placement decisions that will result in better, more reliable outcomes for Native children.”

Highlights of the regulations include a requirement that state courts inquire whether ICWA applies in every child custody proceeding; clear articulation of the efforts that state courts and agencies must take to provide appropriate family services designed to keep families together; and procedures governing emergency removal of Indian children from their homes.

“The unregulated status quo has contributed to widespread non-compliance with ICWA and the breakup of thousands of Native Amer­ican families,” said Jacqueline Pata, NCAI executive director. “The BIA has truly advanced protections for our children with these new regulations.”


National Congress of American Indians says new regs will keep families together

 

(June 8, 2016)—Here is NCAI's statement on the new ICWA regulations:

Today, the Department of the Interior released new final regulations governing state court and agency child custody proceedings to insure uniform compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA). The previous ICWA regulations had a narrow scope and covered only the administration of ICWA service programs authorized under the Act. Revisions to the regulations were sorely needed and long overdue, as implementation guidance has been lacking and compliance with ICWA has been highly inconsistent since passage of the Act.

“The new regulations will keep families together,” explained NCAI President Brian Cladoosby, praising the development. “Clear and consistent rules for child placement also will result in faster and more reliable placement decisions for all affected families, creating better outcomes for our children.”

Highlights of the updated regulations include:

  • Clear guidance on “active efforts” that state courts and agencies must employ to provide services and programs designed to prevent removal and encourage reunification
  • Clarification of notice and time frames to improve compliance and expedite the process
  • A requirement that state courts and agencies inquire whether ICWA applies in every child custody proceeding
  • Procedures governing emergency removal of Indian children
  • Clarification that the “existing Indian family doctrine” is not an exception to ICWA’s application and only the tribe has the power to determine a child’s membership status

Preference for relative placement is considered in the best interest of all children, not just Native American children. Relative child placement preference is the law in 45 states. It is also federal law under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act. This is because research and best practice prove that children fare better when placed with relatives.

The revised regulations’ focus on keeping families together is especially important to Native families given the history. In 1959, as part of the federal government’s “termination” policy of the era, the Bureau of Indian Affairs entered a contract with the Child Welfare League of America to implement a nationwide adoption policy for Native American children. Entitled the “Indian Adoption Project,” the policy mandated that Indian children were to be adopted out to non-Indian families. Project-approved state agencies took on the responsibility of enacting this policy of “Indian extraction,” where Native American children were routinely removed from their homes and schools by state social workers based on vague allegations of poverty and neglect.  By the time ICWA was passed in 1978, 35 percent of all Native American children had been taken from their families and placed in adoptive, foster, or institutional care. In passing ICWA, Congress intended to combat this deliberate, collaborative abuse of the child welfare system, to reinstate tribal government authority to determine child placement, and to restore the integrity of Indian families.  

Despite the passage of ICWA, the abuse of Native American children and families continues to the present.  In 2015, in Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Van Hunnick, the United States District Court for South Dakota found that a South Dakota state judge and the State Department of Social Services “failed to protect Indian parents' fundamental rights to a fair hearing by not allowing them to present evidence to contradict the State's removal documents. The defendants failed by not allowing the parents to confront and cross-examine DSS witnesses. The defendants failed by using documents as a basis for the court's decisions which were not provided to the parents and which were not received in evidence at the 48-hour hearings.” The new regulations will help to end these abuses. 


NICWA Supports Safe Transition in
California ICWA Case

(March 22, 2016)—Being a foster parent is a hard, selfless, honorable role. We have great compassion and appreciation for the amazing people who open their homes and lives to vulnerable children at the time when they need love, stability, and support the most. And while we feel deep sympathy for what the Page family is going through during this difficult time, it was regrettable and disturbing to observe the media spectacle witnessed yesterday, which stands in stark contrast to best practice that ensures a child’s safe transition in such circumstances.

Transitioning a child from a foster care placement to family should be done in a manner that creates the least amount of unnecessary trauma for a child. This is why such matters are kept private—because child development experts and families understand it is in the child’s best interest to do so.
 
Court transcripts indicate the Pages were aware since 2011 that their foster daughter had loving relatives wanting to welcome her into their home and reunite her with her siblings, one of whom she will now live with. As with most foster placements, where reunification with family is the stated objective, the Page family understood her placement was to be temporary.

Despite this and numerous court rulings dating back to 2013, they chose to reject the consensus of the court, the county child welfare agency, the child's parent, her court-appointed attorney, and her tribe, who all agreed it was in her best interest to be with family.

Now she is with family. Court documents elaborate on the longstanding and close relationship her relatives have with her; they explain that she has long known them as “family from Utah.” These are not strangers. These are family members who she knows well.

We understand the difficulty of accepting the temporary nature of foster parenting, but it is imperative we focus on supporting a safe transition. Today, this child is with her sister and other family members who have been waiting five long years to welcome this child into their home.

Turtle Talk Creates Resource Page for California ICWA Case

(March 22, 2016) -To help facilitate the public and media's ability to access all of the public documents (cases, briefs, statements), they have created a page to house such information here.


DOJ Wins Motion to Dismiss NCFA v. Jewell (2015 Guidelines Litigation)

(December 10, 2015) - Originally posted by Turtle Talk's Kate Fort.

"This is a big win–the Judge dismissed all claims, including the equal protection and substantive due process ones. In addition, there’s good language for the eventual ICWA regulations.

Here is the order.

This Court GRANTS Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss For Lack of Subject-Matter Jurisdiction and for Judgement on the Pleadings because: (1) Plaintiffs’ claims are precluded by this Court’s October 20, 2015 Memorandum Opinion in which the Court held that Plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the Guidelines, that the Guidelines are not justiciable as a “final agency action,” and that the Guidelines are non-binding interpretive rules; (2) BAF has not demonstrated any authority to support its equal protection, due process, or Indian Commerce Clause claims; (3) the 2015 Guidelines do not commandeer state entities; and (4) BAF has failed to plead a Bivens action.

(emphasis added)

And:

…even if the 2015 Guidelines were legislative rules, rather than interpretive guidelines that do not mandate state court compliance, the 2015 Guidelines still would not commandeer state entities to comply with its regulations… Just as Congress may pass laws enforceable in state courts, Congress may direct state judges to enforce those laws.

As a personal side note, there so many great people who have worked on this litigation since it was filed in May, and they all deserve thanks."


Newsweek Publishes Pro-ICWA Op-Ed

(December 5, 2015) - Newsweek has published this op-ed by Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker.

"Thirty-seven years ago, the federal government passed a law to keep Indian children safe. Today that promise, embodied in the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), is under assault.

America's multibillion-dollar adoption industry and its allies seek to undermine the ICWA's enforcement by filing a lawsuit they hope to take to the Supreme Court. If successful, the lawsuit would deny tribes their right—and their duty—to look after the welfare of their children.

As Indian people, we have always known that it's in our children's best interests to stay in the homes of their families and to remain connected to their tribes. In 1978, Congress recognized this fact and passed the ICWA. The law states that it will "protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families."

Congress passed the ICWA because such protections were desperately needed in the 1970s. At the time, state officials would all too frequently tear Indian children from their homes for reasons of cultural chauvinism and ignorance. From there, the children were served up to the willing hands of America's adoption industry.

The ICWA was meant to stop this cultural genocide by creating a legal presumption that Indian children belong in their own homes, if possible; and if not, then with other family or tribal members.

To help ensure this protection was enforced, the ICWA gave tribes the ability to intervene in state courts on behalf of tribal children who had been removed from their homes.

Today, the ability of tribes to protect their own children remains vital.

To see why, consider the case of an adoption attorney in Oklahoma whom the police recently charged with 25 felony counts, including child trafficking. Sadly, those who make a living offering Indian children up for adoption too often stoop to dubious, or even criminal, tactics. Without the ICWA, tribes would be helpless to protect those children.

Yet legal attacks on the law continue. This summer in Arizona, the Goldwater Institute—claiming to speak for all Indian children in foster care or up for adoption—filed a lawsuit against the law. Their goal is to get the Supreme Court to declare the ICWA unconstitutional.

This would betray the promise of the ICWA and strip Indian children of the law's valuable protections. The court would have to decide that it knows the best interests of tribal children better than their tribes do.

This would not only be breathtakingly arrogant. It would also require the court to ignore the repeated failures of the United States to protect tribal children in the years before the law was passed.

For example, the ICWA requires proper notice to parents and tribes of adoption proceedings. This helps ensure all adoptions are fair and transparent. Only those trying to force, rush, or illegally procure adoptions would be opposed to such minimum safeguards.

Casey Family Programs, the Child Welfare League of America and several other national child welfare organizations, in response to the Goldwater Institute's attack on ICWA, said that the ICWA "applies the gold standard for child welfare decisions for all children, and unraveling its protections could cause significant harm for Indian children."

These organizations deal with both private adoptions and state foster-care cases. And they all agree that the "ICWA embodies the best practices in child welfare." We have known this for years.

History has shown that only Indian people and tribal governments can be counted on to protect the interests of their children. The adoption agencies seeking to overturn the ICWA arrogantly claim that they know what is best for Indian children. But all too often, their interest lies in collecting adoption fees quickly and with minimum fuss.

Tribal nations will defend the ICWA with everything they have. Fortunately, President Obama has been a staunch ally in honoring the federal government's promise to uphold and enforce the ICWA. This country must not return to a time in which others presume to decide what's best for tribal children.

Bill John Baker is the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation."


U.S. Reps Tom Cole and Betty McCollum Pen Joint Op-Ed Supporting ICWA

(November 25, 2015) - In recent years and especially in the past months, there has been sensationalized news coverage about the controversial adoptions of Native American children into non-tribal families or their placement into foster care. Given the unfortunate coverage and several heartbreaking cases, it’s important to think back on how we got here and remember the centuries of injustice that Native families have faced.  

For much of the nation’s history, the United States has had a difficult and challenging relationship with Indian Country. Indeed, there have been dark chapters that both sides would prefer to forget and never wish to repeat. One of those longest chapters involved the forcible and heartbreaking separation of Native American children from their families and their tribal heritage. 

Prior to the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in 1978, it had become apparent that Native American children were systematically being taken from their homes and either put up for adoption or placed in foster care. The rate at which Native American children were taken was especially alarming to tribal nations that depend on their youth to preserve a truly unique heritage. Further, the disproportionate rate of these separations raised suspicions that they were based less in decisions about the well-being of children and perhaps more about separating youth from their tribal culture. In a repeat of the forced boarding school era, tribal nations were once again being told that to save their children, they had to be removed from their communities and cultures. 

When Congress passed ICWA, it was meant to solve a very real identity problem for Native American children, help loving families stay together and also prevent unnecessary holes in tribal communities. But most importantly, it sought—and still aims—to ensure children live in the environment where they are best cared for and most loved.  

Certainly, tribal nations care deeply for their youth and the continuation of a special heritage to them, and ICWA is meant to help the majority of Native American children and youth stay connected with that heritage. However, there are circumstances when that is not possible, either with the absence of a willing guardian in the tribe or due to an abusive living environment. In such cases, ICWA provides guidance and requirements for legal separations, including private adoptions and foster care placements. But similar to the Hague convention that regulates international adoptions, ICWA encourages tribal nations to make a reasonable effort to facilitate a tribal adoption first—preferably with a family member.  

As with any matter involving the safety of our nation’s children, everyone wants a simple and certain solution. As legislators, we must ensure that ICWA continues to serve the best interests of Native American children and prevent their safety from being jeopardized. The hope is that Native American children can safely remain with their tribe and be brought up to know and appreciate their important heritage. We should be careful about the language we use and the laws we put forward, and ultimately, when interpreting or revising ICWA, we should reflect on what is best for Native American children.

Cole has represented Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional District since 2003. He sits on the Appropriations; the Budget; and the Rules committees. McCollum has represented Minnesota’s 4thCongressional District since 2001. She sits on the Appropriations Committee. Cole is a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma. He and McCollum serve as co-chairs of the Native American Caucus in the House.

Originally published here.


ACYF Releases Report on State Consultation with Tribes on ICWA Measures

(November 23, 2015) - After several years of advocacy by NICWA, the Association on American Indian Affairs, and tribes, the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF) has released a new report that details state efforts to comply with a fed­eral law requiring states to consult with tribes on measures to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).

The federal requirement under Title IV-B of the Social Security Act was enacted into law in 1994 and requires states to include a description of their efforts in their Child and Family Services Plan (CFSP). While the law has been in place for over two decades, tribal advocates have been critical of ACYF’s lack of oversight in the past. Many tribes have reported that state consultation efforts have not been timely or substantial enough. A 2001 NICWA study of state and federal efforts to comply with this federal requirement found state plans were approved by ACYF even when states had not materially complied with the minimum requirements of the law.

This new report comes after several years of advocacy requesting a re-examination of state compliance with the federal requirement and subsequent federal oversight. The report provides detailed information on each state’s efforts as outlined in their CFSPs and addi­tional information provided by selected tribes in their CFSPs that relates to the state plan. The data raises several questions, but does provide a baseline for tribes in their efforts to improve ICWA implementation in their state.

NICWA will be working with tribes to ask ACYF to conduct presentations for tribes on the report in 2016 and develop a plan to engage tribes on addressing challenges and supporting promising practices identified in the report. Read the full report here.


Who Calls ICWA the Gold Standard meme


Casey Family Programs and Others File 
Amicus Brief in Class Action Suit

13 National Child Welfare Organizations Support ICWA as the
"Gold Standard"

(November 16, 2015) - Thirteen national child welfare organizations have filed an amicus brief in support of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in the case of A.D. v. Washburn, a class action lawsuit filed in Arizona challenging the federal law.

The organizations represent the preeminent, national experts on child welfare. In the brief, the organizations state that "ICWA applies the gold standard for child welfare decisions for all children, and unraveling its protections could cause significant harm for Indian children."

"We're pleased to have the support of national leaders in child welfare," said Sarah Kastelic, executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association. "The Indian Child Welfare Act provides an essential line of defense against outdated systems that still remove Native children from their homes and families in cases when it's not necessary."

According to research, Native children are four times more likely than white children to be removed from their homes upon their first encounter with the courts.

"We're confident that the Arizona courts will find that this lawsuit is baseless," said Kastelic. "While the Goldwater Institute and other ICWA opponents are motivated by politics, we in Indian Country maintain our focus on protecting our most vulnerable children using the essential tools that the Indian Child Welfare Act provides."

About the Amicus Filing:
Casey Family Programs is the nation's largest operating foundation focused solely on reducing the need for foster care. They are joined in the amicus filing by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Center for the Study of Social Policy, the Child Welfare League of America, the Children's Defense Fund, the Donaldson Adoption Institute, the First Focus Campaign for Children, FosterClub, Generations United, the National Alliance of Children's Trust and Prevention Funds, the National Center on Adoption and Permanency, the North American Council on Adoptable Children, and the W. Haywood Burns Institute.


Why We Fight

(November 13, 2015) - In recent weeks, NICWA staff have criss-crossed the country discussing with tribal child welfare workers about our work defending ICWA. The consensus among them is that--because it is difficult for those outside of Indian Country to understand what truly happens when families do not have ICWA's protections--we must tell our stories. At the request of some of our colleagues in the field, we're including this link so that these stories will not be forgotten. Thanks to the Mississippi Courts, Child Welfare Agency, Mississippi Band of Choctaw, National Resource Center on Legal and Judicial Issues, NARF, and the National Resource Center for Tribes for producing this short film.

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Documentary Details Maine TRC

(October 12, 2015) - The Upstander Project has released First Light, a 13-minute documentary about the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Described as the first such task force in U.S. history to investigate forced removal of Native American children, the TRC is modeled after similar reconciliation work popularized in post-apartheid South Africa. Listen Boston's WGBH story on the film here, and watch the film's trailer here. Thanks to friend-of-NICWA, Adam Mazo, for his dedication to bringing this story to film so poignantly. Wliwni.

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Setting the Record Straight on ICWA

(September 30, 2015) - NICWA has issued fact sheet in order to inform the public on the facts on the Indian Child Welfare Act, what it does, what it does not do, and how it continues to be a much-needed protection for our children and families. Please feel free to share widely.

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NICWA, NCAI, AAIA File Amicus

(September 18, 2015) - NICWA, the National Congress of American Indians, and the Association on American Indian Affairs filed an amicus in NCFA v. Jewell. Read it here.

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Dorgan Responds to Will in WaPo

(September 6, 2015) - Asserting that "the 'best interest of the child' standard is applied in all cases under ICWA", former Senator Byron Dorgan responded to George Will's anti-ICWA op-ed in this letter to the editor.


NICWA Board Pledges to Defend ICWA

(August 18, 2015) - NICWA's Board of Directors today unanimously passed a resolution pledging to defend the Indian Child Welfare Act against current attacks. We encourage tribes and other tribal organizations to join us in doing so. Read our resolution here.

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Kastelic Featured on Native America Calling

(August 10, 2015) - NICWA Executive Director Sarah Kastelic joined Native America Calling to discuss the anti-ICWA class action lawsuit filed by the Goldwater Institute. Listen to the full show here.

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NICWA Responds to Goldwater Press Conference

(July 7, 2015) - We at the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) watched today's press conference by the Goldwater Institute with interest and dismay. It is disappointing that during this era of unprecedented support for Native children and youth, there are still special interests intent on mobilizing their considerable resources to dismantle critical protections for children that Indian Country and our allies fought so hard to establish.

Our three decades of experience working hand-in-hand directly with those we serve--Native families, children, and communities--leaves no question that real solutions to the complex issues we as Native communities face can only come from working together with the families and children most impacted by these issues. In the same respect, we also know that true progress cannot come from using inflammatory rhetoric to try to divide the families, communities, and organizations that care about Native children.

NICWA remains committed to working with families, youth, leading national children's organizations, tribal leaders, legal experts, and other advocates committed to the well-being of our children to protect recent advances that have strengthened the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). We recognize that these gains were achieved by working together for Native children and families.

This week, as thousands of Native youth converge on our nation's capital to meet with President Obama and members of Congress and celebrate the same spirit of unity, we pledge to work on their behalf to defend ICWA and the principles for which it stands.

Our children deserve no less.


National Indian Child Welfare Association Submits Comments to BIA

(May 19, 2015) - Here are the comments that NICWA submitted supporting the proposed ICWA regulations.


ICWA Expert Dorsay Responds to Regs' Critics

(May 11, 2015) - Attorney Craig Dorsay, a nationally recognized expert on the Indian Child Welfare Act, responded to critics of the proposed regulations in this online "debate" hosted by the National Association of Counsel for Children. Continue Reading...

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When ICWA is Followed, Children Can Thrive

(May 7, 2015) - I am looking at a picture of a beautiful little boy who is a citizen of the Little River Band of Odawa Indians. He is my son. He became my son because of ICWA. Continue Reading...

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Association on American Indian Affairs Issues Discussion Memo on Bonding and Attachment

(May 7, 2015) - With support from Casey Family Programs, the Association on American Indian Affairs has published this memo that addresses the issues of attachment and bonding in relation to the proposed ICWA regulations. Continue Reading...

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