Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978
The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is a federal law that seeks to keep American Indian children with American Indian families. Congress passed ICWA in 1978 in response to the alarmingly high number of Indian children being removed from their homes by both public and private agencies. The intent of Congress under ICWA was to "protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families" (25 U.S.C. § 1902). ICWA sets federal requirements that apply to state child custody proceedings involving an Indian child who is a member of or eligible for membership in a federally recognized tribe.
ICWA is an integral policy framework on which tribal child welfare programs rely. It provides a structure and requirements for how public and private child welfare agencies and state courts view and conduct their work to serve tribal children and families. It also acknowledges and promotes the role that tribal governments play in supporting tribal families, both on and off tribal lands. However, as is the case with many laws, proper implementation of ICWA requires vigilance, resources, and advocacy.
If you have questions regarding an ICWA case or other Indian child welfare issues, please review the following online resources and the Frequently Asked Questions before contacting the NICWA office. Please be aware that NICWA cannot provide any legal advice. Also note that NICWA is not a direct service provider. We do not provide case management. If you contact us, our staff will do our best to answer your questions within a reasonable timeframe and direct you toward helpful resources.
- Top 10 Myths About ICWA Fact Sheet
- How to Find Low-Cost Legal Assistance Fact Sheet
- The Indian Child Welfare Act: A Family's Guide
- ICWA glossary and flow-chart
- Family Guide to the Child Welfare System
Finding Legal Help
Many families benefit from having a lawyer on their case. Under ICWA, parents and Indian custodians are entitled to have the court appoint them an attorney if they can't afford one. Families can also look up legal aid offices that can provide free or low-cost legal help by going here and entering their zip code. You can also find a list of legal aid offices that specialize in Indian law topics like ICWA here.
NICWA strives to support tribal governments in these efforts, especially where tribes do not have the resources or information to respond as they would like. NICWA can partner with tribes to effectively address ICWA compliance; through our relationships with key policymakers, state and federal officials, media representatives, and non-Indian organizations, we provide tribes with additional resources to address the systemic issues that arise in ICWA implementation. Below are some of the services that NICWA can provide tribes and their partners to assist in the proper implementation of ICWA.
- Training about the basic legal requirements and social work practice tips on how to best implement the law in both social service and court settings.
- Development of tribal-specific program models to help tribes increase their capacity to respond effectively in ICWA cases and increase their ability to provide care for their member children and families.
- Enhance tribal-state relations through technical assistance to develop intergovernmental agreements and contracts as well as to identify opportunities for collaboration with state agencies and contracted providers.
- Increase knowledge of existing funding opportunities and the steps needed to secure federal funding to support child and family related services. This includes strategies tribes can use for adapting federal requirements while maintaining compliance and emphasizing tribal cultural practices.
- Advocate for policy solutions, legislative and regulatory, to implementation problems that practitioners experience while implementing ICWA.
- Provide case consultation to tribal family members, agencies, social work practitioners, attorneys, and courts on the proper implementation of ICWA in particular cases.
- Monitor and consult with tribal litigants in precedent-setting cases in state and federal courts that are reviewing ICWA policy and implementation.
- Follow media accounts of ICWA implementation and provide reliable and accurate information about the law. NICWA provides a national perspective of ICWA implementation through op-eds, news articles, media interviews and content, research for media outlets, and support of tribal efforts to address media requests for information on specific cases or program issues.
- Assist tribes and states in the development and implementation of ICWA data gathering and evaluation efforts.
- Provide regular updates to tribal leadership and representatives at national and regional tribal organizations to keep Indian Country’s leadership apprised of the most current information on ICWA and strategize about appropriate solutions to address challenges.
- Full Text of the Indian Child Welfare Act
- Administrative Regulations and Guidelines
- 2005 Government Accountability Office (GAO) Study
- Bureau of Indian Affairs List of Designated Tribal Agents
A "Mission Not Impossible" Understanding and Reducing Disparities and