National Child Welfare Association

History of the Indian Child Welfare Act

The removal of Indian children from their families

A 1976 study by the Association on American Indian Affairs found that 25 to 35% of all Indian children were being placed in out-of-home care. Eighty-five percent of those children were being placed in non-Indian homes or institutions.

Unger, Steven, ed., The Destruction of American Indian Families, New York: Association on American Indian Affairs, 1977, p.1.

Historically, an alarmingly high percentage of Indian families in comparison to the general population have been broken up by the often unwarranted removal of their children by non-tribal public and private agencies. A disturbingly high percentage of such children have been placed in non-Indian foster and adoptive homes and institutions.

Indian children have a unique political status as members of sovereign tribal governments. Congress, through the Constitution, statutes, treaties, and the general course of dealing with Indian tribes, is charged with the responsibility for the protection and preservation of Indian tribes and their resources, including Indian children.

The special political status of Indian tribes, as well as the history of biased treatment of Indian children and families under public and non-Indian private child welfare systems, is the basis for the enactment of ICWA (25 U.S.C. § 1901).