NICWA works to support the safety, health, and spiritual strength of American Indian and Alaska Native children along the broad continuum of their lives. We support tribes in building the capacity to prevent child abuse and neglect through positive systems change at the state, federal, and tribal levels. We are the most comprehensive source of information on American Indian and Alaska Native child welfare.
NICWA is a 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. Together, our partners, board, and staff work to protect Native children and keep them connected to their family, community, and culture.
Every Native child must have access to community-based, culturally appropriate services that help them grow up safe, healthy, and spiritually strong—free from abuse, neglect, sexual exploitation, and the damaging effects of substance abuse.
NICWA is dedicated to the well-being of American Indian and Alaska Native children and families.
NICWA was created for the following stated principles:
- To protect Native children.
- To promote safe, healthy, and culturally strong environments for Native children.
- To promote the spiritual strength of Native children and a positive cultural identity.
- To be a strong voice for the needs of Native children and American Indian/Alaska Native child welfare programs nationwide.
- To advocate for and facilitate the proper implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act.
- To promote the provision of effective services to Native children by child welfare workers.
- To provide technical assistance for and information sharing among American Indian/Alaska Native child welfare programs.
- To provide education and leadership opportunities for tribal and urban Indian child welfare workers.
NICWA evolved from the Northwest Indian Child Welfare Institute, which was developed in 1983 in response to the need for trained American Indian/Alaska Native child welfare workers in both reservation- and urban-based Indian child welfare programs. The Institute was sponsored by the Parry Center for Children (now part of Trillium Family Services) in Portland, Oregon, in cooperation with Portland State University, and was guided by a team of advisors, mostly from Northwest tribes. The Institute began training tribal workers, and in 1985, its staff, trainers, and advisors decided the Institute should continue its operations under Native control.
The Northwest Indian Child Welfare Association
In 1987, members of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI) and a regional consortium of Northwest tribes formed a child welfare committee to help set policy and direction on Native child and family issues. Recognizing the importance of having an organization to serve the children and families of Northwest tribes, the ATNI Child Welfare Committee, Institute staff, and tribes created the Northwest Indian Child Welfare Association (NWICWA). The Association assumed control of the Institute’s materials and training projects and commenced operation.
At its first membership meeting, NWICWA was charged with: keeping members informed on American Indian/Alaska Native child welfare practice issues, helping tribal communities proactively respond to the needs of children and families, advocating for adequate funding for tribal programs, and ensuring proper implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act. Work in response to these directives quickly established NWICWA as a vital resource for Northwest tribes.
Meyer Memorial Trust was NWICWA’s first private foundation partner, providing a major grant for capacity building. Over the next five years, with the generous support of several leading foundations and input from tribes, NWICWA developed three major areas of activities: information exchange, community development, and public policy analysis.
Providing Services Nationwide
By 1992, many tribes from across the country were seeking NWICWA’s training and resources. Although the Association was regionally focused at that time, NWICWA never turned away opportunities for service, and its activities became increasingly national in scope. At the urging of its membership, in 1994 NWICWA changed its name to the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) to reflect its expanded reach.
Today, NICWA is the preeminent national Native organization focused specifically on the tribal capacity to prevent child abuse and neglect. NICWA works in six major, and often overlapping, issue areas: child abuse and neglect, the Indian Child Welfare Act, foster care and adoption, children’s mental health, youth engagement, and juvenile justice. For more about NICWA’s public policy and advocacy, community development, and research efforts in these areas, visit the Our Work section of our website.
NICWA is a membership organization whose main constituencies are tribal governments, urban and reservation-based social service programs, and especially the frontline staff who work with Native children and families. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, NICWA receives funding from many different sources, including memberships; individual, tribal, and corporate donations; fundraising events; program contracts; curriculum sales; and foundation and government grants.