Foster Care and Adoption

AI/AN children are overrepresented in state foster care systems. This disproportionality has increased trauma to AI/AN children, families, and communities, and has undermined efforts to improve child welfare outcomes for this population. NICWA addresses the systemic problems that contribute to racial disproportionality in foster care and racial disparities in access to support services that can prevent the breakup of AI/AN families. We do this by educating policymakers on the potential impacts of policies, advocating for increased prevention services, and assisting tribes in increasing their own capacity to provide services to their member children and families wherever they may live.

Projects & Partners

PIP Curriculum Evaluation

NICWA has long aspired to evaluate our PIP curriculum, as we believe establishing evidence of effectiveness of the program will allow tribes to access additional funding streams to support local PIP implementation. Fortunately, with policy change in the passage of the Family First Prevention Services Act, some private and government funders are interested in supporting evaluation of parenting, substance abuse, and mental health services as a way for states and tribes to secure additional federal funding for these prevention services. With support from Casey Family Programs and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, NICWA has partnered with Child Trends to design and implement a pilot evaluation of in-home delivery of PIP (as opposed to a group setting) with Native families who are not mandated to receive parenting training. While PIP was designed to be widely customized, it is important to ensure the fidelity of PIP’s key principles and content is maintained across different sites. Consistency in key content items and format will ensure the curriculum is delivered in the way originally intended and will allow PIP to be evaluated meaningfully related to well-being outcomes for children and caregiver-child relationships.

Tribal Training Partnerships

NICWA has partnered with numerous tribes to provide training on the Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance program. Title IV-E funds child placement activities related to foster care, relative guardianship, adoption, and independent living services. NICWA not only helps tribal child welfare programs evaluate whether pursuing IV-E funds makes sense for their communities, but we also have advocated for funding and policies to strengthen and improve the Title IV-E program for tribal communities.

Child Welfare Program Assessment

As with all human services agencies, tribal services need to be dynamic, responsive to the changing needs of the community, and supported by integrated funding strategies that leverage funding sources well. NICWA has extensive experience in helping tribal and state agencies assess their service delivery systems to identify strengths, areas for improvement, and strategies for implementing recommended change. Our solution-oriented and strengths-based approach integrates perspectives from the community, agency, partners, and leadership to ensure that the assessment yields useful, actionable data and recommendations that can create long-term, sustainable improvements in program efforts and better outcomes for AI/AN children.

Center for Adoption Support and Education

NICWA partners with the Center for Adoption Support and Education’s National Adoption Competency Mental Health Training Initiative to develop a web-based, state-of-the-art, and evidence-informed adoption competency mental health training.

Developing Foster Care and Kinship Care Standards

NICWA assisted the Council on Accreditation with developing foster care and kinship care standards used to accredit public and private agencies that address the unique needs of Native children and account for the protections of ICWA.

Policy & Advocacy

For over 35 years, NICWA has advocated for improved laws and policies that protect AI/AN children when they need to be placed outside their homes, and help them find homes that reflect their cultural heritage and nurture their connections to their extended families and tribes. Some examples of our recent work include the following:

The Native American Children’s Safety Act (P.L. 114-165) provides new criminal background check requirements for tribally licensed foster care homes. The law streamlines and integrates many different federal requirements into one law for tribes, providing them with more manageable and effective guidance regarding the licensing of foster homes for state or tribal placements of AI/AN children. NICWA provided testimony and recommendations on how to strengthen earlier drafts of the legislation as requested by congressional leaders and tribes interested in the legislation.

The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) collects information from state child welfare agencies on children in foster care, relative guardianship, and adoptive homes. NICWA has long advocated for AFCARS to include data elements that measure state efforts to implement ICWA’s requirements and was a strong voice in providing comments and recommendations on how best to do this. With the release of new AFCARS regulations in December 2016, states will now be required to provide data on AI/AN children in out-of-home care in state systems related to the requirements of ICWA. NICWA was a leader in informing tribes, mainstream child welfare organizations, and federal officials on the need for these data elements.

In 2008, NICWA, leading a coalition of AI/AN organizations and mainstream partners, realized a long-time goal to establish direct tribal access to the Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance program. Title IV-E is the largest source of federal child welfare funding; from 1981 to 2008, until the passage of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (P.L. 110-351), tribes were not eligible to directly receive funding and administer the Title IV-E program. This landmark law provided direct access for tribes to the Title IV-E program and contained several important requirements for state agencies to engage relatives of children in their care in alignment with related ICWA requirements.

NICWA continues to support legislation like the Family First Prevention Services Act (H.R. 5456), introduced in 2016, which would provide access to new prevention funding for states and tribes. Very little federal child welfare funds are targeted to services that help families avoid having their children removed, and the Family First Prevention Services Act is an example of how to create new investments in child welfare that will help reduce out-of-home placement and strengthen families.

NICWA, with several AI/AN and mainstream partners, has pursued the Tribal Adoption Parity Act (H.R. 2035 and S. 876), which was recently reintroduced in 2017; it is a legislative fix to a gap in federal law that makes parents adopting a child in tribal court ineligible for a federal adoption tax credit they would receive if they adopted in a state court. Legislation like the Tribal Adoption Parity Act would help address the inequities in federal child welfare policy that have limited the ability of AI/AN children to find suitable and appropriate permanent homes when they cannot be returned to their families.

Each May, NICWA uses its social media networks to promote awareness of National Foster Care Awareness Month. Recognizing the need for more AI/AN foster homes, we provide information and resources and encourage Native families to consider opening their homes to an AI/AN foster child if possible.