ICWA

The Indian Child Welfare Act was passed in 1978 in response to the alarmingly high number of Indian children being removed from their homes by both public and private agencies. We detail more information about this groundbreaking legislation on our About ICWA page.

Despite the many protections this federal law provides—and the fact that it is considered the “gold standard of child welfare policy” by national child advocacy organizations across the country—NICWA continues to need to advocate for full compliance with this groundbreaking legislation and defend it against attacks from those wishing to overturn it.

Projects & Partners

Protect ICWA Campaign

The Protect ICWA Campaign was established by the National Indian Child Welfare Association, the National Congress of American Indians, the Association on American Indian Affairs, and the Native American Rights Fund. Together, we work to serve and support Native children, youth, and families through upholding the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The Campaign works to inform policy, legal, and communications strategies with the mission to uphold and protect ICWA.

U.S. Supreme Court Asked to Review Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals En Banc Decision in Brackeen v. Haaland ICWA Case

Following a decision in Brackeen v. Haaland Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) case from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals en banc (reviewed before all sitting judges within the federal circuit), four of the parties in the case filed petitions asking the United States Supreme Court to review the decision. On September 3, 2021, the federal government, four intervenor tribes, State of Texas, and private parties (adoptive and foster care parents) in the case all filed petitions asking for review. Following the filing of the petitions, three amicus briefs were filed supporting the federal government and tribal intervenors’ petitions. The three amicus briefs were filed by 25 states, 10 child welfare and adoption organizations, and 180 tribal nations and 35 Native organizations. NICWA is supporting the federal government and tribal intervenors in the case and issued press statements at the submission of the petitions asking for review and filing of the amicus briefs.

 

The next phases of the case will involve the U.S. Supreme Court (the Court) reviewing the petitions and coming to a decision on whether they want to accept the case for review and which issues in the Brackeen v. Haaland case they want to review. The Court is expected to issue a decision on whether they want to accept review of the case sometime in late January. If they accept review, the Court will identify which questions it wants the parties to brief in the case, the briefing schedule, and a date for oral argument before the Court. Given the extra time the Court is using to reach a decision it is likely that the Court will hold over the case until the fall term which starts in October of 2022. NICWA will be monitoring these events closely with our Protect ICWA Campaign partners (National Congress of American Indians, Association on American Indian Affairs, and Native American Rights Fund) and will be providing updates as information is available. If the Court accepts review of the case, there will likely be a new round of amicus briefs developed and opportunities for tribal nations and Native organizations to sign on to an amicus brief supporting ICWA. To read more about the case, read the latest update in NICWA’s Child and Family Policy Update.

Meyer Memorial Trust

NICWA and Meyer Memorial Trust enjoy a long and meaningful partnership. Most recently, Meyer provided key support to update and improve our Online ICWA Course. These changes will expand our capacity to offer this course to an increasing number of tribal child welfare professionals, court officials, students of social work and law, and others who seek a cost-effective way to gain deeper knowledge of ICWA.

Poarch Band of Creek Indians

Recent high-profile cases involving ICWA have necessitated an expansion of our public education efforts to combat misinformation or misunderstandings about the law. Recognizing the need to ensure a Native voice is included in the national ICWA conversation, NICWA has partnered with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, to produce a multi-part digital storytelling series featuring Native families sharing their stories of family upheaval, perseverance, and ultimately, resilience in the face of constant threats to their well-being. The multi-part digital storytelling series, The Heart of ICWA, features Native families sharing their stories of family upheaval, perseverance, healing, and ultimately, resilience in the face of threats to their well-being.

Riverside Church

NICWA is grateful for support from the Riverside Church to expand our advocacy, public education, and communications efforts around ICWA-related issues. With increasing interest in, and scrutiny of, ICWA nationally, our ability to communicate with constituents, tribal leaders, grassroots workers, policymakers, the media, and others is vital to our work defending ICWA.

San Manuel Band of Mission Indians

Each year, NICWA receives over 1,000 inquiries from families seeking information and resources. While not always related to child welfare or child placement concerns, a majority of these inquiries come from families who are unsure or unaware of their family’s rights under ICWA. By partnering with the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, NICWA has increased its capacity to respond to these many requests and serve families more effectively than ever.

Policy & Advocacy

NICWA strives to support tribal governments, state agencies, child welfare workers, federal policymakers, and others in their efforts to ensure understanding of, and compliance with, ICWA. Through our policy and advocacy work, we work to address systemic issues that arise in ICWA implementation. Over 35 years of experience working with policymakers has ensured that we are consulted with when changes in policy arise. Recently, our work has yielded some tremendous results.

2016 ICWA Regulations

For over a year, NICWA tirelessly advocated for its partners and constituents to add their voice to the national conversation on ICWA by joining us in submitting comments on proposed federal ICWA regulations. On June 8, 2016—after 37 years of uneven and sometimes improper implementation of ICWA—the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) released the first ever ICWA regulations to guide state courts and public and private agencies implementation of ICWA.

2016 Revised Guidelines

The 2016 regulations came a year after the BIA first issued revised federal guidelines in February 2015, which are not legally-binding, but provided federal guidance that will clarify and make more certain how ICWA should be implemented. As with the 2016 regulations, a tremendous number of NICWA’s recommendations were included.

Litigation

Our work with the ICWA Defense Project includes monitoring precedent-setting cases in state and federal courts that are reviewing ICWA policy and implementation, and consulting with tribal partners when called upon.

Public Education and Communications

In addition to vigorous media relations efforts, NICWA endeavors to provide accurate information regarding ICWA to a broad audience. Through our active e-communications, social media, digital stories project, and outreach to reporters, we strive to provide reliable and accurate information about the law, and prevent the spread of misinformation that could prove harmful to Native children and families.