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.
- Sign up for the Protect ICWA newsletter
- Follow @protecticwa on Instagram
- Follow @protecticwa on Twitter
Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Haaland v. Brackeen ICWA Case
The United States Supreme Court (Court) heard oral arguments in the Haaland v. Brackeen case (21-376) on November 9, 2022, starting at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. In this case, the Court was asked to assess whether the Indian Child Welfare Act was constitutional. The plaintiffs, the State of Texas and private parties (foster and adoptive parents), asked the Court to focus on the following issues: 1) that Congress did not have the constitutional authority to enact ICWA—does Congress have the authority to legislate on behalf of Indian tribes and what are the boundaries of this authority?; 2) that ICWA violates the Equal Protection Clause—is ICWA a race-based law?; (3) that certain provisions of ICWA violate the anti-commandeering doctrine—does ICWA require state agencies to pursue federal purposes unlawfully?; and (4) whether ICWA violates the non-delegation doctrine—does the ICWA requirement that requires a state court to accept tribal placement preferences violate the delegation doctrine? Defendants in the case included the federal government and intervening tribes, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Oneida Nation in Wisconsin, Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Quinault Indian Nation, and Navajo Nation. Materials for the case, including oral argument audio and transcripts, are available here. 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.
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.
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.
Additional information about the Indian Child Welfare Act can be found on our Latest News page and the About ICWA page of the Our Work section of our website. The full text of ICWA can be found here.
NICWA Toolkits, Research, and Resources
- ICWA Frequently Asked Questions
- A Guide to Compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act
- Summary of 2016 ICWA Regulations
- Summary of the 2016 ICWA Guidelines
- Contemporary Attachment and Bonding Research: Implications for American Indian/Alaska Native Children and their Service Providers
- Understanding ICWA Placements Using Kinship Care Research
- Attachment and Bonding in Indian Child Welfare
- Setting the Record Straight: The Indian Child Welfare Act Fact Sheet
- ICWA Storytelling Guide
- Top 10 Myths About ICWA Fact Sheet
- A Mission Not Impossible: Understanding and Reducing Disparities and Disproportionality
- Improving the Well-being of American Indian and Alaska Native Children and Families
Additional Research and Resources
- Full Text of 2016 ICWA Regulations
- Full Text of 2016 ICWA Guidelines
- ABA Child Law Practice Vol. 36, No. 1 (2017): Special Focus: Indian Child Welfare
- Native American Journalists Association Recommendations for Reporting on the Indian Child Welfare Act
- Bureau of Indian Affairs List of Designated Tribal Agents for Notice in ICWA proceedings