Public Policy & Advocacy
NICWA relentlessly advocates for the rights of American Indian and Alaska Native children and families while supporting Native communities to promote healthy families and thriving children. Tribal nations, tribal programs, and Native communities have the insight and knowledge of how best to serve their children and families. NICWA works to increase tribal and urban Indian center capacity to serve children and families in a culturally appropriate manner and support tribal sovereignty. Our advocacy work recognizes that effective public policy puts tribal nations in the driver’s seat, honoring tribal sovereignty and tribes’ inherent right to be involved in matters regarding their citizens, best positioned to know what is in the best interest of children and their families. Wherever Native people govern themselves as sovereigns—or choose to gather and act jointly for their common well-being—a community exists. Communities act jointly for the common good through government institutions or private non-profit organizations.
Our Advocacy and Social Justice Values
- We advocate for equitable access to resources and funding that are long-term, sustainable, and culturally responsive for Native children, families, and tribal nations.
- We educate federal, state, and tribal policymakers.
- We are willing to confront racism, bias, and cultural incompetence.
- We are committed to compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).
- We are committed to win-win solutions that benefit tribal children, families, and tribal nations, including tribal-state and tribal-federal relations.
- We promote effective governance in tribal child welfare services.
- We advocate for the preservation of Native families.
- We advocate for the preservation and use of tribal cultures and the protective factors they provide for the well-being of Native children and families.
Each year, our policy priorities identify the issues and goals that will guide our efforts and focus our resources during the calendar year. These annual priorities are developed with input from our board, staff, and tribal constituents. They reflect our mission, ongoing commitments, and assessment of opportunities to improve programs and services for Native children and families. Our Child and Family Policy Update is our primary communications vehicle for informing tribal leaders, tribal and urban child welfare advocates, and the public about policy efforts underway and child welfare policy change opportunities at the federal, state, and tribal levels. It includes information on proposed changes in federal legislation, administrative policy, budgets (appropriations), and important litigation.
NICWA does our public policy work in partnership with our membership, Native communities, families and youth, tribal leaders, tribal human service agencies, urban Native programs, mainstream child advocacy groups, private foundations, and state and federal agencies.
We seek to provide advocates with the opportunity, skills, and information needed to improve policies and increase funding to support culturally appropriate services for Native children and their families. We inform advocates and policymakers, facilitate public discussion about the needs of Native children, and bring together diverse people and institutions to develop the necessary policy solutions. We advocate for change in all realms of policy development, including legislative, administrative, budgetary, and judicial. We believe that there is no challenge that can’t be met with the right people working together, and we seek to educate others on the most effective approaches to working effectively with tribal nations and communities.
Child and Family Policy Update
Read the latest policy update to learn about NICWA’s current policy work and what you can do to take action.
- Federal Legislation
- Federal Regulations and Guidelines
- Federal Appropriations (Funding)
Existing Federal Laws, Policies, and Funding Impacting the Well-Being of Native Children
This section provides current law, administrative policy, and court decisions that are key to the implementation of ICWA and tribal child welfare programs.
Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, ICWA Regulations, and ICWA Guidelines
The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was enacted in 1978 in response to large numbers of American Indian and Alaska Native children being removed from their families and tribes. Studies revealed that large numbers of Native children were being separated from their parents, extended families, and communities by state child welfare and private adoption agencies. Estimates revealed that 25%–35% of all Native children had been removed; of these, 85% were placed in non-Native homes—oftentimes when fit and willing relatives or Native families were available.
Congressional testimony documented the devastating impact this was having upon Native children, families, and tribes. Congress’s intent in enacting ICWA was to “protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families” (25 U.S.C. § 1902).
- ICWA Regulations The first-ever comprehensive federal regulations addressing ICWA implementation for state courts and public and private agencies were published by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in June 2016. These regulations provide clarification of many of the key requirements under ICWA and are legally binding. NICWA and the Native American Rights Fund created the ICWA Regulations Summary to briefly describe key provisions of the regulations.
- ICWA Guidelines The Bureau of Indian Affairs published revised guidelines in December 2016 entitled Guidelines for State Courts in Indian Child Custody Proceedings. These are not legally binding and were the first revisions since 1979. NICWA created Summary of the 2016 ICWA Guidelines to provide practitioners with descriptions of key provisions.
Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare Services: Title IV-B, Subpart 1 of the Social Security Act
This program provides grants to states and tribal nations for programs directed toward the goal of keeping families together. The grant funds support preventive and supportive services so that, if possible, children will not have to be removed from their homes. If this is not possible, the funds can also be used to help children be safely reunified with their families.
Mary Lee Allen Promoting Safe and Stable Families: Title IV-B, Subpart 2, of the Social Security Act
This program provides grants to states and tribal nations for a variety of child welfare services. The primary goals of Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) are to prevent the unnecessary separation of children from their families, improve the quality of care and services to children and their families, and ensure permanency for children by reuniting them with their parents, by adoption or by another permanent living arrangement. The services are designed to help state child welfare agencies and eligible tribal nations establish and operate integrated, preventive family preservation services and community-based family support services for families at risk or in crisis. Other grant funds are set aside for nationally funded evaluation, research, training, and technical assistance projects. In addition, funds are set aside for state and tribal court improvement programs.
Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance Program
The Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance Program helps to provide reimbursement for services designed to support out-of-home care for children until the children are safely returned home, placed permanently with adoptive families, or placed in other planned arrangements for permanency. In FY 2008, tribal nations became eligible to administer the Title IV-E program directly and receive funding with approved plans to operate the program. In addition, $3 million of appropriated funds was reserved for technical assistance and Tile IV-E development grants to eligible Tribes beginning in FY 2009. Tribal nations may also form agreements with states to operate the Title IV-E program through the state’s Title IV-E approved plan.
Title IV-E Guardianship Assistance
The Title IV-E Guardianship Assistance Program (GAP) is a formula grant that helps tribes, tribal organizations, and tribal consortia who opt to provide guardianship assistance payments for the care of children by relatives who have assumed legal guardianship of eligible children. Unlike Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance, the Title IV-E Guardianship Assistance Program is an optional program for states and tribes that operate the Title IV-E program. The program is authorized under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, and funding is contingent upon an approved Title IV-E plan to administer or supervise the program’s administration. Like Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance, tribes may apply to operate the GAP program directly through the federal government or through an agreement with their state if the state has opted to administer this program.
Family First Prevention Services Act
This law amends Title IV-E of the Social Security Act to reimburse states and tribes that administer the Title IV-E programs to support services that help children at risk of removal and placement in out-of-home care from being removed and helping children be reunified after a removal. Among the prevention services that are eligible for reimbursement are (1) mental health and substance abuse prevention and treatment services and in-home parenting skill-based programs, (2) foster care maintenance payments for children with parents in a licensed residential family-based treatment facility for substance abuse, and (3) payments for evidence-based kinship navigator programs. Tribes may also operate this program through an agreement with a state with an approved plan. The requirements for tribes that operate the program directly through the Department of Health and Human Services are different and offer more flexibility than for tribes that operate the program through an agreement with a state.
Compilation of Title IV-B and IV-E of the Social Security Act
A copy of Title IV-B and Title IV-E of the Social Security Act statute which contains program and other legal requirements that apply to tribes and states that operate these programs can be found here.
Children’s Bureau Child Welfare Policy Manual
The Child Welfare Policy Manual contains policy questions and answers applicable to federal child welfare programs operated by the Children’s Bureau. This includes various federal programs that tribes and tribal organizations are eligible to operate, such Title IV-B and Title IV-E of the Social Security Act (see above). The Child Welfare Policy Manual also provides references to various program policy issuances that the Children’s Bureau has disseminated.
Indian Child Protection and Family Violence Prevention Act (P.L. 101-630)
The Indian Child Protection and Family Violence Prevention Act was enacted into law in 1990 and provides requirements for the reporting and investigation of child abuse on tribal lands. The law contains requirements that define how child abuse should be reported and investigated involving tribal, federal, and local law enforcement and agencies. It also contains background check requirements (character investigations) for tribal and federal staff that have control over or contact with Indian children and requirements for criminal background checks of tribally licensed foster homes. In addition, the law provides two grant programs for eligible tribes that support 1) treatment services to victims of child abuse and family violence, and 2) prevention efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect and family violence.
Child and Family Policy Update
Read the latest Child and Family Policy Update to learn about NICWA’s latest work in federal legislation, federal guidelines and regulations, federal appropriations, and litigation.