Explaining the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) has been in the news lately, due to a South Carolina Supreme Court ruling to return baby Veronica to her birth father, who is a Native American. Adoption education is an important aspect of the adoption journey, so today’s blog post will go through the history of ICWA, and explain how the act applies to adoption. Much of the below information below is from the Infant Adoption Awareness Training Program manual, which was written by Spaulding for Children.

ICWA was passed in 1978, and under the act, Native American tribes were granted extensive jurisdiction in child welfare cases involving Indian children. The act recognizes “that there is no resource that is more vital to the continued existence and integrity of IndianTribes than their children.”

ICWA “established minimum standards for the removal of Indian children from their families and placement of such children in foster or adoptive homes which will reflect the unique values Indian culture.”

In any involuntary proceedings in State court, where the court knows or has reason to know that a Native American child is involved, the party seeking the foster care placement of, or termination of parental rights to, a Native American child must notify the parent, or custodian and the Native American child’s tribe, or if the tribe is unknown, the Secretary of Interior.

Extensive jurisdiction in child welfare cases involving Native American children is given to Native American Tribes including:

– Identification of Native American children by the state child welfare agency.

– Native American parents and Tribes have the right to notice of, and to intervene, in State proceedings involving Native American children.

– Special preference for placement of Native American children with (1) a member of the child’s extended family, (2) other members of the Native American child’s tribe, or (3) other Native American families as as specified in the law, or (4) a different order of preference if ordered by Tribal resolution.

– Active efforts to prevent the breakup of the Native American family, including use of Tribal community services and culturally appropriate programs

– Use of Tribal courts in child welfare matters. Tribes have the right to intervene in State proceedings, or have the proceedings transferred to the jurisdiction of the Tribe or to decline such transfer.

All states are required to comply with this law in their child welfare practices. Please contact your adoption attorney for more information on ICWA. You may also contact Adoption STAR for more information by email or toll-free at 1(866)691-3300.