INDIAN CHILD WELFARE ACT (ICWA)
“There is no resource more vital to the continued existence and integrity of Indian tribes than their children.”
The Indian Child Welfare Act is a federal law created to protect Indian children in child custody matters. If a child in a custody matter is enrolled or eligible for enrollment in a tribe, ICWA applies, and the child’s tribe and family have an opportunity to be involved in decisions affecting services and placement of the child into a home.
AICRC Family Services offers ICWA support by helping establish familial linkages, referring families to culturally-appropriate resources, providing direct support services, and advocating in court. We want to keep Indian children safe while preserving the rights of American Indian families, providing families with culturally-effective services so they can improve their level of functioning and stay together.
ICWA Historical information
In the 1970s, 92.5% of adopted American Indian children in California had been placed with non-Indian families. This ratio was six times more than that of any other minority. The adoption rate for Indian children was 8.4 times greater than that of non-Indian children. There were 2.7 times as many Indian children in foster care than non-Indian children. These statistics revealed that the American Indian family was being separated at a rate greater than any other culture in the United States. Most of these children were not given the opportunity to grow up with a sense of their heritage and, therefore, felt abandoned and lost. American Indians were losing their identity.
In response to this rapidly growing loss of identity, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was passed by the federal government in 1978. Public Law 95-608 reads: “The Congress hereby declares that it is the policy of this Nation to protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families by the establishment of minimum Federal standards for the removal of Indian children from their families and the placement of such children in foster or adoptive homes which will reflect the unique values of Indian culture, and by providing for assistance to Indian tribes in the operation of child and family service programs.” The ICWA states that whenever an American Indian child is removed from his or her family, active efforts must be made for the child to be placed with extended family, a tribal member, or in an Indian foster home, in that order.
In 1984, 80% of American Indian infant adoptions into non-Indian homes were made without notification to the child’s tribe or the Secretary of the Interior. Six years since its development, the ICWA still was not understood, was not being implemented correctly or was simply ignored. The problem exists today; and with the time-frame of child adoption procedures being accelerated under President Clinton’s new adoption policies, the risk of Indian children being permanently removed from their families, their tribes, and their culture continues to increase.
Currently, the BIA provides funding to every tribe at varying degrees of support based on the child population figures turned in by the tribes themselves. In California, the BIA has worked hard to address the training needs of the counties and state courts about ICWA and use a variety of methods to address this by sharing resources with the tribes, federal and state agencies and private non profits like AICRC.
If you would like to assume a role in helping to sustain the first people of this land, please send a contribution today.
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