The Indian Child Welfare Act

Indian children have a unique political status not afforded other children as members of sovereign tribal governments. This political status, as well as the history of biased treatment of Indian children and families under public and private child welfare systems, is the basis for the enactment of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.

The purpose of the law, commonly known as ICWA, is to preserve and strengthen Indian families and Indian culture. ICWA establishes “minimum federal standards for the removal of Indian children from their families and placement in foster or adoptive homes which will reflect the unique values of Indian culture.”

It is through the children that the elders’ teachings, values, languages, unique practices, and traditions are passed on and preserved. ICWA is a federal law; it supersedes state law.

ICWA applies to “child custody proceedings” in state courts. A “child custody proceeding” is defined as to include foster care placements, termination of parental rights, pre-adoptive placements, and adoptive placements.