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What is The Indian Child Welfare Act?

The Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, was developed in 1978 in response to a crisis that was affecting American Indian and Alaska Native children, families, and tribes. Studies revealed that a disproportionate amount of children were being removed from their parents, extended families, and communities by state welfare officials and private adoption agencies. Studies also showed that of the 25-35% of American Indian children being removed, 85% of them were being placed outside their communities or traditions. Instances of abuse and neglect were rampantly reported. 

Congress intended for the ICWA to only be enacted during involuntary custody situations where children had been taken into state custody, but over time courts have expanded the scope of ICWA to apply to all adoptive or custody proceedings — even when an American Indian or Native Alaskan family voluntarily place their child for adoption. This move has created tension amongst adoptive families wanting to adopt a native child and the tribes right to independently intervene and place the child back within the tribe. Currently, each state interprets this ruling differently. For more information on how your state interprets ICWA visit

What do you need to know as an adoptive parent? A key piece of information is that even if a native birth parent has given their consent to place their child for adoption the tribe can intervene at any time, superseding the parental consent. ICWA is in place to maintain and preserve cultural and tribal traditions. That is a responsibility that you, as an adoptive parent, must be able to take on and prove in a court of law. The first step to this is contacting your adoption specialist or caseworker to find out background information about your child and their tribe. This will require more than a simple ask, it requires extensive research. Use this information to make connections with other families who have traveled this same journey in an effort to deepen your child’s connection with their native traditions. 

For more information on ICWA and state by state legislation, visit Adopt US Kids

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