The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was enacted by Congress in 1978 in response to the alarming number of American Indian children who had been removed from their families and placed in non-Indian homes, isolated from their tribe, their history, and their culture.
ICWA sets federal requirements for state or private agencies related to the removal and placement of Native American children who are members of or eligible for membership in a federally recognized tribe. These requirements are stricter than standard requirements for removal.
According to the law (25 U.S. Code § 1902), “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.”
Forty years later, American Indian and Alaska Native children are overrepresented in foster care at a rate of more than 2.5 times their rate in the general population in the United States, according to the Children’s Bureau. Montana is among those states. In fact, according to the National Council of Juvenile Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), Montana’s rate of American Indian children in foster care is 3.7 times as high as the rate of Caucasian children.
Such data have prompted calls for national attention to ICWA compliance. In addition, in June 2016, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs released new final regulations governing state court and agency child custody proceedings to ensure uniform compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. The new regulations took effect December 2016.
In Montana, CIP is participating in the creation of a tribal-state judicial forum, similar to those in other states. The idea was first discussed during the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes’ ICWA conference in September 2015. The purpose of ICWA forums is to bring state and tribal judges together to discuss issues that cross jurisdictions in child welfare cases, with the goal of improved communication and collaboration.
In addition to the Montana tribal-state judicial forum, CIP assists the tribal Court Improvement Program director of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes in promoting CSKT’s annual ICWA conference. CIP helps with outreach to state attorneys, judges, and CASA advocates. The conference is sponsored by CSKT and is held at the KwaTaqNuk in Polson.