Foster Care FAQ: What is ICWA?


This is the fifth post of my Foster Care FAQ Series. You can read the rest of these posts here.

This may not be a common question for everyone, but it is for us. Through all of our licensing training, and all of the books I have read on the subject of foster care, I had never heard of ICWA. The first I ever heard of it was the night of our first placement, as the kids were being dropped off and we were given very brief information on their case and situation. Since then, I have learned a lot about ICWA, and have found it to be a very prominent issue, particularly in the mid-west. Here is my understanding of it so far:

The short answer: ICWA stands for Indian Child Welfare Act, which was enacted in November 1978. Its original purpose is to protect Native American children from being wrongfully taken away from their homes, and put in to foster and/or adoptive homes due to cultural differences, rather than real cases of abuse or neglect. ICWA gives Native American tribes jurisdiction over the state and federal government foster care system.

This is a big concern for us, because all of our foster children are multi-racial, and ICWA may apply in their case. Based on what their case worker has told me, we are under the impression that the Native American foster care system in this area is overwhelmed, and that in most instances they will only get involved if the case moves towards adoption. At this point, the goal for our kiddos is reunification with their birth family, but if circumstances change (which, with foster care, is entirely possible), we would like the chance to adopt these kids. In most cases, when reunification is not possible, being adopted by the current foster parents is what is best for the kids. It is upsetting for us to know that, after possibly years of parenting these kids, they could be taken away from us- a family they know, where they could stay together, and could have permanency- just to be put in another foster home, most likely split up, and who knows what else, just because Sean and I are not Native American. It is also possible that ICWA may not apply to all three children, and in that case they would for sure be separated from each other.

I, personally, am doing research on movements to amend the act, so that it more fully focuses on the original intent and purpose it was enacted for. My biggest reason for this, is that I do not see how the needs of children of Native American descent, are any different than the needs of children of African American descent, of Hispanic descent, of Caucasian descent, who may be placed with families of any race/culture. Foster parents in all situations are encouraged and expected to uphold and respect the traditions of children’s culture. And, in the case of our foster kiddos, there has been no previous connection to a Native American tribe, and they were not being raised on a reservation. It is very complicated, and a lot of the information available I have found to be vague. I do not know if/when ICWA will be applied to our placement, but I am trying to find out as much as I can about it. My number one priority is creating a permanent, loving, stable home and environment for these children- whether that be with Sean and I, their birth family, or somewhere else.

Foster Parenting Podcast has a really good episode on this, with a great interview and first hand accounts of the harm this Act can do in cases of foster children and adoption. I encourage all foster parents to look into ICWA, and research the kinds of recent cases it is being applied to.

Here is the Foster Parent Podcast post and episode (the interview doesn’t start until a few minutes in).

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3 thoughts on “Foster Care FAQ: What is ICWA?

  1. A family in our chruch was a foster parent to a baby who was born in prison. The family was signed up with a group who foster to adopt children born in prison. I don’t know the name of this group or anything like that. But they were taking in children of parents who were in jail. The couple hoped to foster to adopt a baby.They ended up adopting a little boy. They had him from not long after he was born. I think he was in prison with his mom for just a few days. The mom did not want him. So he was placed with this family. He was actually with the family for 2yrs I think. Then the mom was released. She got her son back saying she changed his mind. It lasted less than a week though since she was caught again on drug charges put back in jail losing custody of her son. The family then adopted him.This was about 10yrs ago in GA. That is all the info I know. I did some Google searches and found nothing on any group that fosters babies born in prison. I think these days the baby are more likely to stay with their moms in prison so the moms can bond with their kids.That is all I know on the subject. I do hope to some day foster to adopt. I looked into this too and all I know is you have to take classes go through a process to be approved as a foster parent. There are a lot of foster kids out there who need a home. Most of them though are children. One woman I spoke to on the phone about this told me here in GA there is a wait of about 5yrs for a baby in foster care.

  2. in Pink:1) I don’t know about other states, but in California, once parental rights are terminated, they CANNOT be reinstated. I highly doubt that they can in other states either, as that defeats the purpose of termination.2) Except in very rare circumstances, whether or not to allow visitation after an adoption is totally up to the adoptive parents. Written agreements for visitation are enforceable in California; however, it is up to the adoptive parents as to whether they want to sign the agreement in the first place. I refused to sign a visitation agreement on all 3 of my sons.3) It is against federal law for any agency that accepts federal funds (which is pretty much all of them), to delay or deny an adoption based on the race of either the child or the adoptive parents. Inter-racial adoptions are widely accepted now and any agency denying an adoption because of race faces serious risk of losing federal funds. The only exception to this is for Native American children which must follow the rules of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).4) Generally, in California foster parents are considered on an equal basis with extended relatives if they have had the child for more than 6 months. I was chosen over an aunt for one of my sons because he had been with me for 6 months (since birth).

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