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.