Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is a federal law enacted in 1978 that seeks to keep Native American/indigenous children with Native American/indigenous families. The ICWA was passed after a crisis arose underlining that most Native children were being separated from their families by private adoption agencies and child-welfare services to be placed with non-native families. Studies showed that before the passage of ICWA, 75% to 80% of Native American families saw one of their children be placed in the foster care system. The ICWA was adopted to address the devastating impact upon Native American children, who were oftentimes placed in non-native families. Under the ICWA, the intent of Congress was to “protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families” (25 U.S.C.§1902). The main goal of the Act is to allow Native American children to stay connected to their families and tribes, and most importantly their culture.

The Act establishes specific rules and standards for the removal of Native American children and provides guidelines for the placement of Native American children in foster or adoptive homes, emphasizing the importance of the opportunity for the children to grow up in a Native American cultural setting.

[Last updated in March of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]