Tribal child welfare has a unique history. In the past century, thousands of Indian children were forcibly removed from their tribes and placed in boarding schools where forced assimilation left them unable to speak their Native language or participate in their culture. Indian children grew to adulthood without the benefit of their families or tribes. This has contributed to a significant distrust among tribes and states that continues to affect AI/AN families.1 It is estimated that about one half of the Native American population currently alive were not raised by their parents or were not within their tribe due to the historic practices of removal and forced assimilation.2
Today, many tribes have some form of child protection services and have their own tribal codes, court systems, and child welfare programs. In other cases, tribes receive funding and services from states or counties.3 For non-tribal welfare workers, it is important to learn and respect AI/AN cultural practices in order to provide successful child welfare services to this population.
Since the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in 1978, tribes have a greater voice in child welfare cases, and federal standards have been established for placement of Indian children in foster and/or adoptive homes, and handling of child abuse and neglect.4
Child Welfare Information Gateway
A service of the Children's Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Gateway provides access to publications, websites, databases, and online learning tools for improving child welfare practice.
Foster Care Program Development — Recruitment and Retention of Native Resource Families (PDF, 1 page)
This resource discusses the ICWA and placement of AI/AN children in foster care.
Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)
This Bureau of Indian Affairs resource discusses the ICWA, current events and news, resources, and frequently asked questions around the ICWA.
National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA)
The NICWA is a national non-profit organization with comprehensive resources on American Indian child welfare focused on tribal capacity and child abuse and neglect.
Tribal–State Relations in Child Welfare (PDF, 15 pages)
This issue brief highlights the history of child welfare in relation to AI/AN children and families and looks at ways that states, tribes, and related jurisdictions can work together more effectively to meet the goals of the Indian Child Welfare Act.