Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)

What is ICWA?

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) (25 U.S.C. §§ 1901 et seq.) is federal legislation which establishes minimum federal standards for state court child welfare proceedings and many other “child custody” proceedings involving Indian children. This legislation affects California dependency, delinquency, guardianship and some family proceedings involving Indian children.

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was enacted in 1978 in response to a crisis affecting American Indian and Alaska Native children, families, and tribes. Studies revealed that large numbers of Native children were being separated from their parents, extended families, and communities by state child welfare and private adoption agencies. In fact, research found that 25%–35% of all Native children were being removed; of these, 85% were placed outside of their families and communities—even when fit and willing relatives were available.

Congressional testimony documented the devastating impact this was having upon Native children, families, and tribes. The intent of Congress under ICWA 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).

Related Information

For more information about California’s implementation of ICWA, please visit the California Department of Social Services, Office of Tribal Affairs’ website.