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Tips for Native families navigating the child welfare system

By Kendra Lowden, CPN Indian Child Welfare Foster Care and Adoption Specialist

For many families involved in the child welfare system, accessing family support services and navigating court processes requires determination. Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s FireLodge Children & Family Services is involved in every child welfare case involving Citizen Potawatomi children across the United States. We answered some common questions to help those impacted by foster care and adoption.

What is ICWA?

ICWA stands for the Indian Child Welfare Act, which is a federal law passed in 1978 in response to the alarmingly high number of Indian children being removed from their homes by both public and private agencies. 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). ICWA sets federal requirements that apply to state foster care, guardianship, termination of parental rights, and adoption proceedings involving a Native American child who is a member of or eligible for membership in a federally recognized tribe.

How do I know if ICWA applies to a case?

Native American children involved in state foster care, guardianship, termination of parental rights or adoptive proceedings are covered by ICWA. Custody disputes between parents, juvenile delinquent proceedings and cases heard in tribal court are not subject to ICWA.

What happens in an ICWA case?

States have to make several considerations in ICWA cases. These include providing families active efforts to prevent removal of children, promoting reunification efforts and finding culturally appropriate placements for children. They must also notify the child’s tribe and family while fully involving them in the court proceedings.

What can a person do if the state is not following ICWA?

Concerned parties should contact the child’s tribe. They should share relevant information about the family to ensure the tribal child welfare worker is fully informed of the situation. Remember — tribal child welfare programs make recommendations to the court but may not be able to change case decisions. Those in need of legal advice should contact a private attorney or a local legal aid clinic.

Can children be returned to their parents after being placed in foster care?

Parents who become involved with the child welfare system often demonstrate incredible survival skills in their efforts to provide for themselves and their children, despite serious traumas and negative generational family patterns. Child welfare case goals are almost always to reunite children with parents, and many families successfully reunify. Parents are assigned a case worker to guide and support them through the process. They are provided access to the tools and services they need in order to be successful. Common goals that must be achieved before considering reunification include stable income, safe housing, substance use assessments, maintaining sobriety and completing parenting classes. While assistance is offered, parents also have to be advocates for themselves and for their children.

For more information about FireLodge Children & Family Services, call 405-878-4831 or visit facebook.com/CPNfirelodge.