What is ICWA?

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is a federal law that protects the well-being of Native children by upholding family integrity and stability within their community. Passed by Congress in 1978, ICWA ensures children can stay within their tribal community—an essential component of nurturing their cultural identity and ensuring the health and welfare of tribes. ICWA sets federal requirements on the state child custody cases that involve an Indian child who is a member or is eligible for membership in a federally recognized tribe, ensuring that agencies take measures to keep Native children in relative care whenever safe and possible. ICWA is especially important as it sets specific rules designed to ensure Native children and families involved in child welfare proceedings receive culturally appropriate services and protections. Leading child advocacy groups call ICWA the “gold standard” of child welfare policy, and look to it as a best practice for child welfare laws.