The 1978 act reinforced guardrails to prevent social workers from reflexively removing Indian children and judges from terminating parental rights. No national databank tracks the law’s cases. Indian children still enter foster care at disproportionately high rates. But in districts like Minneapolis and Los Angeles, which have judges, lawyers and social workers trained in Indian cultural sensitivities, the law has significantly helped reunite families.
Indeed, the pillars of the law — giving services to shattered families to avoid prolonged foster care; placing children with relatives rather than strangers; acknowledging cultural identity — have been called a “gold standard” by leading child welfare agencies.