Preserving the culture and traditions of Indian children and families

The disproportionate numbers of American Indian and Alaska Native children in our child welfare system persist

John J. Romero, Jr.

In passing the Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, in 1978, the clear intent of Congress was to protect the best interest of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families. Oversight and enforcement authority regarding the provisions of ICWA was left to judges presiding over child custody cases.

Congress found that an alarmingly high percentage of Indian families are broken up by the removal, often unwarranted, of their children from them by non-tribal public and private agencies and that an alarmingly high percentage of such children are placed in non-Indian foster and adoptive homes and institutions.

It’s imperative to preserve the rights, culture, connections, and traditions of Indian children and their families. The disproportionate numbers of American Indian and Alaska Native children in our child welfare system persist almost 40 years after ICWA became law. Consequently, the new ICWA rules and regulations enacted in 2016 promote the uniform application of ICWA and to advance and protect Indian children's best interests.

Our American Indian and Alaska Native children are essential to the security and stability of each tribe. In each ICWA proceeding, the judicial officer and other court professionals should be mindful that children are the heart of the law. Committed uniform application of ICWA and the Regulations will advance and protect the best interests of each child and enhance tribal security and stability.

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges has issued resolutions supporting tribal courts and the full implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act and encourages states to adopt ICWA in its entirety in state law. The judicial and family court judges council has also released the ICWA Judicial Bench Book to provide judicial officers with necessary and thorough information to assist with cases involving American Indian or Alaska Native children by making necessary inquiries at every stage of a child custody case.

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges is committed to working closely with state courts, tribal courts and judges, and organizations like the National American Indian Court Judges Association to achieve full implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

The Honorable John J. Romero, Jr. is president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

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