April 18, 2016

Indian Child Welfare Act Data to Finally be Recorded by ACF

Phoenix Mikilas Meyers

The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) collects demographic and case-specific information on children who are in foster care or adopted, yet has never collected Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) related data on American Indian and Alaska Native children in child welfare systems. A recent proposal may change this and increase the efficiency of ICWA.

ICWA was enacted in 1978 to address the widespread separation of large numbers of Native American children from their families and tribes. ICWA allows tribes to be notified when Indigenous children are placed in the foster care system, in turn giving the tribe a chance to intervene in state proceedings. Furthermore, placement preference for the child is given to extended family or tribal families.

ACF is proposing to require state title IV-E agencies to collect and report additional data elements related to ICWA in the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS). This is long overdue, and can ultimately help address why Native American children continue to be drastically overrepresented in foster care.

Upon ICWA’s implementation Congress found that “there is no resource that is more vital to the continued existence and integrity of Indian tribes than their children.” ICWA’s purpose is to protect the rights of Native American children to live with their families, to foster continued tribal existence and to facilitate permanency for children, families, and tribes.

Native American children continue to be overrepresented in foster care, where they represent two percent of all children in foster care, but only make up one percent of the total child population. Some states are worse than others, in South Dakota for example, Native Americans comprise half of all children in foster care even though they only represent 13 percent of the state’s child population.

If the proposal is successful, AFCARS would collect statistical data which has never been traced before, including the child’s tribal citizenship and the name of the child’s tribe. This new reporting system could provide the mechanism to assure the success of ICWA.

Collecting ICWA related data will enhance the welfare of Native American children and thereby help preserve the most vital resource for restoring the community’s integrity.

Native American children continue to be overrepresented in foster care, where they represent two percent of all children in foster care, but only make up one percent of the total child population

The ACF intends to use the data to accomplish the following five goals:

First, ACF plans to use the ICWA related data to address the unique needs of Native American children in foster care or adoption, and their families, by clarifying how the ICWA requirements affect placement of Native American children.

Second, ACF will assess the current state of adoption and foster care programs and relevant trends that affect Native American families, considering Native American children are overrepresented at higher rates than any other racial or ethnic group.

Third, they will use the data to improve training and technical assistance to help ensure that states comply with ICWA.

Fourth, ACF plans to develop future national policies concerning its programs, and will use the data to help align performance measures, build an evidence base that informs policy and practice, and better ensure that federal funds are being directed in a way that delivers better results for Native American families.

Lastly, they plan to inform and expand partnerships across federal agencies that invest in Indian families and that promote resilient, thriving tribal communities through initiatives.

Collected data will illuminate the welfare of indigenous children in the foster care system and adoption rates. Knowing this information will help to construct future federal policies that can improve ICWA, and in turn improve the native community.

The new system can help eliminate tension between tribal and state governments that arises when child welfare agencies consult with tribes regarding ICWA cases. Fluidity and cooperation between state and tribal agencies is paramount to the success of ICWA.

The Lakota People’s Law Project views the ACF’s proposal as a small step in the right direction toward reconciliation and the empowerment of Native American communities.