Improving the Well-being of American Indian and Alaska Native Children and Families_Page_01The well-being of American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) children and their families is directly connected to the relationship they have with their culture, extended families, and tribal communities. Federal and state child welfare policies and practices have sometimes not well understood or supported these relationships by not recognizing the unique qualities of AI/AN culture and the benefits of nurturing these relationships. The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was a response to the destructive practices in public and private child welfare systems that broke apart these bonds in many tribal families’ lives. Such practices distanced families from the protective factors inherent in tribal communities and culture that can prevent and treat child abuse and neglect concerns.

This brief provides background on the basic requirements of ICWA, an overview of tribal child welfare and court systems, discusses disproportionality and its relationship to trends in ICWA compliance, highlights promising practices in state policy and practice that support ICWA, and underscores the necessity of working with tribal advocates on state child welfare policy change.