Washington State Implements New Indian Child Welfare Act

The State of Washington has passed into law its own Indian Child Welfare Act, designed to better protect the rights and preserve the cultural heritage of the state’s Native American children who are not able to live with their biological parents.

In the preamble to the new Act, the state declares:

The legislature finds that the state is committed to protecting the essential tribal relations and best interests of Indian children by promoting practices designed to prevent out-of-home placement of Indian children that is inconsistent with the rights of the parents, the health, safety, or welfare of the children, or the interests of their tribe. Whenever out-of-home placement of an Indian child is necessary in a proceeding subject to the terms of the federal Indian child welfare act and in this chapter, the best interests of the Indian child may be served by placing the Indian child in accordance with the placement priorities expressed in this chapter. The legislature further finds that where placement away from the parent or Indian custodian is necessary for the child's safety, the state is committed to a placement that reflects and honors the unique values of the child's tribal culture and is best able to assist the Indian child in establishing, developing, and maintaining a political, cultural, social, and spiritual relationship with the child's tribe and tribal community.

The full text of Washington’s new ICWA can be accessed HERE.

Faring Worse in Foster Care

Youth advocacy and policy experts recently announced a study that shows Native American children are not only three times more likely to be placed in the foster care system but also fare much worse than other children nationally. The phrase “fare worse” refers to reports that show that children of color are treated more poorly than white children in foster homes.

Advocates for these youth are hopeful that new legislative updates such as the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, which Congress passed in 2008, will improve the current situation for Native children. This legislation is considered to be a groundbreaking reform in the foster care system because it provides federal funds to tribal governments so that more Native children can stay in their communities. Under the law, participating tribes are required to match funds if they enter into direct agreements with the federal government to perform child welfare services under the Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance program. But, according to reports, the law does not force tribes to end any ongoing tribal-state foster care agreements, and, tribal officials do not have to immediately establish their own child welfare system if they believe that the current structures of their agreements with states are working well for Native children. The National Indian Child Welfare Association is currently working on ways to empower tribes.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF) is also calling on federal fiscal policy to better promote permanence and well-being for all kids in the child welfare system. According to AECF, in order for the federal government to make a meaningful difference in the child welfare system, it must take a leadership role in reducing racial disparities and require states to disaggregate by race all data on key child welfare performance indicators; set aggressive goals for ultimately eliminating racial disparities; and regularly publish a progress report keeping these goals in mind. Simultaneously, tribal officials are pushing for federal government to work more closely with tribes on foster care matters that directly affect Native youth.

Hopefully, all of these efforts combined will help reshape and restructure the foster care system so that Native children find loving homes and no longer have to fare worse in a system that currently is failing them.