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Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Courts

Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Courts

The five principles of ICWA Courts that frame the “gold standard of child welfare” are:

  1. Judicial leadership;
  2. ICWA data collection;
  3. ICWA training (spirit and letter of law);
  4. Tribal stakeholder collaboration; and
  5. Gold Standard lawyering and social work.

ICWA Court judges lead off the bench in coordination with the ICWA partners (attorneys, agency social workers, and Tribal ICWA representatives) to achieve the spirit of ICWA.

Data Collection informs practice and can measure the impact of ICWA Courts. For instance, identifying the tribal partners who are parties in any particular jurisdiction allows for deeper collaboration and partnership, ultimately better-serving children and families.

The key success to an ICWA Court is authentic Tribal collaboration and partnership. These partnerships foster better outcomes for ICWA families, including decreased time Indian children are in care.

ICWA Courts are home to “gold standard” attorneys, judges, social workers, and tribal representatives. The community of ICWA participants has more focused education and skill-development of the relevant laws. Tribal partner engagement and focused education allow for a culture that is committed to the spirit of ICWA, and increased capacity for the legal side of ICWA practice.

Although ICWA courts are of course child welfare courts, the foremost distinction is that families can expect engagement that is delivered with cultural humility, is solution-oriented, and most importantly with humanity.

Current ICWA Courts:

Below is a map of the current ICWA Courts. For more information about these courts or to be added to the map, please see the contact information below. 

NCJFCJ Resources:

Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Courts: A Tool for Improving Outcomes for American Indian Children and Families

The Indian Child Welfare Act and Active Efforts: Past and Present

Indian Child Welfare Act Judicial Benchbook

Revised Active Efforts Principles and Expectations Publication

Other Resources:

“Gold Standard Lawyering for Child Welfare System Involved Families: Anti-Racism, Compassion, and Humanity,” Sheri Freemont, JD

Family Justice in Indian Country, Court Improvement Program Talks

Contact Information: 

Sheldon Spotted Elk, Tribal Justice Partnership Director, NCJFCJ,  sspottedelk@ncjfcj.org

Adrea Korthase, Senior Program Manager, NCJFCJ, akorthase@ncjfcj.org