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Melissa A. Featherston

How does the Indian Child Welfare Act protect children?

Missouri, like many parts of the Midwest, is home to multiple Indian tribes. Back in 1978, Congress passed a law to help protect Indian children from being removed from their homes and tribes and placed with non-Indian families. The law, known as the Indian Child Welfare Act, was passed at a time when public and private agencies throughout the country were taking a large number of these children from their homes, ostensibly for their own good.

The ICWA sought to "protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families" by setting requirements for child custody proceedings in state courts. It applies to children and/or parents who belong to federally-recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes.

Under the law, if an Indian child is the focus of a state custody proceeding, the child's family and tribe have a right to be involved in the proceeding and in the decisions involving the child. That means that they have the right to intervene in any actions that involve removing children from their tribe. Government caseworkers are obligated to do everything in their power to ensure that the family and the tribe are able to be involved in any proceedings involving the child.

It's important to note that the ICWA isn't applicable to parental child custody disputes or to juvenile delinquency proceedings involving an alleged offense that would be considered a crime if the child were an adult. The law also doesn't apply to children who have reached the age of 18 or those younger than 18 who are married.

Anyone who believes that his or her ICWA rights are being violated should seek assistance from his or her tribe as well as from a Missouri family law attorney experienced with Indian law. For non-Indian families seeking to adopt an Indian child, it's also essential to seek experienced legal guidance, since the laws applying to these children are unique.

Source: National Indian Child Welfare Association, "The Indian Child Welfare Act A Family’s Guide," accessed Oct. 27, 2016

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