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Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)


In 1978, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act (Public Law 95-608, November 8, 1978)

  • to protect the best interests of Indian children,  
  • to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families by the establishment of minimum federal standards for the removal of Indian children from their families, and the placement of such children in foster or adoptive homes which will reflect the unique values of Indian culture, and 
  • to provide assistance to Indian tribes in the operation of children and family service programs (25 United States Code Section 1902).

In regard to foster care, ICWA recognized the tribes’ involvement in the provision of child welfare services to Indian children and required that, when necessary, the preferred placement of an Indian child in foster care be the home of the Indian child’s extended family, or a licensed or approved foster home, as specified by the Indian child’s tribe (25 U.S.C. § 1915 (b)).

Historical Perspective

“The year was 1968 and members of the Devils Lake Sioux Tribe of North Dakota were concerned about the treatment of American Indian children by local county welfare officials. The children were routinely removed from their families and placed in foster homes and for adoption with non-Indian couples. To make matters worse, all of these actions were carried out without consultation with either tribal officials or the Indian community. This chain of events ultimately resulted in the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) a decade later. The circumstances and activities that led to the passage of the ICWA can be understood in the context of relevant historical background and contemporary factors, issues and activities.” — Child Welfare League of America, January/February 1995


The Child Safety Unit is housed within the Child Welfare Policy and Program Development Bureau and supports work being done statewide to promote the ICWA and related Indian Child Welfare activities. Unit staff hosts the ICWA Workgroup and its subcommittees formed to address specific issues as the need arises, such as the Permanency for Indian Children and Youth Subcommittee, ICWA Training Subcommittee, etc. The unit drafts policy directives, promulgates regulations, etc. The unit also oversees the contract with the Administrative Office of the Courts, Center for Children, Youth and Families, for the ICWA Initiative. Staff provides training and technical assistance to tribes, counties and many others on ICWA related issues, including Tribal/State Title IV-E Agreements. The unit also supports the annual Statewide ICWA Conference.

For Additional Information:

Email:  ICWA@dss.ca.gov 
California Department of Social Services
Child Welfare Policy and Program Development Bureau
744 P Street, MS 8-11-87
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 651-6160