Bureau of Indian Affairs Releases New ICWA Guidelines

By: Theodore J. Griswold | Partner | ted.griswold@procopio.com

For the first time since the enactment of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) 35 years ago, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has updated its guidelines for state courts and agencies in Indian child custody proceedings. The new guidelines are a welcome response to dozens of comments and listening sessions provided to the BIA throughout 2014, many of which provided specific suggestions for guidelines consistent with ICWA jurisprudence since 1979.

ICWA was enacted in 1978 after Congress found that “an alarming high percentage of Indian families are broken up by the removal, often unwarranted, of their children from them by nontribal public and private agencies and that an alarmingly high percentage of such children are placed in non-Indian foster and adoptive homes and institutions.” With this purpose, ICWA was adopted to state the strong federal policy that “where possible, an Indian child should remain within the Indian community.” Over the years, this somewhat foreign concept to State courts has been molded and defined through individual cases; however, it has been difficult to get uniform acceptance of the special nature of child custody proceedings dealing with Indian children. These guidelines provide significant clarifying authority for Tribal members, family members and State courts to make the application of ICWA more consistent and its purposes more successful. In addition to the guidelines themselves, the document contains specific examples explaining the purpose and nature of ICWA in real family context.

A copy of the updated BIA’s guidelines for State Courts in Indian Child Custody Proceedings can be found here and the BIA’s website containing the new (and previous) guidelines, the Indian Child Welfare Act statute, frequently asked questions and other helpful resources can be found here.

Ted is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at ted.griswold@procopio.com and 619.515.3277.