ICWA: A Guide to the Indian Child Welfare Act

February 8, 2024

By Adoption Choices of Florida

ICWA: A Guide to the Indian Child Welfare Act

By Nicole Hatton

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is a federal law that was enacted to help preserve cultural identity. As a birth parent, it’s important to understand your rights and how you can be empowered during the adoption process. If you were affected by the Indian Child Welfare Act, the circumstances of the child custody proceedings may affect your rights and considerations. Keep reading to learn more about the law’s purpose, key protections for Native American children, and other adoption resources. 

Historical Factors That Led to the Enactment of the ICWA

Throughout much of United States history, Native Americans were targeted by the government to assimilate into mainstream American society. Native Americans were subjected to cultural assimilation and had to adopt Euro-American values. Because of this, many children lost their language, culture, and familial ties. Additionally, Native American children faced higher rates of removal from their homes compared to non-Native children. Legal challenges to discriminatory adoption policies highlighted the need to help Native American children through federal legislation.

The Indian Child Welfare Act’s Purpose and Protections

The Indian Child Welfare Act was created in response to high rates of removal from Native American children from their families and tribes. This act aims to preserve cultural identity and tribal connections by establishing minimum federal standards. It establishes preferences for the placement of Native American children in foster or adoptive homes. Factors taken into consideration include extended family, members of the same tribe, or other Native American families. It also requires tribes to be notified of child custody proceedings involving Native American children. When making decisions on these matters, the child’s best interests should be considered. In order to prevent the removal of children from their homes, state agencies are required to make active efforts.

Emotional Challenges Surrounding the Indian Child Welfare Act

Native American children face fear and anxiety of possibly getting placed in a foster home or adoption outside of a cultural community. These children may have been removed from their families or tribes. Not being with their families can lead to feelings of isolation or a lack of belonging. It’s possible that they could become disconnected from their cultural heritage and develop a sense of identity loss. The trauma of getting separated from one’s family and living in an unfamiliar environment can cause emotional distress or psychological effects. As families navigate complex legal processes, they may experience increased stress and uncertainty. For birth parents, the inability to maintain meaningful relationships can trigger feelings of powerlessness, guilt, shame, and anger. 

Birth Mother Support Groups

It can be helpful to reach out for support during this time. Birth mother support groups are a great resource to help you process your emotions and share any stories. They provide a safe and non-judgemental space for you to share stories and any feelings you may have. It can be relieving to get things off your chest as you process your emotions. Sharing with others who can relate to you can provide comfort, validation and a sense of belonging. Building those peer connections contributes to having a sense of community and awareness. Sometimes, it can be difficult to navigate things on your own. Birth mother support groups can share coping strategies and techniques for dealing with emotions. You can also learn more about legal rights, post-placement issues, and other adoption-related topics. Additionally, they can engage in advocacy campaigns or efforts to reduce stigma and educate others.

However, while sharing stories is a great way to cope and process things, it could also be emotionally triggering. Whatever you decide to share with your support group, make sure that you are comfortable. You can share whatever you would like and if you need to pause or revisit something, that is OK. It can be difficult to revisit your emotions or live through it again. If at any time someone else is sharing a story and you feel uncomfortable or triggered, feel free to step out for a moment. If there are any sensitive topics in particular, communicate with your support group and they will hopefully understand your boundaries. The thought of giving your child up for adoption can be a lot to handle. Take the necessary steps and time that you need. When you’re ready, your support group will be there to listen.

Other Adoption Resources

There are multiple Florida adoption agencies and other adoption agencies in different areas. At Adoption Choices of Florida, we can help you with any questions or concerns you have about the adoption process. Whether you need help navigating an unplanned pregnancy, creating an adoption plan, or learning about your adoption options, we’ve got you covered. If you have any specific questions about adoption in Jacksonville, we are happy to help with that as well. We can also help connect you with a support group that you feel comfortable with. Our adoption counselors are also happy to discuss the Indian Child Welfare Act and how to move forward.