After a multi-year tribal effort to make this Act a reality, Governor Chris Gregoire has signed the Washington State Indian Child Welfare Act (WICWA) into law. AAIA has worked closely with Washington state tribes on Indian child welfare issues for many years and we believe this is an important step forward in the ongoing efforts to promote the safety and well-being of Indian children and families.
WICWA has two main purposes. First, it codifies in Washington law the main provisions of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). This helps to make sure that state courts, attorneys and others involved with the state legal system incorporate ICWA protections for Indian children, families and tribes into their everyday practice. AAIA has long been involved in Indian child welfare advocacy. Studies and efforts by the AAIA were the catalyst for the enactment of the ICWA in 1978.
Second, WICWA clarifies how the federal law should be implemented and expands upon its protections. Among the most meaningful additions are provisions which define important legal terms, such as “active efforts,” “best interests,” and “qualified expert witnesses,” modify the placement preferences and improve procedures for identifying Indian children, including recognizing tribal decisions on membership as conclusive.
AAIA provided technical legal assistance to Washington tribal leaders and attorneys drafting and advocating for WICWA. WICWA builds upon previous tribal efforts to implement ICWA in Washington State which AAIA has assisted, including negotiation of a landmark tribal-state Indian child welfare agreement with the state, incorporation of provisions in the agreement into state practices and procedures, and legislation requiring the state to recognize tribally-licensed foster homes.
WICWA will help to advance the central goals of ICWA – namely to keep Indian families together and to ensure placement with extended family or tribal members whenever possible.