In 1978, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which was meant to keep Native American families together, after foster care and adoption practices had seen thousands of Native children taken from their families, ancestral lands and culture to be placed in non-native homes. That law created a system of “preferred placements” for Native children who enter care. The first choice is to place children with family members, followed by members of the same tribe and finally Native foster parents from other tribes. The last resort is placement in non-native homes.
But the federal government has never compelled states to share how well they satisfy that “preference,” leaving little or no data to indicate who is doing a good job placing Native children in Native homes.
The reporting that does exist is spotty at best.
In 2005, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) surveyed all 50 states and Washington D.C. about their ability to identify Native children in the system who were subject to ICWA in 2003.
“Only five states—Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Washington—were able to provide these data,” according the GAO report.
It doesn’t appear that reporting on ICWA compliance improved much in the subsequent years.
In 2015, Casey Family Programs, one of the largest charitable foundations in all of child welfare, tried to ascertain ICWA compliance in a brief entitled “Measuring Compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act.”
“Although cross-jurisdictional and collaborative efforts are emerging, compliance measurement remains characterized by relatively small, idiosyncratic efforts,” the thin report reads. “Empirical study results are scattered, inconsistent, and highly specific to the state and jurisdiction being examined.”