On Friday, September 23rd, Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA) and Don Bacon (R-NE), along with original cosponsors Representatives Cole (R-OK), Ruiz (D-CA) and Davids (D-KS), introduced the Strengthening Tribal Families Act, legislation designed to assist state and local child welfare agencies with implementing the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which CWLA has endorsed.

ICWA sets federal standards for abuse or neglect custody proceedings involving native children, lessening some of the trauma of removal by promoting placement with family and community.

On February 28, 2022, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear a challenge to the ICWA by taking up the Brackeen v. Haaland case, making the future of this important law uncertain. The Supreme Court will hear the case in November.

The Strengthening Tribal Families Act would enhance states’ ability to conduct outreach to extended family and/or tribal communities. The bill would tie these outreach efforts to a dedicated child welfare funding stream, Title IV-B of the Social Security Act, and gives HHS the authority to help states improve in their ICWA compliance efforts. Title IV-B provides funding for child welfare services including the prevention of maltreatment, family preservation, family reunification, and training for child welfare professionals. This legislation would also require a biennial Congressional report to aid the Children’s Bureau within HHS in obtaining the data needed to further bolster protections put in place by the ICWA.

“The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) has been labeled the “gold standard” in child welfare policy and practice from experts across the field because it requires active efforts to keep children safely in their homes and connected to their families, communities, and culture.” said Rep. Chu in the press statement. “Unfortunately, there is no federal agency responsible for overseeing the implementation of ICWA standards and progress has stagnated. Our bipartisan Strengthening Tribal Families Act will give the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the authority to help states improve on their efforts to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act in a way that is both in the best interests of the child and the best interests of tribal communities.”

Representative Bacon noted, “the Indian Child Welfare Act is an answer to kinship placements for our Native American children, as they are disproportionately represented in the foster care system… Research shows us kinship placement helps children develop a stronger attachment to their extended family and culture,” a timely comment during Kinship Care Month.