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November 2009Vol. 10, No. 9Giving Indian Children a Voice in Court Proceedings

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) has increased Tribal control over the adoption and foster care of Native American children. While the Act recognizes a role for children's wishes in dependency court hearings, case law often ignores the perspectives of youth on issues impacting their well-being. 

A recent article, "The Voice of the Indian Child: Strengthening the Indian Child Welfare Act through Children's Participation," by Barbara Atwood, illustrates specific ICWA provisions as well as norms of international and Tribal law that acknowledge the potential for children's participation in State proceedings. According to the author, increased involvement in dependency court hearings can benefit both the youth and the participants in the decision-making process.

In an effort to address the specific needs of Native American children and their families, the author explores ways to strengthen Indian children's right of participation in legal processes determining their future placements. Special attention is also given to the potential consequences of expanding such participation and potential challenges faced by children's representatives. 

The article was published in the Arizona Law Review, Vol. 50(127), and can be downloaded from the website: (299 KB)

Related Items

The Tribal Law and Policy Institute's Tribal Court Clearinghouse offers a comprehensive listing of resources on child abuse and neglect, including those that address child witnesses to domestic violence, as well as ICWA issues. The Institute has worked extensively with issues relating to child victimization and the development of Tribal-specific resources and strategies to address child maltreatment. Visit the Institute website to access the links:

An online booklet for families released by the Office of Ombudsperson in Minnesota highlights the requirements of ICWA, answering questions from families and providing comprehensive information on permanency timelines for out-of-home placement of Indian children. Access A Family Guide to the Indian Child Welfare Act, by Michael Hogan and Dawn Blanchard:  (73 KB)