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October 2014Vol. 15, No. 9Helping CASAs Advocate for Native Children

A new publication, Supporting Native Children: A Guide for CASA/GAL Advocacy in State Courts, explains the unique aspects of representing the best interests of a Native American child. The booklet is specifically designed to support the effective practice of volunteer court-appointed special advocates (CASAs) or guardians ad litem (GALs) who lacks Tribal affiliation or familiarity with the history, political status, cultural values, and practices of Tribal Nations. The booklet, produced by Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, provides detailed guidance on fulfilling a volunteer's responsibilities when advocating for the best interests of a Native youth entering, currently experiencing, or exiting foster care.

Basic information about the history of removing Indian children from their homes and their current over-representation in child welfare is presented, followed by the background and major provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The process of determining the child's legal status as an Indian child also is explained, as well as the benefits of Tribal membership for an eligible child.

The booklet explains some ways that CASAs can promote State compliance with ICWA, such as asking pertinent questions at each stage of the case to ensure that court and State agency personnel are taking the necessary steps to serve the best interests of the child. Questions for CASAs to ask include: 

  • Is the child of Native heritage?
  • If the child is of Native heritage, is he or she enrolled or eligible for enrollment in a federally recognized Tribe?
  • If the child is enrolled or eligible for enrollment, are the ICWA requirements for notice and placement being followed?
  • Is the child eligible for Tribal services through the Tribe or other Federal Indian services such as Indian Health Services and educational services?
  • Will potential foster placements support the cultural well-being of the child?
  • If the child is in out-of-home care, is he or she offered opportunities to feel connected to his or her Tribal community, such as receiving newsletters from the Tribe or participating in Tribal activities, including pow wows, dances, or language classes?  

A worksheet to aid in collecting pertinent information about the child's Tribe, links to additional resources and information, and an extensive bibliography are included. The booklet is available for download here: (12 MB)