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November 2022Vol. 23, No. 9Applying ICWA Principles to All Child Welfare Practice

A recent brief from Casey Family Programs, How Can Child Welfare Systems Apply the Principles of the Indian Child Welfare Act as the "Gold Standard" for All Children?, discusses the many ways that the principles of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) can be applied to child welfare practice with nonnative children, youth, and families.


ICWA was passed by Congress in 1978 to protect American Indian and Alaska Native children and families in response to mass family separation across the country. Technically, the law only applies to child welfare cases involving members of federally recognized tribes. However, the core values and principles of the act reflect current child welfare best practice by requiring efforts to keep children connected to their families, communities, and cultures.


The brief explores four key principles inherent in ICWA and provides considerations to help agencies apply the principles to support the permanency and well-being of all children, youth, and families.


  • Principle 1: Children’s right to their families and communities. ICWA specifically promotes children’s rights to be connected to their extended family, elders, community, and culture and has a higher standard to prevent removal than other child welfare statutes.
  • Principle 2: Active efforts to preserve and reunify families. ICWA’s requirement of active efforts to maintain or reunify children with their families is a higher standard of engagement than title IV-E’s requirement of reasonable efforts.
  • Principle 3: Valuing inclusive and diverse cultural practices. These practices require child welfare professionals to critically analyze assumptions about which family structures or communities best support child well-being.
  • Principle 4: Authentic engagement with tribes. Meeting families where they are, beyond the walls of child welfare agency offices, can help build cross-cultural understanding.


For each principle, the brief includes questions for child welfare agencies to encourage discussion about how to apply the principle outside of just ICWA contexts. Read the full brief, How Can Child Welfare Systems Apply the Principles of the Indian Child Welfare Act as the "Gold Standard" for All Children?, for more information.