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Baldwin Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Better Protect Native Children and Families

Native children are 2.5 times more likely to enter the foster care system compared to the general population

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced bipartisan legislation to protect Native children and promote the stability and security of tribes and families. The Strengthening Tribal Families Act bolsters a crucial law, the Indian Child Welfare Act (IWCA), that helps create better outcomes for Native youth and rights the wrongs of a history of removing Native children from their families and tribes.

“For years, native children were unjustly separated from their families, disconnecting them from their communities and cultures,” said Senator Baldwin. “We took a significant step forward to address this longstanding problem – but there’s more work to do. My legislation will ensure states have tools and resources to preserve and strengthen tribal families and communities for generations to come.”

"For too much of our history, our children have been under attack. Whether through the boarding school system or the rampant removal of children from tribal households in the 60s and 70s, the resulting trauma and loss of culture is only now starting to be reversed thanks in part to the Indian Child Welfare Act," said Chairman Tehassi tasi Hill, from the Oneida Nation. "The Strengthening Tribal Families Act will assist States to better implement ICWA, which in turns allows us to work together with our partners here in Wisconsin to create better outcomes for our children. I want to thank Senator Baldwin for introducing this important legislation and her tireless support for the Oneida Nation and tribes throughout Wisconsin."

Congress enacted the ICWA in 1978 to address decades of state and local policies that intentionally separated Native children from their families and tribal communities. The law puts additional protections in place to ensure Native children are not removed from their families due to overt or implicit bias against Native parents, Native relatives, and tribal communities.

Before the ICWA passed, Native American children were removed from their families and communities at alarming rates – according to the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), 25%-35% of all Native children were being removed, and 85% of those children were placed outside of their families and communities - even when fit and willing relatives were available. 

While ICWA has dramatically reduced the rate of Native children being removed from their families and culture, implementation varies significantly by state and progress has stalled. Native children are still two and a half times more likely to enter the foster care system compared to the general population.

The Strengthening Tribal Families Act seeks to improve states’ implementation of the ICWA by directing the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to establish a technical assistance plan to help states develop and implement strong ICWA implementation plans. Specifically, it directs the ACF to:

  • Help state and county child welfare agencies identify challenges with their ICWA implementation plans; and
  • Provide evidence-based technical assistance to help shore up any weaknesses found based on each state’s unique interaction with ICWA.

In the House, Representatives Don Bacon (R-NE-2) and Judy Chu (D-CA-38) introduced companion legislation.

A one-pager on the legislation can be found here.