In response to decades of efforts to eradicate Native American families by removing their children from their homes, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978 was enacted by the United States Federal Government to stop these unwarranted removals. ICWA has been in place as a federal law for 4 decades and has been unsuccessful in reducing the number of Native American children in out-of-home placements whether it be by way of foster care or adoption. After investigating ICWA, it was determined that states were interpreting and applying ICWA inconsistently within and across state lines.
On December 12, 2016 the United States government firmed up the law with specific federal legally binding regulations and accompanying guidelines to ameliorate this problem with the hope of finally seeing the Spirit of the Law come to life in real and virtual ways. The state of North Dakota has partnered with a grant supported by the Administration of Children and Families through the University of North Dakota. The North Dakota ICWA Implementation Partnership Grant has set forth the following objectives, goals and strategies to increase the accurate implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act with an ultimate goal of reducing the number of out-of-home placements for North Dakota's Native American children and families.
North Dakota ICWA Implementation Partnership Grant
Overarching Goal : Build model intergovernmental partnerships between North Dakota Courts, North Dakota Department of Human Services - Children and Family Services Division, and all North Dakota Tribal Nations to improve ICWA implementation, with collaboration from various stakeholders across the state of North Dakota including but not limited to the University of North Dakota (UND) - Department of Social Work, Native American Training Institute (NATI), Children and Family Services Training Center (CFSTC), North Dakota Supreme Court, and the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission (NDIAC).
Goal 1: Ensure clear processes related to assessment, communication, and planning.
1. Through stakeholder input and participation clarify processes related to assessment, communication, and planning.
2. Develop a feedback loop in which data feeds new initiatives.
Strategies: UND will oversee project implementation, including prompts to stakeholders, facilitation training for meetings, and data management. We will provide ongoing documentation about data and support stakeholders in responding.
Goal 2: Improve stakeholder knowledge of ICWA standards in partner communities and statewide, increase tribal participation in ICWA-identified cases in partner communities, and promote best practices for children and families in relation to both the letter and spirit of ICWA.
1. Provide training to county child welfare workers, tribal social services workers, and Guardians ad litem.
2. Qualified Expert Witnesses (QEWs) will provide increased representation at county hearings.
3. Tribes will receive appropriate notice and support for participation.
Strategies: NATI will provide a QEW Train the Trainer Curriculum and work with tribal communities to identify QEWs throughout the state. Training by CFSTC will emphasize use of QEWs, tribal notice, tribal/state relationship building, and other data-informed outcomes. CFSTC will provide support for North Dakota Department of Health and Human Services - Children and Family Services Division to update policy and practice language in manuals and directives, and create ICWA resource guides for workers.
Goal 3: Increase stakeholder collaborative problem solving & relationship building for the review, development, & implementation strategies that improve ICWA compliance; use stakeholder input & data to create & implement policy & practice improvements.
1. Stakeholders will work internally and across systems to identify barriers and facilitators to ICWA implementation, and develop and implement new policies and practices.
2. Stakeholders will use data to evaluate system strengths and weaknesses, develop new questions, and use data for Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI).
3. Policy and practice strategies will be reviewed and improved for their impact on outcomes.
Design Teams will be used to facilitate joint problem solving and CQI. Organizations and committees that are vital to cross-system work, including NDIAC, ND Supreme Court, ICWA Subcommittee, ND Department of Human Services - Children and Family Services Division, Tribal Courts and Tribal ICWA coordinators/social services, will support these processes.