Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) Law and Legal Definition

Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) is a Federal law that takes precedence over the local adoption laws of every state and gives Native American Indian Nations and Tribes, including the Alaskan Aleuts. The right to control adoptions includes those that involve their tribal members, the children of their tribal members, those individuals that could become tribal members, or even those individuals that a tribe would otherwise give appropriate recognition to under the terms of ICWA, even though the required tribal affiliation has not yet been formally established.

In any instance where the provisions of any state law might conflict with ICWA, ICWA will always prevail. ICWA recognizes that the role of Indian tribes is critical in the placement of Indian children, and provides that tribes have a legal interest in their children that is even greater than the competing legal interests of the biological parents of the child. ICWA also provides that an Indian child has an independent right to grow up with an active knowledge of its cultural roots and an opportunity to be involved in its Indian culture and heritage. ICWA applies to cases that involve both voluntary and involuntary terminations of parental rights, as well as to the adoption of Indian children or their placement in foster care.

Congress passed ICWA in 1978 in response to the alarmingly high number of Indian children being removed from their homes by both public and private agencies. The intent of Congress under ICWA was to "protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families" (25 U.S.C. § 1902).