Does ICWA Apply to Your Adoption?

Happy family sitting on grass in yard with multi-ethnic child and dog

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978 is a federal law designed to protect Native American families after what became a consistent pattern of removing American Indian children from their homes and placing them into foster care with non-Native families.

Michael Belfonte is well-versed in ICWA as an adoption attorney for Kansas and Missouri, and he can help guide you through ICWA guidelines if you are adopting an American Indian child into your family.

Here’s how ICWA may affect your adoption:

The Purpose of ICWA

The purpose of ICWA is to keep Native American children with their families or within their tribe when possible, in an effort to “protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families.”

This allows American Indian families to stay together whenever possible to prevent further fracturing of their families and culture within the tribe.

If You Enter Into an Adoption Opportunity with a Prospective American Indian Birth Mother

The ICWA process will only affect adoptions that involve birth families who are members (or whose children would be eligible to be members) of federally recognized tribes.

Consent will work a little differently under ICWA guidelines than with other voluntary adoptions. To sign her adoption consent, the birth mother must give that consent:

  • After the child is at least 10 days old
  • In writing before a judge (in state or tribal court, or both)

Michael and the judge will verify that the birth mother was provided with a detailed explanation of the full meaning of her consent and that she confirmed she understood her choices before issuing her consent.

The preferences of where to place the child will go in the following order:

  1. With any extended biological family members
  2. Non-biological families within the tribe
  3. Other Indian families
  4. Families with some verified Native ancestry (if approved by the tribal court)
  5. Non-tribal, non-Native families (if approved by the tribal court)

As your adoption attorney, Michael will help to:

  • Communicate with the tribe’s social service program
  • Communicate with tribal courts
  • Ensure that the adoption meets all ICWA requirements before proceeding

Michael will make every attempt to contact the tribal court to notify them of the petition to adopt. If they fail to respond within a reasonable amount of time, then the adoption will still proceed. Most of the time, the tribe will approve the adoption as long as the birth mother has approved of the adoptive family and she is voluntarily placing her child for adoption.

If you are adopting a Native American child across state lines, you must also meet ICPC (Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children) requirements. To learn more the processes of adopting a child with Native heritage, contact Michael Belfonte today.