Suzette Brewer
Administration on Children, Youth and Families Commissioner Raphael Lopez discusses the agency's data collection and proposed rule at the annual NICWA conference in St. Paul.

Breaking: Federal Agency Publishes Proposed Rule, Announces Major Grant to Implement ICWA

Suzette Brewer

Signaling continued federal intent to support the Indian Child Welfare Act, today the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published a supplemental proposed rule that will require state child welfare agencies to collect and report data on American Indian children in foster care under the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS).

See the proposed rule here.

According to the ACF, although ICWA was passed nearly 40 years ago, statistical data has never been collected regarding how state agencies have put the federal statute  requirements into practice.

In its 2005 report entitled “Indian Child Welfare Act: Existing Information on Implementation Issues Could Be Used to Target Guidance and Assistance to States,” for example, the General Accounting Office (GAO) noted that no national data on children subject to ICWA was available. Further, the agency noted that whether and how states and tribes work together to implement ICWA directly affects outcomes for Indian children in state foster care systems.

Until now, states have only been required to report race in the AFCARS data. Under the new requirements, however, states receiving Title IV-E and Title IV-B federal funding will be required to collect ICWA-related data on all American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) children in state child welfare systems across the country. The new data elements will also require states to report whether they inquired about a child’s tribal citizenship and the name of the child’s tribe.

The information will be used for several purposes, including assessment of the state of foster care and adoption of Indian children under ICWA; to develop future national policies concerning ACF programs that affect Indian children under the Act; and to meet federal trust obligations under established federal policies.

“We want to improve data to better understand the experiences of Native children in state welfare systems,” said Administration on Children, Youth and Families Commissioner Raphael Lopez in his remarks at the annual National Indian Child Welfare Association Conference this week. “For the first time in 38 years since the passage of ICWA, we are asking the state systems to collect information on the well-being of AI/AN children. It will tell us exactly what is happening to every Indian child across the country.”

Currently, federal law requires state courts and child welfare agencies to consult with the tribes with regards to ICWA-related cases, however, court watchers note the ongoing friction between the states and the tribes over Native children in state custody. Therefore, said Lopez, one of the major purposes in promulgating the supplemental rule is to strengthen tribal and state relationships. “We need this information to help us understand how to better implement ICWA, how to serve the tribes, child welfare agencies, judges and communities.”

“We fund, for example, the Court Improvement Program (CIP),” said Lopez. “We work with grantees that demonstrate meaningful and ongoing collaborations among the courts in the state, the state agency, or any other agency who is responsible for administering the state program under Title IV part B or E and, where applicable, Indian tribes. We need to be better at making sure those connections and conversations happen. It is critical to understanding and bringing into the process the way in which courts engage with child welfare systems.”

Lopez said that another objective is to ensure that the AYCF is analyzing state Child and Family Service Plans, or CFSPs, to ensure compliance with the ICWA consultation requirements.

In his remarks, the Commissioner pointed out that there was a 200 percent increase in state CIPs engaged in training and technical assistance in the three years between 2011 and 2014. In 2011, he said, 12 states received ICWA-related technical assistance and training services through the agency’s Capacity Building Center. By 2014, that number had grown to 32 states. Additionally, 61 percent of CIPs reported tribal-state partnerships related to ICWA, while 43 percent of states reported joint training and resource development.

“We are doing a tremendous amount of work to bridge the work between states and tribes across the country, particularly where tribes are taking over and shepherding cases through the system,” Lopez told ICTMN. “We have a series of supports funded by the federal government to make sure tribes have the support they need to navigate these cases through the system—and we are literally a phone call away if they want any additional training or assistance to make sure the tribes are getting the help they need.”

The increase in requests for technical assistance and training indicates that the states are becoming more cognizant and invested in implementing ICWA. In publishing the supplemental rule, according to agency officials, the AYCF is applying its authority to align with Congress’ declared national policy in upholding the law.

“All of this is good news for ICWA,” said Lopez. “These are all trends in an important, upward trajectory about coordinating the work more closely. People are asking questions, people are saying ‘I need to learn more, we need to do better in the way in which we engage with tribes in our court systems to implement ICWA.’”

To enhance and encourage tribal-state collaborations, Commissioner Lopez also announced that the AYCF has developed a one-time ICWA partnership grant to support states and tribes to learn more about building effective partnerships in its implementation. The grant will consist of four awards of up to $500,000 per year for five years to develop best practices and models for other tribes and states to follow and implement. The Funding Opportunity Announcement for the grant will be posted later this month on the HHS website Lopez said.

In the meantime, the agency will continue to move forward and gather comments for the proposed supplemental rulemaking.

“This data is not obscure,” insisted Lopez. “It’s about a family story. It’s about a narrative. It will be collected through counties, tribes and states which is then given to the federal government.

We urge the tribes to get involved and provide us feedback on how to strengthen our work. We need everyone to be proactive in responding to how we capture that data and tell the stories of AI/AN children.”

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smartphoenixnavajo's picture
Submitted by smartphoenixnavajo on
Geeze, what a thoughtless piece in terms of buzz words and slogans. Always more money thrown at the obvious by everyone, but no money to bring water and electricity to native peoples are "reservations".