Nebraska Indigenous child welfare nonprofit mobilizes to protect the Indian Child Welfare Act
Nebraska Indian Child Welfare Coalition
Looking to provide clarity and mobilize after a challenge to the federal law that protects Native American children’s rights, the Nebraska Indian Child Welfare Coalition (NICWC) will host a convening with regional tribes, advocates, and social services and judicial representatives on April 29.
The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was enacted in 1978 after Congress recognized that more than 25 percent of Native American children were being removed and placed in non-Native homes. The law gives preference to foster and adoptive placements with a child's extended family, then to placements that are able to best foster the child's relationship to their tribe and culture.
Indian Child Welfare Act has encountered more than a dozen constitutional challenges, including the most recent case, Brackeen v. Bernhardt, where a non-Native American Texas couple filed a lawsuit to keep a Native child who was placed in their care. Tribes worry if the 5th Circuit sides with a lower court’s ruling that Indian Child Welfare Act is unconstitutional the case may go to the conservative U.S. Supreme Court.
Nebraska is one of six states that has adopted its own ICWA. However, more remains to be done to uphold the law and ensure Native children thrive, said Nebraska Indian Child Welfare Coalition Executive Director Misty Frazier. Native American children in Nebraska are 2.5 times more likely to be placed in the foster care system than non-Native American children, according to the Nebraska Foster Care Review Board 2017-2018 Annual Report.
“While we’ve made progress as a state and a nation, Native children are still disproportionally represented in the foster care and juvenile justice systems,” said Frazier, former social service director for the Santee Sioux Nation. “There are still a lot of gaps in service, too many barriers and a lack of cultural understanding among caseworkers and within the local court systems.”
Frazier is among several child welfare representatives from the Omaha, Ponca, Santee Sioux and Winnebago Tribes of Nebraska, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Nebraska Appleseed, Nebraska Legal Aid, and other concerned practitioners and service providers who created Nebraska Indian Child Welfare Coalition in 2008 to address gaps in the state’s foster care and juvenile justice systems. Nebraska Indian Child Welfare Coalition offers training on the Indian Child Welfare Act, foster care, and trauma-informed caregiving, among other culturally-focused consultancies.
Nebraska Indian Child Welfare Coalition will host a panel on April 29 with representatives from the National Indian Child Welfare Association, Native American Rights Fund, Procopio Law, and the Winnebago and Ponca Tribal Courts to discuss the Brackeen case. Nebraska Indian Child Welfare Coalition also will have a facilitated discussion in the afternoon to plan action steps on how to protect the Indian Child Welfare Act and strengthen Native families.
“The Indian Child Welfare Act is vital in keeping Native children, families and tribal nations connected. As a foster and adoptive parent of Native children, it’s important to me because culture and family matter for children,” said Nebraska Indian Child Welfare Coalition Board Chairwoman Gwen Vargas-Porter, a foster parent of five and an Omaha tribal member.
The Protecting ICWA: A Convening of Natives & Allies event will be held at the WinnaVegas Casino owned by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska in Sloan, Iowa. The discussion starts at 9 a.m. and is free and open to the public. Registration is required at Protecting ICWA: A Convening of Natives & Allies.
For more information about the Nebraska Indian Child Welfare Coalition, go to NICWC.org.