Adoption in Vegas, BM Blog

By Adoption Choices of Nevada

A Guide To the Indian Child Welfare Act and Adoption

By Miriam Fuller 

Facing an unplanned pregnancy and figuring out how to put a child up for adoption can feel overwhelming, especially when you are an Indigenous birth parent affected by the Indian Child Welfare Act. Navigating the legal aspects of an adoption protected by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) can often feel like solving a puzzle. However, it is important to know that as an Indigenous person, the ICWA protects your adoption, child custody, and parental rights. This act is in place to protect you and your child, fighting to keep your Tribal family and culture safe. Adoption Choices of Nevada is here to help you understand the ICWA and provide you with support throughout your adoption journey.

Why the Indian Child Welfare Act Exists

Between the 1880s and the 1970s, there were numerous accounts of government mistreatment of Native families and children. Hundreds of Native children were removed from their homes and placed in foster or adoptive care. With what began as wrongful cultural oppression by forcing Indigenous children into boarding schools, the ill-treatment of Native children quickly became a display of racism and government overreach. In the 1950s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs attempted to undo this wrongdoing by implementing the Indian Adoption Project. Unfortunately, the act contained many inaccurate ways to help change the continued mistreatment of Indigenous families.

However, in 1978, after over 90 years of the unjust treatment of Native families, Congress introduced the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). This act ensures Indigenous children are not needlessly and wrongfully removed from their households. It also fights for Native children within the foster or adoptive systems to not be needlessly placed in the homes or institutions of non-Native people. The ICWA ensures that Native peoples remain connected to their Tribal societies, cultures, and histories.   

What the Indian Child Welfare Act Protects and Reinforces

While the ICWA aims to protect Indigenous families, it can be hard to understand what the act explicitly reinforces within the child and family welfare system due to all the legal wording.

However, when simplified, the ICWA protects and reinforces five essential things: 

  1. It aims to safeguard Native families and children from maltreatment within the government and legal systems, especially when relating to child and family rights. It does this by enforcing minimum standards on how the government/legal systems must conduct child custody and parental rights proceedings of Indigenous children. 
  1. The ICWA fights to give individual Indigenous Tribes jurisdiction over all child custody proceedings when relating to an “Indian child.” Within the ICWA, an “Indian child” refers to any child under the age of 18 who is a member of a recognized Indigenous Tribe. 
  1. ICWA uses specified parental placement preferences when finding foster and adoptive parents. These specified preferences avoid the severing of Native children from their Tribe and family culture. The parental placement preferences start by finding and placing the Indigenous child with a member of their extended family. If that is not viable, the court places the child with a family within their own Tribe. If that is not possible,  child placement changes to a family from another Native Tribe. 
  1. The ICWA protects and ensures Indigenous birth parents’ voluntary decision to relinquish their parental rights to their child is indeed voluntary.
  1. Finally, the ICWA enforces that all Indigenous children within foster and adoptive care are provided with all information about their Native Tribe once they have reached the age of eighteen. 

To ensure the ICWA withstands, before finalization of an Indigenous child adoption, all United States child custody court proceedings, including adoption Nevada, must be reviewed. The Indian Child Welfare Act is here to protect the societal, cultural, and historical attributes of all recognized Native Tribes.

What To Do as a Birth Parent Affected by ICWA Who Is Seeking Adoption

What does the Indian Child Welfare Act mean for you and your adoption process as an Indigenous birth parent? It means you and your adoption process will be highly protected. Here are the steps to ensure the ICWA remains upheld:

1) Once you have searched for adoption agencies and chosen one, you must notify your Tribe that you are choosing adoption for your child.

Your adoption agency and government websites will be able to help you locate who your Tribal ICWA agent is. By informing them, your Tribe will be able to be a part of all your adoption proceedings.

2) Work with your adoption agency to create an adoption plan best suited for you and your child.

If you are seeking an open adoption for your Las Vegas adoption, ICWA will fight for your right to one as it helps to improve your child’s connectedness to their Tribe. All agencies within adoption in Las Vegas will fight to uphold your ICWA rights.

3) While making the best adoption plan for you, your agency will help you find an adoptive family based on the ICWA’s parental placement preferences.

However, if you have already found an adoptive family outside of the ICWA placement preferences, you are still able to place your child with them. You must state to the court that you reviewed the ICWA placements and deemed your choice a better parental fit. 

4) Once you have found an adoption plan and adoptive family, you can finalize the changing of your parental rights and your adoption in Nevada.

However, due to the ICWA, you must finalize your adoption in court. Keep in mind, due to ICWA’s protection, if you are pursuing a pregnant adoption, legal proceedings for child custody and parental rights cannot take place in court until ten days after the birth of your child.

5) After finalizing your adoption in Nevada, as an Indigenous birth parent protected by ICWA, you must submit an official adoption decree/court order to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

You must send the decree within 30 days of finalizing court proceedings. In addition, if you want a private adoption in Nevada or any other US state, your adoption decree must include an affidavit. 

Choosing Adoption Choices of Nevada to Help

Your adoption agency, Tribal ICWA agent, and lawyer will help you to navigate all legal and technical aspects of your ICWA protected adoption, so do not worry! You are in good hands! 

After so many years of needless mistreatment of Indigenous children and families, it is essential for adoption agencies to uphold the ICWA. Adoption Choices of Nevada strives to ensure all elements of ICWA are respected and upheld. We want to make sure all birth parents and children, especially Indigenous ones, are protected, cared for, and respected throughout adoption Las Vegas. If you need help with your Las Vegas, Reno, or Nevada adoption or want more information about the ICWA, contact Adoption Choices of Nevada today.  

  • “Adoption Decree.” Adoption Decree | Indian Affairs, Accessed 19 Jan. 2024. 
  • Affairs, Bureau of Indian. “Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).” Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) | Indian Affairs, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Office of Indian Services, Division of Human Services, Accessed 19 Jan. 2024. 
  • “ICWA Guide Online.” FAQ 18: Adoption – A Practical Guide to the Indian Child Welfare Act; Native American Rights Fund, Accessed 19 Jan. 2024. 
  • “Understanding the ICWA.” Indian Child Welfare Act Law Center, Accessed 19 Jan. 2024.