• This Bright SPOT is under review BY OUR COMMUNITY OF IMPACTED PARENTS and pending approval.

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What is the intervention?

National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges built a toolkit to highlight Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) best practices for use by judges, court staff, attorneys, child welfare professionals, and other stakeholders involved in child welfare cases. This publication was informed by the St. Louis County ICWA Court in Duluth, Minnesota whose intent is to promote tribal inclusion and collaboration to support Indian families in child welfare cases. The baseline of the toolkit is the prioritization of the inclusion of tribes in the child welfare process so that they may best advocate for the children of their tribe. The advocacy begins with frontline workers, who are coordinating and managing Indian families. Ensuring that a child is identified as Indian at the beginning of their case, to ensure ICWA compliance, is critical. Additionally, approaching child welfare hearings in partnership with parents, children, families, and tribes has the power to lead to positive outcomes such as reunification.

What makes it a Bright Spot?

Judge Sally Tarnowski, who presides over the St. Louis County ICWA Court in Duluth, shared that a tribal member stated, “nothing about us without us.” The intentionality of involving tribes from the outset allows the system to better care for children and families involved, as well as continues to push the question of how do we do better? Successful engagement with families has been proven to yield positive outcomes in courts, such as compliance and expanded placement options. Engagement with parents means making sure they can be present at all hearings, and pre-ICWA court cases as well. This consistent involvement has shown families achieving permanency in significantly less time and more likely to close their case with reunification. Clear communication and a welcoming environment in agencies and courts are also key components to keeping families engaged.

What steps can you take?

  • Ask your team: What does the data show about our jurisdiction and Indian children and families? How have we been serving them?
  • Review the ICWA Toolkit and share the publication with your team.
  • Brainstorm ways you can redesign the way you work with Indian children and families in your system.

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