Strengthening Tribal Families Act: Safeguarding Native Children and Cultures

The Strengthening Tribal Families Act of 2023 is a significant legislative step toward protecting Native American children and preserving their cultural heritage. Introduced in the 118th Congress, this bill aims to enhance compliance of Children’s Protective Services with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA), which establishes federal standards for the removal and placement of Indian children in foster or adoptive homes. Our CPS defense team encounters ICWA cases here in Michigan often

Key Provisions of the Act:

  1. State Compliance Requirements:
    • The ICWA mandates that Michigan and other states adhere to minimum federal standards when handling child welfare cases involving Native American children.
    • The Strengthening Tribal Families Act reinforces this by requiring states to develop plans ensuring compliance with ICWA standards.
    • These plans cover CPS services and the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program.
  2. Measuring Compliance:
    • The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Department of the Interior collaborate with Indian tribal organizations and states.
    • Together, they create a memorandum of understanding outlining factors for measuring ICWA compliance.
    • These factors assess state strengths and highlight areas for improvement in implementing ICWA, including rapid tribal notice of state child custody proceedings.
  3. Biennial Reports to Congress:
    • The bill directs DHHS to submit biennial reports to the United States Congress.
    • These reports provide insights into child and family service programs, highlighting successes and identifying areas for enhancement

Historical Context and Impact:

The bill acknowledges the painful history endured by Native American children. For decades, they faced removal from tribal households through practices like the boarding school system and other traumatic experiences. The resulting loss of culture and identity has reverberated through generations. The state of Michigan has its own set of ICWA regulations directed to Children’s Protective Services. 

Tehassi Hill, chair of the Oneida Nation, captures the importance of this legislation. He emphasizes that tribal children have been under attack for too long. Thanks in part to the Indian Child Welfare Act, we are witnessing a gradual reversal of this trend. By strengthening compliance and promoting cultural preservation, the Strengthening Tribal Families Act seeks to ensure a brighter future for Native American children.

The Strengthening Tribal Families Act represents a crucial step toward healing historical wounds and safeguarding the well-being of Native American children. As we move forward, we honor their resilience and protect their right to thrive within their tribal communities and cultural contexts.