As recently as the 1970s, one third of all American Indian/Alaskan Native children were in foster care, with many adopted by non-Native families. To ameliorate this injustice, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA: Pub.L. 95-608) was passed to preserve families of American Indian and Alaskan Native tribal citizens. Threats to the constitutionality of ICWA led states to legislate state ICWA statutes (SICWAs), confirming a commitment to Indian family preservation through tribal and state government collaboration. No examination of the effectiveness of these state statutes on system entry, however, has been undertaken.
This study examines whether states with ICWA statutes admit fewer American Indian/Alaskan Native children into foster care, and what factors covary to shape system entry.
A population cohort of 249,006 youth entering foster care in 2012 linked through 2016 was developed from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS). 10,306 youth are identified as American Indian/Alaskan Native.
A policy scan of every state’s legislation identified eight states with some form of SICWA statutes. A variable derived from this information was added to the AFCARS dataset. Bivariate analyses and generalized linear models were completed in SAS (v9.4) to highlight relationships between demographic variables, SICWA statute implementation, and reasons for removal.
Bivariate analyses indicate differences in demographics between Native youth in SICWA and non-SICWA states. SICWA youth are more likely to also be White (42% vs 31%) and less likely to also be Latinx (10.7% vs 18.2%). SICWA youth are also less likely to have a diagnosed disability (14.4% vs 20.5%).
In terms of reasons for removal, SICWA youth are more likely to enter for physical abuse (14.3% vs 11.09%) and sexual abuse (4.7% vs 2.8%) but less likely to enter for neglect (62.9% vs 65%) or child behavior problems (5.2% vs 10.8%).
The generalized linear model to assess whether reasons for removal, demographic variables, and residing in a SICWA state predict entry into foster care of Native youth was significant (F=1629.49, <.0001) with an R2 of .1095. Residing in a state with a SICWA statute (b=392.45, t=134.86, p<.0001), being placed out of state (b=69.51, t=9.28, p<.0001 and age of youth (b=-1.30, t=-7.59, <.0001) all have statistically significant relationships with Native youth entry, controlling for all other variables. Gender and removal for sexual abuse have no significant relationship with Native youth entry. Removal for physical abuse (b=-27.97, t=-11.43, p<.0001) and for neglect (b=113.91, t=64.07, p<.0001) both have statistically significant relationships with Native youth entry, controlling for all other variables in the model.
Understanding what factors are associated with entry into foster care for Native youth will inform targeting services, developing programs, and future policy implementation, particularly for ICWA implementation. While not all of these youths are ICWA-eligible, increased likelihood of entry in SICWA states may be due to better attention to identifying Indian children in the first place. Further research is needed to investigate the nature of these relationships as well as other factors that contribute to Native youth entry into foster care.