Tribes and Families: Fulfilling the Dual-Promise of Indian Child Welfare Reform

Do laws and policies that enhance the sovereignty of tribal governments reduce family separation through the child welfare system?

American Indian and Alaska Native youth are more likely to experience foster care than any other group in the United States, threatening the survival and viability of both Indian families and tribal communities. Despite legislation to ensure Native families remain together, the long history of forced separation of children from their families continues through contemporary child protection systems. A tribe’s ability to exercise political power to shield families from separation by non-tribal government agencies and secure resources to enhance child well-being may play a key role in keeping American Indian and Alaska Native families together. This mixed-methods study will examine the relationship between shifts in tribal sovereignty and family separation. Edwards and Beardall will begin by conducting a law review that charts shifts in tribal sovereignty since the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978 and focus groups with tribal child welfare experts that explore how they understand and experience tribal sovereignty. They will conduct a series of regression analyses to examine the relationship between tribal sovereignty and child welfare system contact. By examining how the authority and institutional capacity of tribal governments can be leveraged to protect Native American families, this study asks how long-standing colonial, legal, and political hierarchies might be disrupted to address inequalities in child welfare outcomes. In addition to academic dissemination, the team will share findings with tribal leaders and child welfare advocates.

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