Child Welfare & TANF

Child Welfare

The protection of American Indian and Alaska Native children is vital to the welfare and security of tribal life. 

NCAI is committed to defending the rights of these children to ensure they have a happy and fulfilling life that allows them an opportunity to remain in their Native homelands and communities. 

An alarmingly high percentage of American Indian and Alaska Native children have been separated from their families and tribes. These children are often placed into non-Indian foster and adoptive homes, agencies, and institutions. Even today, there is still a continuing pattern of biased treatment that Native families and children have experienced under public and private welfare systems. Yet Native children have a unique political status as members of tribal nations. Respecting this authority, Congress enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act (25 U.S.C. § 1901) in 1978 to guarantee tribal jurisdiction in the placement of its tribal members. 

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) mandates that, except in the rarest circumstances, Indian children must be placed with relatives, a tribal member, or another Native person. It also says the state must make every effort to keep a family together with services and programs. Recent findings, however, indicate that more than 30 states have not been complying with the Act. In South Dakota, Native children make up only 15 percent of the child population, but they account for more than half of the children in foster care. According to an NPR News investigation, the state was removing more than 700 Native children, every year, from their families and tribes under questionable circumstances. State records also indicate that almost 90 percent of these children are in non-native homes or group care.

Tribes continue to advocate for ICWA compliance by the states. NCAI continues to support these efforts by recognizing that Native children are “vital to the continued existence and integrity of Indian tribes.”



The general welfare of American Indian and Alaska Native families is fundamental to sustaining self-sufficiency, investing in a sustainable economy, and preparing a ready and willing workforce. 

NCAI is committed to supporting tribal families in reaching economic security by expanding tribal governments’ opportunities to run and operate their own TANF programs.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a federal block grant designed to help needy families achieve self-sufficiency. Created by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), TANF replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program. Under the TANF structure, the federal government provides a block grant to the states, which use these funds to operate their own programs. The PRWORA also allows tribes to administer TANF programs for their own tribal members. In 2010, there were 64 tribal TANF programs being funded at approximately $182 million of the overall $17 billion budget. Like states, tribes generally have the flexibility to set their own TANF eligibility requirements—to determine what policies will govern mandatory sanctions for noncompliance with program rules, and to determine what types of work supports they will provide to recipients, such as child care, transportation, and job training.

TANF was originally scheduled for reauthorization in 2010, but Congress has issued several extensions to maintain current funding levels. In partnership with tribal leaders and program representatives, NCAI has developed national tribal priorities that include (1) maintaining program flexibility; (2) direct tribal funding; 3) opportunities to negotiate funding levels; (4) increased coordination between tribes and the Administration for Children and Families; (5) enforcement of P.L. 102-477 Compliance; and (6) equitable treatment of Alaska Native tribes. 

NCAI has also established a TANF Task Force that will provide additional recommendations to improve the administration of tribal TANF programs .

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