CDSS – CFPIC Tribal Social Services/Indian Child Welfare (ICWA) Specialist

Who We Are

The Tribal Social Services/ICWA Specialist (Specialist) coordinates closely with the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) Office of Tribal Affairs (OTA) to support the integration of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and tribal considerations into the policy, regulatory and legislative development of California Department of Social Services with a focus within Child & Family Services Division (CFSD) projects and initiatives.

The Office of Tribal Affairs (OTA) seeks to build better government-to-government relationships with the CDSS and California Indian Tribes (Tribes), Counties and Tribal Governments, as well as working with Native American stakeholders.


The Indian Child Welfare Act was signed into law to help ensure Indian children stay connected to their families, cultures, and communities.   On November 8, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed ICWA into law in response to the alarmingly high rates of American Indian and Alaska Native children removed from their homes and placed in foster care. ICWA requires that caseworkers/social workers provide active efforts to assist families, and if removal from the home is necessary, that they identify a child placement with family whenever possible. ICWA provides minimum federal requirements for state child custody proceedings, applying to children who are members of a federally recognized Tribe or are eligible for membership.

Prior to ICWA, studies revealed that large numbers of Native children were being separated from their parents, extended families, and communities. An estimated 25-35% of all Indian children were removed from their homes and placed in foster care, and of these, 85% were placed in non-Native homes. ICWA was established to ensure children and their families stay together. Today, Native American children are still over-represented in state child welfare systems—sometimes at rates up to 12 times their proportion of the population ( In California, Native American children are overrepresented in the child welfare system.

What We Do

The Specialist works in concert with the Department to improve the lives of American Indian Children and families through policy work, coordination, providing internal technical assistance to CFSD, practice guidance, and other related equity work.  Some of the program areas that the Specialist works on:

Provide ICWA practice knowledge and community standards into CARES system development

The Specialist provides vital tribal and practice perspective to the development and implementation of CARES, with an emphasis on the development of the ICWA AFCARS. The Specialist serves as a supportive team CDSS/CWDS team member during meetings with tribal representatives and provides feedback, inputs and CQI for improving the process. Also, serves as member of the Team to spot and assist with the resolution of policy issues that impact the CARES system development.

Assist with policy development including ACL’s, ACIN’s

Assist’s with review of policies and guidance, including ACLs and ACINs and provide technical assistance to the Department from the tribal practice perspective.

Indian Community Standards Work Group

The Specialist serves as an important CDSS team member for the development of Indian Community Standards (ICS) for integration into the RFA policies. The ICS Work Group was developed through Tribal Consultation and convenes tribal leaders and representatives to assist in the development of the ICS.

Technical Assistance Calls

As part of “rapid response” Specialist serves as the ICWA or Tribal Expert for calls convened by CDSS program to respond to issues raised by counties and Tribes.

Tribal Advisory Committee and Tribal Consultation

Serve as integral part of the OTA Team in the development, preparation and implementation of the TAC and Tribal Consultation efforts.

Review and comment on legislative process

The Specialist assists with the review of legislation that directly impacts Tribes.

Title IVE Tribal Agreement Process Development

The Specialist works with the Tribal Title IVE E Team Leads Group to develop guidance and foundational documents for Tribes interested in developing a Title IV-E agreement with CDSS, as well as documents for existing Title IV-E Agreement Tribes.

Statewide ICWA plan and Child and Family Services Plan & APSR

Assists with the development of the first strategic ICWA plan that aims to improve overall statewide ICWA implementation and compliance. The goal of the plan is to improve outcomes and the disproportionality of Indian children and families. The Specialist assists with facilitating Tribal engagement and development of strategies to develop and implement the plan.

Integrated Core Practice Model

The Specialist assist with Tribal engagement to ensure inclusion of Tribes in the development to ensure an ICWA overlay and crosswalk of the Integrated Core Practice Model.