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Tribal Customary Adoption (TCA) is an agency adoption by and through the tribal customs, traditions, or law of an Indian child's tribe which transfers the custody of a child to the care and protection of adoptive parents without the termination of parental rights.

The essential provisions for TCA are found in the California Welfare and Institutions Code §366.24.

CDSS has developed an All County Letter (ACL) to provide technical assistance with TCA.  ACL 10-47.  It is available through the CDSS website or can be found through this link: 


NOTE:  For the purposes of this section the term tribal worker will be used.  However, this individual may also be the tribal social worker, tribal ICWA advocate, tribal ICWA representative, or any title the tribe designates for its workers.

The term county social worker is used for consistency, but may be the state adoptions worker or the private agency social worker.



While TCA is not addressed during the initial investigative portion of a case, it is extremely important that county workers inquire about Native American ancestry.  Placement preferences apply to all ICWA cases or possible ICWA cases.


(PRIOR TO Jurisdictional/Dispositional HEARING)


•  Inquiry regarding ICWA is required by law WIC §224.3(a)

•  When concurrent planning options is explored, TCA must be discussed with the Indian child's tribe as a permanency option for the child should reunification fail.

•  Tribal workers need to be aware that TCA is a permanency option and the county social worker must discuss TCA as a permanency option.  Should the county social worker not raise the permanency option of TCA, the tribal worker should immediately inform the county worker that TCA is a permanency option for the Indian child.

○  The Tribe does not have to make a decision regarding permanency at this time.

The county social worker must include the discussion of TCA with the tribe as a permanency option in the Jurisdictional/Dispositional report or the Dispositional report if the hearings are held separately.  WIC §366.24(b)


By-pass or fast track cases:

•  When there is a possibility that neither parent will be offered reunification services under WIC §361.5(b), then TCA must be addressed as a permanency option prior to the Jurisdictional/Dispositional hearing.

•  The tribal worker should follow the tribe's process regarding decisions for permanency/long-term placement of their tribal children.

•  Only the Indian child's tribe can select TCA as a permanency option.

•  The county social worker should be working closely/collaborating with the tribal worker throughout the dependency process.  It is important that the tribe be able to determine the best placement for the child as quickly as possible to reduce the possibility of multiple moves/placements.



Every tribe has its own process for handling ICWA cases.  Some tribes may have a very formal process in place and others may take a less formal approach to ICWA cases.  TCA is a new law for California and the following information may be useful in assisting and educating Tribal Councils about TCA and in assisting the tribal worker in determining the best course of action:

•  See the tab for tribal leader on this website for tribal leader specific information.

General information re:  TCA

•  A tribe is not required to select TCA as the permanent plan for the child.  Guardianship is still an available option for tribes.

•  The state court judge must determine the most appropriate permanent plan for the Indian child at the 366.26 Permanency Planning Hearing and make those findings on the record.  Even if a tribe selects guardianship as the permanent plan the judge may determine, based on the information that he/she has, that conventional adoption that includes termination of parental rights is the most appropriate permanent plan for the Indian child.


•  Determine which council, committee, or group needs to be consulted regarding their ICWA cases that are in CA State court (for purposes here we will use the term tribal council.)

•  Discuss with Tribal Council the issues surrounding permanency, including the fact that reunification services may be unsuccessful.

•  Placement must be addressed early in the case to prevent multiple moves.  If the child is not in a home where the tribe would consider a permanent placement, those issues should be addressed.  The longer a child remains in a home the more difficult it becomes to move the child to a new placement.

•  Present all pertinent information to Tribal Council and provide them with the time constraints regarding the decision (i.e. upcoming hearing.)

•  Inform the county social worker of Tribal Council's decision.  If the decision is to pursue TCA, then provide that information to the worker in writing.

•  Inform court regarding TCA decision.

•  If the tribe already has a family for the child, decide who will complete the adoptive home study.

•  Things to consider for the home study:

○  Home studies are time consuming to write and very involved.

▪  Do you have the time and expertise to write the study?

○  Why would it be more important for the tribe to do the home study?

▪  You need to get to know the family better and ensure that they understand the requirements of entering into a TCA.

○  Why would you choose to refer the home study to county/state adoptions or a private agency?

▪  No time or enough staff to complete the home study.

▪  Family is well known to both the tribe and the county and it would be quicker to have a designee complete the study.

▪  Family is located too far from the reservation.

○  Things to consider when talking with a family about TCA and what may be asked of them:

▪  This concept may be really new for the family and they may need education.

▪  If there is strong resistance to working with the tribe, the family may be fearful or TCA may not be the best fit for this family.

▪  You may need to help a family understand the need/value of maintaining ties with birth family and the ties to the tribe.

▪  The best outcome for everyone is for both families to become extended family to the children so the children don't have to lose anyone.

▪  Culture is very important for children to help them grow and develop a strong identity, sense of belonging, and sense of self.

▪  Culture and tradition is learned through relationships and connections, not through books and Powwows.




•  Per the All County Letter (ACL) 10-47 page 8-2.0

Consultation with the Indian Child's Tribe

○  Consultation means more than the agency making decisions and "checking in" with the Indian child's tribe.  It is an ongoing partnership and collaboration with the tribe that requires their inclusion and, on many occasions, approval on decisions made regarding the TCA process.  The Indian child's tribe is a necessary part of the TCA process for a dependent Indian child for two main reasons:  A TCA cannot commence unless the child's tribe selects TCA as a permanent plan; and only the tribe can issue a Tribal Customary Adoption Order based upon tribal customs, traditions or laws.

○  There is additional information regarding consultation in this section of ACL 10-47.

•  The Indian child's tribe must be informed that TCA may be an option for the child should reunification with the parents be unsuccessful.

•  The county social worker must consult with the tribe regarding the best permanent plan for the child should reunification prove unsuccessful.

•  The county social worker must inform the court that TCA has been discussed with the tribe as a permanency option at each 6 month review hearing.  WIC §366.24(b)

○  A brief statement that TCA was discussed is sufficient.  If the tribe has stated that it wants, may consider, or will not consider TCA, then that should be included in the report.

•  The child's tribe does not have to make a decision regarding TCA or other permanency options early in the case, but needs to begin to consider its long-term plan for the child if reunification with the parent appears unlikely.  Looking at those options earlier rather than later may assist in finding the best family for the child and in talking through some of the issues that may arise with the governing body that issues the Tribal Customary Adoption Orders (TCAOs).  This process also reduces the number of moves/placement for the child.

•  The county social worker must inquire about the tribe's position on TCA prior to every hearing, even if the tribe has already made its decision.  This inquiry is mandated by law.  If the decision has been made, simply reaffirm the tribe's position.




 •  When reunification appears unlikely, and the recommendation is to terminate services to the parents, it is necessary to revisit the permanency options with the county social worker, including TCA.  The Indian child's tribe is the only entity that can select TCA as the best permanency option for that child.

•  The tribe may select any permanency option:  (WIC §366.26(c)(1)(B)(vi)(II).  NO Tribe is required to select TCA.

○  Termination of parental rights and a plan of conventional adoption

○  Without terminating parental rights, a plan of TCA

○  Guardianship

○  Long-term foster care

○  Another planned permanent living arrangement




•  When TCA has been identified by the Indian child's tribe as the preferred permanent plan, the tribal worker and the county social worker should meet to discuss the plan.  The state court will be notified by the department in the court report, usually at the hearing to determine the permanent plan, the 366.26 hearing.  It is recommended that the decision to select TCA as the permanent plan be done in writing to the department and then the county social worker will inform the court in the next report to the court.  In addition to notifying the county social worker in writing that the tribe has selected TCA as the preferred permanent plan option, the tribal worker may choose any or all of the following options:

○  File a motion selecting TCA as the preferred permanent plan (may want to consult legal counsel).

○  File the tribal resolution selecting TCA as the preferred permanent plan.

○  File a copy of the letter provided to the county social worker selecting TCA as the preferred permanent plan and provide to all parties in the case.

○  Inform the court verbally on the record that the child's tribe has selected TCA as the preferred permanent plan.

•  At the initial 366.26 permanency planning hearing the judge must order TCA as the permanent plan for the Indian child in order to proceed with the TCA.  The hearing may then be continued up to 120 days for the tribe to complete the TCAO.

•  Each tribe will develop the TCAO according to its own customs, traditions and processes, keeping the tribal council, tribal court or tribal body responsible for permanency decisions regarding the tribal child apprised of the status of the case.

•  During the development of the TCAO the following issues must be taken into consideration:

○  Due process - it is important that each party be given the opportunity to provide the tribe with evidence regarding the TCA and the child's best interest.  Evidence from the county attorney, county social worker, the parents, the parents' attorney, the child, the child's attorney, the Indian custodian and his/her attorney (if there is one), and the adoptive parents (and their legal counsel if applicable) may be presented to the Indian child's tribe for review and consideration.  The information may be provided in person, in writing via email or standard mail, or over the telephone.

○  The following items MUST be included in the TCAO:

▪  Legal relationship between the child and the birth parents/Indian Custodian.

▪  Legal relationship between the child and the adoptive parents.

▪  Legal relationship between the child and the tribe.

▪  Inheritance.

▪  Visitation between the child and the birth parents/Indian Custodian.

○  The following MAY be included in the TCAO:

▪  Name changes.

▪  Changes to the original birth certificate.

▪  Ceremonies at which the child must be present.

▪  Cultural activities in which the child should participate.

▪  Any other item the tribe believes is important for the child.

NOTE:  The above list is not inclusive of all items which may be included in a TCAO.

•  For those tribes with tribal courts, the tribal court may issue the TCAO.




It is the tribe's right and responsibility to develop the TCAO.  As the tribe drafts the TCAO it may be helpful to share specific sections of the draft with the involved parties.  This will help keep the lines of communication open and concerns can be addressed early in the process.  Input from the parties MAY BE incorporated into the TCAO.

It may also be helpful to document in the TCAO the parties who were involved in the development and the parties who did not participate and why (i.e., tried to contact the mother and she never responded but her attorney provided input, etc.)

It is important to remember that once the TCAO is completed and ordered by the child's tribe, it may not be changed by the parties.  If there is a significant issue with the TCAO which prevents the judge from affording the order full faith and credit (FF&C), the judge may return the documents to the tribe for reconsideration of that issue.

Filing the TCAO:  WIC §366.24(c)(6)
Once the TCAO is completed, it is filed with the State court 20 days prior to the continued 366.26 permanency planning hearing date.  The county worker will then file an addendum report with the court seven days prior to the hearing.  The report should include the following information:

•  Continued suitability of TCA as the permanent plan for the child.

•  Recommendation of approval or denial of the prospective adoptive applicant.

•  Results of the full state and federal level adoption specific background checks.

•  Any pertinent information gathered during the WIC §366.24 process including the TCAO.

•  Any updates regarding the TCA the agency deems necessary to report, including any concerns or agreements regarding the TCAO.

Continued 366.26 hearing
At this hearing the judge reviews the TCAO and so long as it meets the criteria for full faith and credit, the judge will afford FF&C to the TCAO.

The affording FF&C to the TCAO triggers the next steps in the adoption process.

Expert Witness:

Due to the fact that parental rights are not being terminated, an expert witness is not required.  However, it may be in the tribe's best interest to provide an expert witness to address the benefits and necessity of TCA for that child.  It may be necessary for the Expert Witness to address the fact that TCA is NOT a detriment to the child and that terminating parental rights WOULD BE detrimental to the child and why.




Adoption process:

The child must have been in the prospective adoptive parents' home for a minimum of 6 months following the signing of adoptive placement agreement before the TCA can be finalized.  However, this time may be reduced by one month for every month a child has been placed in the home while in foster care.  (CA-DSS Manual:  Title 22 Adoptions Program Regulations, Subchapter 5 Article 12 Sections 35203 (c) and (d)(1)).

•  Most children will likely be adopted by relative caregivers or their current foster parents; it is probable that the children will have been in the home for a much longer period of time.

•  Due to the fact that the development of the TCAO is specific to the family and child, when a child is placed directly with a family that was selected by the tribe to be the TCA family, there will need to be a period of time where everyone gets to know each other and then the TCAO will be developed.

Signing adoptive placement papers:

•  Adoptive placement papers may be signed after the judge affords FF&C to the TCAO.  It usually takes the county or state agency at least a few weeks to get all of the paperwork together.  Signing this paperwork changes the placement from foster care placement to an adoptive placement.  The paperwork includes:

○  Adoptive placement agreement.

○  Adoption Assistance agreement.

○  All medical, psychological, and educational information the county has on the child.

○  Any non-identifying information the county has about the parents which includes medical and mental health history (WIC §366.24(c)(9)(A-B)).

○  If there is a name change or if the adoptive parents are being put on the birth certificate, then there will be additional forms.  If this was addressed in the TCAO make sure that the forms reflect the decisions that were made.  If there was a decision that names were NOT to be changed in any way and the adoptive parents were not to be placed on the birth certificate, make sure that the VS-44 is not filed or reflects no changes.

•  There must be a minimum of one home visit with the adoptive family and the child following the signing of the adoptive placement papers and prior to the finalization of the adoption (See ACL 10-47 Section 12.1).

Filing court documents for finalization:

•  Some counties may file the necessary paperwork with the court for the adoption finalization.  If this is the case, then at the same time the family signs the adoptive placement papers the worker will also have them sign the required court adoption forms.

•  If the county does not file the paperwork the prospective adoptive parents may either file the paperwork themselves or hire an attorney to assist with the filing.

•  Required forms:

○  Adopt 200 - Adoption Request

○  Adopt 210 - Adoption Agreement

○  Adopt 215 - Adoption Order (The TCAO must be attached to the Adoption Order)

○  Adopt 220 - Adoption of an Indian Child (must be attached to the Adopt 200)

○  Adopt 230 - Adoption Expenses

○  Adopt 310 - Contact after Adoption Agreement NOT NEEDED - Contact is incorporated into the TCAO.


•  When the adoption request is filed with the court, the court will set a date to finalize the adoption.

•  Following the filing of the Adoption Request the agency with the placement, care and responsibility for the child shall submit to the court, a full and final report of the fact of the proposed TCA.  (WIC §366.24(c)(12))

•  For the finalization hearing, the TCA family, the children, tribal worker, and any one the family wishes to have present may attend the hearing.

•  The judge will talk with the family to ensure that they understand the rights and responsibilities of the decisions they have made and that they are in agreement with proceeding.  Once the final documents are signed and the adoption is finalized, the judge will dismiss the dependency case.  (WIC §366.24(c)(14))

•  The family may receive a copy of the adoption order at court or it may be mailed to them.  Make sure that the tribe has a copy for their files.




TCA is a unique permanency option for Indian children.  In conventional adoption, the prospective adoptive family usually goes to the county adoption agency or a private adoption agency to have a home study completed so that they may be considered for a variety of children in the foster care system throughout the State.

The TCA home study is specific to the child and the family who wishes to adopt the child.  It is important that the home study be completed and approved prior to the completion of the TCAO.  If, for some reason, there is a problem with the background of the prospective adoptive parents or if the tribe does not approve the home study, the process will have to be done again if another prospective adoptive family is chosen.  The agreements made in the TCAO are with prospective adoptive family and the child's tribe, unless there is visitation, and then the agreements will include the birth parents and/or birth family.

Many tribal children are placed with their family members or other tribal members who then become their adoptive parents.  However, there may be some cases where there is no identified family.  In such cases working together with the county adoptions worker the tribal worker can review home studies for approved families that may be a good match for the child.  An addendum must be completed for these families prior to their engaging in the TCA process to address TCA requirements and to ensure that the prospective adoptive family understands TCA and is willing to participate in this type of adoption.

The tribe has the right to read the home study of any prospective adoptive family.  The tribe may interview the prospective parents once they have been tentatively matched with a child to ensure that they understand TCA and what may be asked of them during the TCA process.  If the prospective adoptive family refuses to meet with the tribal worker or is resistant to the process then they should not be matched with the tribal child.  (WIC §366.24(c)(1))

Options for home study:

When it has been determined that a child is unable to return to the care of the biological parents AND the child's tribe selects TCA as the best option for the child, the tribe then must decide who will complete the home study.

•  1.  The tribe conducts its own home study, the agency that has the placement and care responsibility shall perform the background check.  The tribe must make the request for the background check(WIC §366.24(c)(2)).

○  The agency performing the background check MUST provide a letter to the Tribe indicating that all individuals in the home 18 years of age or older passed/did not pass the background check, which consists of CACI, DOJ criminal history, and FBI clearances per Adam Walsh.  See ACL 10-47 Section 7.1

○  The tribe's study must include the bio psycho social history of the prospective adoptive family.  (WIC §366.24(c)(1)(B))

○  The home study process is time consuming and very involved.  (Please see the Home Study section of this page for more information.)

○  Need to obtain a release of information from the family to share the study with the county/state social worker.

•  2.  If the tribe chooses a designee to conduct the home study, the studies must be done in consultation with the child's tribe in order to address cultural issues and must address the family's willingness to complete a Tribal Customary Adoption.  Below is the list of designees from which the tribe may choose:

○  The County licensed adoption agency complete the home study.

○  The State Department of Social Services when it is acting as an adoption agency in counties not served by a county adoption agency.

○  Tribe requests a licensed California adoption agency.

Responsibilities of Designees

ACL 10-47 Section 6.0 Subsection 6.3 - What are the responsibilities of the tribal designee?

Tribal designees will be responsible for the following:

•  Working with the Indian child's tribe;

•  Completing the TCA home study using the prevailing social and cultural standards of the child's tribe.  This includes, but is not limited to:  accepting the adoption application and providing all required information to the applicant;

•  Recommending approval or denial of the adoptive applicant to the tribe.  This includes providing a copy of the completed home study to the tribe.

•  Conducting California (CA), Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) criminal background checks; and

•  Conducting Child Abuse Central Index (CACI) and out-of -state child abuse and neglect registry checks.

Additional responsibilities may include, but are not limited to:

•  Supervision of the adoptive placement;

•  Termination of the adoptive placement;

•  Completing the final court report; or

•  The immediate filing of the final court report.


The Tribe has the final approval of the home study regardless of which agency completes the study.