ICWA QEW Opinion in the Minnesota Supreme Court

Opinion

The question of what Qualified Expert Testimony (QEW) actually is under ICWA comes up all the time. The Minnesota Supreme Court did a pretty deep dive into what it means in terms of termination of parental rights, and concludes,

Read straightforwardly, the statute provides that to terminate parental rights, a district court must determine that “continued custody of the child by the parent . . . is likely to result in serious emotional or physical damage to the child.” 25 U.S.C. 1912(f). This determination must be supported by evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and part of the supporting evidence must be QEW testimony. Id. The statute is unambiguous.

. . .

The parents . .  suggest that the statute requires that the QEW testify specifically that “continued custody . . . is likely to result in serious emotional or physical damage.” 25 U.S.C. § 1912(f).  . . . If Congress wanted to impose a requirement that the expert utter a “magic phrase,” it could have done so. But as written, neither ICWA nor MIFPA require a specific QEW opinion that “continued custody . . . is likely to result in serious emotional or physical damage.” 25 U.S.C. § 1912(f); Minn. Stat. § 260.771, subd. 6(a). S

Accordingly, we conclude that in a termination proceeding governed by ICWA and MIFPA, a court cannot terminate parental rights unless it determines that evidence shows, beyond a reasonable doubt, that continued parental custody of the child is likely to result in serious emotional or physical damage to the child. That determination must be supported by QEW testimony.

Because the QEW admitted on the stand that she focused most of her testimony and affidavits on the mother (who was a tribal member) and not the father (who not an enrolled tribal member in any tribe), the court held her testimony did not support the termination as to father.

I get questions pretty frequently about QEW, QEW training, and whether a person should be a QEW. My answer is almost always the same–a QEW must be comfortable stating that the parental rights should be terminated, or that these children should be put in foster care. That information is what is required by statute, and why the state (or party seeking removal/termination) must put a QEW on the stand. The QEW is ultimately there to testify against the parents, regardless of any other testimony they may proffer.