Reported Inquiry Case from California [ICWA]


So for the first time since 2015, I’m giving myself permission to only read the reported ICWA cases rather than all of the unreported ones. So what does California do? Start reporting way more cases! Five in this first quarter (as opposed to 1 in 2021).

This case itself notes that this is not a particularly unique, but that by reporting it, just the reporting might lead to compliance.

We publish our opinion not because the errors that occurred are novel but because they are too common. Child protective agencies and juvenile courts have important obligations under ICWA. Failing to satisfy them serves only to add unnecessary uncertainty and delay into proceedings that are already difficult for the children, family members, and caretakers involved. Delayed investigation may also disadvantage tribes in cases where it turns out ICWA does apply, as their opportunity to assume jurisdiction or intervene will come at a late stage in the proceeding.

Unfortunately, I don’t think just reporting a case will lead to compliance, especially when this is the final result:

We conditionally reverse the section 366.26 orders. On remand, the juvenile court shall (1) direct CFS to comply with the inquiry and notice provisions of ICWA and sections 224.2 and 224.3 and update the court on their inquiry and the tribes responses and (2) determine whether ICWA applies. If the court determines ICWA does not apply, the orders terminating parental rights shall be reinstated and further proceedings conducted, as appropriate.

(emphasis added)

I haven’t crunched the numbers, but I am not convinced conditional reversal helps with compliance. Vivek Sankaran made this argument in the In re Morris case here in Michigan, and the sheer numbers in California indicate conditional reversal doesn’t seem to do much to change practice. I’m not sure reporting the case will change that. I still believe we should be reporting far more of the ICWA cases than we currently do, given that only about 20% of total ICWA appellate cases are reported.