Notice and Enrollment Case from Colorado Court of Appeals [ICWA]

Here

This is a really interesting opinion, and balances a lot of interests. The issue of how to get a child who is both eligible for tribal membership and in foster care leads to a lot of questions about who gets to make the decision of enrollment. The agency has technical decision making authority for the children, but may choose to not enroll the children–as they did in this case–thus denying the application of ICWA (and a whole host of other citizenship related benefits and responsibilities). It may even mean the child can never be members, since some tribes don’t allow adults over the age of 18 to enroll. The Colorado Court of Appeals has just decided that the Court must make the final decision in those cases about whether a child should be enrolled or not.

In this case, mom told the agency the dad had Chickasaw heritage. This was enough for the agency to send notice to the Tribe. The Tribe responded that both the dad and the children were eligible for membership in the tribe, send membership applications, and asked the agency to assist the parents in enrolling the children.

The agency did NOT enroll the children, and did NOT tell the court of the Tribe’s response. The court only became aware of the response in the petition for termination. The court found ICWA did not apply, and terminated mom’s rights. The Court of Appeals determined that was not appropriate, and has created the process of an “enrollment hearing,” where the agency must deposit the Tribe’s request for enrollment with the court, and then the court must have a hearing–

Thus, once the response from the tribe has been deposited
with the juvenile court as set forth in Part II.B, we conclude that the
court must set the matter for a hearing to determine whether it is in
the best interests of the children to enroll them in the tribe. See
People in Interest of L.B., 254 P.3d 1203, 1208 (Colo. App. 2004) (A
juvenile court “must conduct a hearing to determine the proper
disposition best serving the interests of the child.”).

¶ 23 Of course, at an enrollment hearing, as at any other hearing in
a dependency and neglect proceeding, the court must give primary
consideration to the children’s best interests. See K.D., 139 P.3d at
698; C.S., 83 P.3d at 640.

¶ 24 And, in determining the children’s best interests, the juvenile
court must hear and consider the positions of the parents, as well
as the department and the guardian ad litem (GAL), all of whom
have standing, as relevant here, to speak to the merits of the tribe’s
enrollment request.

Though everyone can be heard, the court goes on to say,

Thus, at an enrollment hearing, the juvenile court should not
treat an objection, even from a parent, as a veto. On the contrary,
any reason for objection must be compelling considering ICWA’s
intent to maintain or foster the children’s connection with their
tribal culture.

Of course, the Tribe sent that letter requesting assistance enrolling the children in October of … 2018. Which means, of course, the twins who were a month old in May, 2018 are now two years old, never had any ICWA protections, and will now have their case go back to the trial court for a membership determination and a re-do of their child welfare case.

Indian Child Case out of the Colorado Court of Appeals [ICWA]

18CA2258-PD

An example of what a mess happens when an agency proceeds on termination of parental rights before establishing tribal membership. And an answer to the question what happens to all those cases remanded for notice.

QEW Case out of the Colorado Court of Appeals [ICWA]

Here.

The question is whether the parent should have had attorney representation during the interview with the qualified expert witness. This is a really interesting question, especially given that in this case the mother was assigned her own Guardian ad Litem. The Court ultimately held that she did not have the right to representation during the interview and upheld the termination of parental rights.

Transfer to Tribal Court Case from Colorado [ICWA]

Here is a case that continues to demonstrate the importance of ensuring a state ICWA law allows transfer of cases post-termination. Navajo Nation intervened and appealed the decision to deny transfer (and to move the children back to the former, non-ICWA compliant foster home, who opposed the transfer to tribal court).

Additional important issues in this case including the appealability of a final order, standing of former foster parents (they had none), and post-termination transfer to tribal court.

We acknowledge that ICWA only addresses a request to
transfer jurisdiction during foster care placement and termination of parental rights proceedings. 25 U.S.C. § 1911(b). It does not mention such a request during preadoptive or adoptive placement proceedings. See id. Even so, the Children’s Code, as it existed at the time the juvenile court denied transfer, permits a juvenile court to consider transfer of jurisdiction to a tribal court “[i]n any of the cases identified in subsection (1) of this section involving an Indian child.” § 19-1-126(1), (4)(a). The cases identified in subsection (1) include “pre-adoptive and adoption proceedings.” § 19-1-126(1).

Colorado Court of Appeals ICWA Case on Burden of Proof and Application

Opinion here.

ICWA requires two things to apply–an “Indian child” and a “child custody proceeding”. Once both of those things are met, then the court has to apply the heightened standards required by the law. This decision out of Colorado wrestles with when to apply the heightened burdens. There are four “child custody proceedings” under ICWA: a foster care proceeding, a termination of parental rights proceeding, a pre-adoptive placement, and an adoptive placement. In a standard state child custody case, there is an emergency/shelter care/preliminary/24-72 hour hearing, then an adjudicatory/jurisdictional hearing, followed by dispositional/review hearings, and finally permanency hearings. They don’t neatly map on to the ICWA defined proceedings, so the question of when to apply the heightened burden of proof can be up for debate. Because the adjudicatory hearing is the time when the court decides whether the state has met its burden to intrude on the family’s life and whether the court therefore has jurisdiction to do so, ICWA advocates often argue that the court should apply heightened standards at that very important hearing. However, it’s also often true that state has already removed a child, so it is technically not a “foster care proceeding” because the child is already in foster care. The Colorado Court of Appeals here decided the heightened burden has to apply to the dispositional hearing, where the Court determines the placement of a child (any proceeding that may result in a foster care placement, even if the child is placed back with a parent is subject to ICWA standards).

The Court also holds that a lack of notice does not deprive the state court of subject matter jurisdiction, and that ICWA applies until it is determined the child is not an Indian child.

ICWA Notice Decision in the Colorado Court of Appeals

Opinion here

This is a fairly standard notice decision, but the instructions on remand are the kind that more courts of appeals need to provide in ICWA cases. As they are nearly four full pages long, I’m not quoting them here, but I am posting the opinion because of them.

Also, by “fairly standard notice decision”, I mean the Department was aware of possible American Indian/Cherokee heritage in May, and no one did any notice till December, a month after the Department filed the TPR. The Court of Appeals sent it back down to fix that.

Two Published Colorado Court of Appeals ICWA Cases

In this opinion, the Court held ICWA applies to any proceeding that may lead to a foster care placement–even if the child is placed with a parent. These are important cases because the state can have jurisdiction over a family even if the child is placed in the home. Indeed, ICWA is written assuming the state will work to “prevent the breakup” of the Indian family.

The Department initiated this proceeding after an emergency proceeding in which it removed the child from his parents’ care. At the shelter hearing, the court granted the Department’s request to return the child home. But the court was not bound to follow the
Department’s recommendation. That is, although the shelter hearing did not result in foster care placement, it could have. And, because the dependency and neglect action remains open, the Department could request custody and foster care placement at any
time. For purposes of ICWA, it is immaterial that the child is not presently placed out of the home

Unlike other cases that addressed this issue, this is a very straightforward reading of the law and regulations.

In the second opinion, the Court of Appeals raised the issue of inquiry sua sponte (!).

The juvenile court must ask each participant on the record at the beginning of every emergency, voluntary, or involuntary child custody proceeding whether the participant knows or has reason to know that the child is an Indian child. 25 C.F.R. § 23.107(a) (2017); see also L.L., ¶ 19. Termination of parental rights is one type of child custody proceeding under ICWA. 25 U.S.C. § 1903(1) (2012). The inquiry must be made at the commencement of the proceeding and all responses should be on the record. 25 C.F.R.
§ 23.107(a).

If there was ever a question of whether judicial education (and good clerks with Indian law backgrounds) makes a difference, here you go.

Colorado Court of Appeals ICWA Notice Case

Here.

The 2016 Guidelines recommend that if only the tribal ancestral group is indicated, then the Department should notify each of the tribes in that ancestral group to identify whether the parent or child is a member of any such tribe. 2016 Guidelines at 18. Thus, because ICWA’s intent is to provide notice to tribes so that the tribes themselves can decide whether children are tribal members, see B.H., 138 P.3d at 303-04, when a parent is unable to provide detailed information on potential tribal affiliations, the Department should provide notice to all identified tribes and the tribes that have been historically affiliated with those identified tribes, see Tribal Agents by Affiliation, https://perma.cc/K3DDKQR5.

Colorado Court of Appeals Case on Inquiry for ICWA

Here

This is a special one:

 In this case, the trial court first inquired about the applicability of ICWA at a termination hearing regarding J.A. after orally ordering termination of parental rights. For purposes of ICWA, this was the second child-custody proceeding involving J.A. Under 25 C.F.R. § 23.107(a), the trial court should have made that inquiry at the first hearing after the petition in dependency and neglect was filed and again at the start of the termination proceeding.

(emphasis in original)

It continues:

The Department asserts that mother did not provide a relative affidavit identifying her biological parents. It is true that the Department should try to provide sufficient information for the tribe to make the determination as to whether the child is a member or eligible for membership. L.L., ¶ 37. But the lack of complete information does not relieve the Department of its duty to send notice with the information it has. Accord 25 C.F.R. § 23.111(d)(3) (notice shall include direct lineal ancestors if known). Thus, we must remand the case to the trial court so the Department may comply with the notice requirements of ICWA.

At the termination hearing, mother’s counsel stated that he had spoken with mother’s adoptive family and determined that “the ICWA relationship that [mother] had brought to the [c]ourt’s attention was not viable.” But he did not elaborate, so we don’t know the basis for his representation. Moreover, it was for the Kiowa and Pueblo of Taos tribes, not mother’s adoptive family, to determine whether the children were members or eligible for membership.

(Emphasis added).

The Court of Appeals remanded the case, focusing on the Guidelines and Regulations:

We recognize that the 2015 Guidelines, unlike the regulations promulgated in 2016, were not binding on the trial court. But, as recognized by both the 2015 Guidelines and the 2016 Guidelines, early identification of ICWA applicability promotes proper implementation of ICWA at an early stage, protects the rights of Indian children and their families, prevents delays, and avoids sometimes tragic consequencesSee 2016 Guidelines at 11; 80 Fed. Reg. at 10,148.

Regardless, as discussed above, the termination proceeding was subject to the 2016 Guidelines and regulations. And, more importantly, the Department failed to send notice to the appropriate tribes when mother identified a reason to believe the children were Indian children. Under these circumstances, the record does not support the trial court’s finding that ICWA does not apply.

(Emphasis added, if we had a nickel for every time any ICWA trainer said that, etc.)

ICWA Expert Witness Case out of Colorado

Opinion here. The Colorado Court disagrees with holdings in Montana and Michigan on the same issue–what does a qualified expert witness have to say for it to count under 25 U.S.C. 1912(f).

Congress’s primary reason for requiring qualified expert testimony was to prevent courts from basing decisions “solely upon the testimony of social workers who possessed neither the specialized professional education nor the familiarity with Native [American] culture necessary to distinguish between cultural variations in child-rearing practices and actual abuse or neglect.” Steven H., 190 P.3d at 185 (quoting L.G. v. State, 14 P.3d 946, 952- 53 (Alaska 2000)). This purpose would not necessarily be furthered by a requirement that an expert witness recite the precise language of 25 U.S.C. § 1912(f).

***

Although [the Regulations and Guidelines] emphasize the need for a qualified expert witness to offer testimony supporting a finding regarding likely damage to the child, they stop short of demanding a verbatim recitation of the statutory standard by the expert.

***

Additionally, the Department presented testimony from a
qualified expert witness under ICWA — a social worker with Navajo Children and Family Services. The social worker did not directly opine that the child would suffer damage in mother’s care. Rather, when asked to give her opinion regarding whether the child would suffer serious emotional or physical harm if returned to a parent, the social worker indicated that mother had not fulfilled the treatment requirements to address the reasons for the child being placed in the Department’s custody. The social worker also testified that the recent domestic violence issues between the parents were concerning.