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


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,

Colorado Court of Appeals Case on Inquiry for ICWA


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.

ICWA Inquiry Case out of Colorado Court of Appeals


To decide if the trial court complied with ICWA, we must answer a question that has yet to be decided in Colorado: When a trial court inquires at an initial temporary custody hearing at the commencement of the dependency and neglect proceeding whether there is a reason to know that the child is an Indian child, must it make another inquiry when termination is sought? We conclude that the answer is “yes,” at least when the court has not already identified the child as an Indian child and the petitioning party has not disclosed what efforts it has made to determine if the child is an Indian child.

Published ICWA Inquiry Case from Colorado Court of Appeals


The court found that the agency has to ask about tribal citizenship each time a the agency initiates proceedings against a parent, and not rely on findings in a separate, previous proceeding.

Moreover, while not applicable here, we note that new federal regulations that codify this inquiry obligation became effective on December 12, 2016. See 25 C.F.R. §§ 23.107-.109, .111 (2016). The new regulations were quickly followed by new guidelines issued in December 2016. See Bureau of Indian Affairs, Guidelines for Implementing the Indian Child Welfare Act (Dec. 2016), (2016 Guidelines). Consistent with the 2015 Guidelines applicable here, these new regulations and guidelines require the court to ask all participants in the case whether there is reason to know the child is an Indian child and to instruct the participants to inform the court if they later discover information that provides reason to know the child is an Indian child. See 25 C.F.R. § 23.107(a); 2016 Guidelines at 11. And, if a new child custody proceeding is initiated for the same child, the court must again inquire into whether there is a reason to know that the child is an Indian child. 25 C.F.R. § 23.107(a).

Published Notice Case out of the Colorado Court of Appeals

In re LL

The Court uses the federal regulations and guidelines to determine each participant’s role in inquiry and notice, and remands for proper notice.

Unfortunately, the Court then goes on to hold that the higher standard of proof for a foster care placement under ICWA does not need to be made at adjudication (interestingly, Colorado is one of the few states that still has jury trials for child welfare proceedings). While the Court is correct that ICWA is “silent” on adjudicatory hearings, it does not make clear when the lower court should make the higher burden of proof finding. This is one of the issues in applying the federal law to individual state proceedings–adjudication with a jury makes the most sense for applying all of the protections of ICWA. Adjudication is where the judge (or jury) decides whether the state has the evidence that “warrants intrusive protective or corrective state intervention into the familial relationship” Id. at 22. While it might not be the point where the child is put into foster care, it is often AFTER the child has been placed in foster care. So if the higher standard for foster care placement isn’t applied at the emergency/24/48/shelter care hearing, and it’s not applied at the adjudicatory hearing, when, exactly, is it applied?

Colorado COA Dismisses Colorado AG’s Appeal of Cash Advance Matter


Colorado v Cash Advance Colo. COA Opinion

Lower court opinion here.

Colorado COA Affirms Refusal to Transfer ICWA Case to Tribal Court (Sault Tribe)

Here is the opinion in In re T.E.R.

An excerpt:

In July 2012, mother moved to transfer jurisdiction to tribal court. The Department and the guardian ad litem (GAL) opposed the motion, arguing that good cause existed to deny the transfer because the case was at an advanced stage, and the case could not  be adequately presented in the tribal court without undue hardship to the parties or the witnesses. The Tribe took no position.

Colorado COA Decides ICWA Placement Preferences Case

Here is the opinion in People ex rel. A.R.

The court’s syllabus:

In this dependency and neglect proceeding, mother appealed from the judgment terminating her parent–child legal relationship with A.R. The Department of Human Services (Department) joined mother’s appeal of the termination and also challenged that part of the judgment addressing the Department’s guardianship. The judgment terminating mother’s parental rights was affirmed, the part of the judgment addressing guardianship was reversed, and the case was remanded.

Because A.R. is an “Indian child” as defined in 25 USC § 1903(4), these proceedings were subject to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 25 USC §§ 1901 to 1963. Mother contended that the court erred in terminating her parental rights. She asserted that the Department did not meet the ICWA’s “active efforts” requirement, and there were viable, less drastic alternatives to termination, including A.R.’s placement with A.W. and C.W. The ICWA’s “active efforts” standard requires more effort than the “reasonable effort” standard in non-ICWA cases. Here, despite the court’s use of the term “best efforts,” the record supports the court’s determination that the Department’s actions met the requisite “active efforts” standard under the ICWA with regard to mother, A.W. and C.W. The trial court found, with record support, that although mother substantially complied with her treatment plan, it was unsuccessful in rendering her a fit parent and that her conduct or condition was not likely to change within a reasonable time. It also found that A.R. needs lifelong care or intensive services for her special needs, and mother was unable to provide those services. Additionally, placement with A.W. and C.W. without terminating mother’s parental rights was not a less drastic alternative; A.R. needed permanency, so it was not in her best interests.

The Department contended that, even if the court’s termination of mother’s parental rights was proper, the court erroneously deviated from the ICWA’s placement preferences when, in granting the Department guardianship, it denied the Department permission to place A.R. with A.W. and C.W. for purposes of adoption. The ICWA presumes that the child’s best interests are served by placement with an extended family member who also has Indian heritage. Here, the record does not support the trial court’s finding that there was good cause to deviate from the ICWA’s placement preferences. Therefore, the court erred in deviating from the ICWA’s placement preferences. The trial court’s judgment was reversed in this regard and the case was remanded with directions for the court to allow the department to arrange a home visit with A.W. and C.W., and to consider an adoption or preadoptive placement of A.R. consistent with the ICWA placement preferences, including possible placement with A.W. and C.W. or her foster parents.